Editorial: Manchester United ready for battle; Academy becoming a success once again?

Indy Boonen

Manchester United take on Liverpool in the Premier League at Anfield at 8pm this evening in what will be the match everyone has been waiting all weekend, more importantly, a fortnight for. The international break makes football boring, especially when like me, you value your club more than the country you are from. Manchester United will always mean more to me than England. The support for England has meant nothing to me for at least six years now. I watch England play, but the fact that the FA never make a decent appointment, managers don’t seem to build the team around the important players, opting for experience instead, which is something that always causes disappointment. England has some talented young players coming through, I only hope that is something the next manager wants to build upon, as much like the last few appointments, England has failed to achieve anything significant. They seem to play well during qualification matches, but when it comes to a tournament, there is no fight or belief to carry the side through, the media raise expectations before they have to be significantly lowered to accept the abject failure England has become. Until then, Manchester United will be the only team I support, but I will continue to follow England and see what they become, more of the same most likely.

On Tuesday night, Manchester United’s U23 side face Liverpool at Leigh Sports Village, less than 24 hours after the first team face the same club. It will be a fiery match too. United’s U23’s, manager by Warren Joyce, have struggled this season. Their last match resulted in a 2-0 defeat to Everton in Southport, their second defeat of the season. The match before that saw United beat Derby County at Old Trafford, taking the lead three times to take all three points. The fact that the squad is missing an out-and-out striker is not the only problem this season, but the players have been standing up to be counted and this will do them a lot of good for their development. Last season the problem seemed to be with the U18 side, who lost twelve league matches in a row, also seeing the end of Paul McGuinness, who left the club before the end of the season. Nicky Butt became the head of the Academy, made many changes this summer and brought in a new U18 coach, Kieran McKenna, who has done well with his current crop of stars.

Last season the media seemed to have a field day with United’s Academy, criticising the players, the staff and the whole system, effectively suggesting it was a massive failure that needed to be rectified over time, but so far so good, that is not the case. The club has addressed some problems with amazing effects so far. The season did not start well for McKenna’s side, losing 4-0 to Derby County and also 2-1 to Liverpool, which seemed to suggest something similar was going to happen this season. United then won their next three matches, scoring five goals in each, beating Everton 5-1, Middlesbrough 5-1, and West Bromwich Albion 5-3. United then lost 2-0 to Manchester City, a match which also saw Ilias Moutha-Sebtaoui send off. The next match against Stoke resulted in a 2-0 win, then a 2-1 win over Middlesbrough, followed by a 1-1 draw with Sunderland. On Saturday, United beat Wolverhampton Wanderers 5-2, the fourth time they have scored five goals in one match this season, and there will probably be more before the end of the season. United’s U18 side currently sit at the top of the Premier League U18, two points ahead of Manchester City, who have three games in hand.

Talent seems to be something United’s Academy has a lot to offer. In the U18 squad, they have scored 26 goals this season with Indy Boonen and Angel Gomes each scoring five, DJ Buffonge scoring four, Nishan Burkart scoring three, trialist Idris Kanu and new summer signing Tahith Chong scoring twice, then George Tanner, Aiden Barlow, Faustin Makela, Kayne Diedrick-Roberts and Jake Barrett all scoring one goal a piece. Not bad in the fact United now know how to score goals at this level, only conceding 17 goals, which is not a great start to the season, but at least they are in a positive tally when you take them off the goals scored this season, which is completely different when you compare that to last season. Manchester City seems to still be praised for their Academy, yet they don’t seem to have players emerging from the Academy into their first team, not regularly anyway. Many City fans will claim that  Kelechi Iheanacho came through their Academy, but he was brought into the club the summer before last, so is in now way a product of their Academy. United have Jesse Lingard, Marcus Rashford, Timothy Fosu-Mensah and Sam Johnstone in their first team squad, with players such as Joshua Harrop, Matty Willock, Ro-Shaun Williams, and Axel Tuanzebe coming through the ranks, which is something that would, to me at least, suggest that City’s all singing and all dancing Academy is not as good as it is portrayed.

Talking about Manchester United’s Academy, the U16 squad this weekend won the Premier League International Tournament, which is something we covered yesterday. The U16 head coach, Neil Ryan saw his side draw 1-1 with West Bromwich Albion, beat Borussia Dortmund 4-1, then beat Everton 1-0. In the semi-finals, United beat Anderlecht, who faced tough competition in their group getting through Manchester City, Chelsea, and Tottenham Hotspur. United beat the Belgian side 2-1, setting up a final encounter with Fulham. United drew that match 0-0, winning 5-4 on penalties. Ryan spoke to the official Manchester United website about the victory, saying:

“We are really pleased with the group – it’s a fantastic achievement for them. The competition involved some of the elite sides from both Europe and England. Winning was important to us but, more importantly, the experience of tournament football is a fundamental part of our players’ development – win or lose.”

Manchester United also competed in the Settembre Rostese 8th Trophy in Turin, which is for players born in 2004, finishing as the runners-up, which shows how good the Academy currently is with talented players throughout the club. Nicky Butt, the head of the Academy spoke to the official Manchester United website about the tours and tournaments programme for the remainder of the season, which can see the talent at the club be pitted against some of the best talents in the world, learning to player against international players early in their careers and taking something positive from the experience, which will set them up for the latter years in the Academy, which could prove crucial in the fact that they either make it at Manchester United, or they don’t. Butt said:

“We have developed our tours and tournaments programme for the remainder of the season.We are passionate about our players experiencing all of the benefits that come with tournament football such as elite opposition, different styles of football, penalty shoot-outs and a competitive environment. It’s all part of developing our players to be able to cope with the demands of first-team football.” 

Manchester United may not be at the top of their game at first team level, yet at least, but in the lower ranks, you can see the club progressing and trying to put last season, which saw lots of negativity, behind them. Manchester United have always been known for their production of youth, Sir Matt Busby and Sir Alex Ferguson took great pride in continuing that, and it looks like Jose Mourinho, along with Nicky Butt, will put an immense amount of pride into continuing the great work of those preceding them.

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