Manchester United FA Youth Cup final offers silver lining after another disappointing season

On Wednesday evening, a group of teenagers barely out of school will play at Old Trafford in front of more than 50,000 people. For some Manchester United supporters turning up to watch the FA Youth Cup final, it will be a welcome opportunity to distract themselves from a dismal season watching the first team. For others, it will be a chance to catch a glimpse of the future.

Winning the competition — essentially the FA Cup for youth players — isn’t a guarantee of success in senior football, but if United’s Under-18s beat Nottingham Forest and lift the trophy, they will follow in some famous footsteps.

“When you get to this stage in the competition those previous successes are mentioned and you are compared to those groups a little which is nice for the lads,” said Under-18s coach Travis Binnion. “They can see what sort of careers they have had and the household names they have become. It is nice for the lads to see what is there for them should they continue to improve and develop their games.

“We want to win the Youth Cup, but if five, six or seven of these boys go on to play in the Premier League and be household names, that is a far greater achievement.”

Duncan Edwards, Bobby Charlton, George Best, Ryan Giggs, David Beckham and Paul Pogba all have winners’ medals, and if the latest group were to join them, there’s a fair chance that at least one of the players on show will, at some stage, play a key role for the first team.

United have lifted the trophy a record 10 times, and at least one player from each of those victorious teams has gone on to make 80 or more senior appearances. The Class of ’92, which featured Giggs, Beckham, Gary Neville, Nicky Butt and Paul Scholes, contributed a combined 3,000 appearances and 100 major trophies. The last United team to win it in 2011 included Pogba and Jesse Lingard, both still part of the team in 2022. Tom Heaton, a winner with United in 2003, rejoined the club last summer.

It’s been a difficult campaign for Pogba, Lingard, Heaton and the rest of the first-team squad, but the youngsters’ run to the Youth Cup final has provided the club with a much-needed lift.

“With the history of the competition and our association with it, there are some excited young men and some excited young coaches,” said academy chief Nick Cox. “It certainly is the talk of the training ground right now. There is no way you can keep a lid on the excitement, and why would we want to? It will be a memorable night. The boys have to enjoy it and make sure they save it.”

“I am delighted that 50,000 fans are going to turn up and hopefully have a nice night and leave feeling proud of their club. But I certainly don’t feel we take on extra responsibility because of what happens at first-team level. is not winning games or trophies, it’s about making sure a player reaches their full potential.”

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