Man Utd’s PL Cup win: Mainoo and Garnacho support, Rooney watching and why it can’t be the pinnacle

Finley McAllister made his way to the podium, navigated a path to the front, and encouraged his Manchester United team-mates to start making a racket before lifting the Under-18s Premier League Cup to the backdrop of pyrotechnics.

Adam Lawrence, United’s U18s head coach, watched on, smiling, as his side claimed their second title of the season — having previously won the Premier League North on April 16.

They had just beaten local rivals Manchester City 2-1 at Leigh Sports Village, with two first-half goals from Ethan Wheatley proving decisive. This win established themselves as one of the country’s leading academy teams.

Wayne Rooney, United’s leading all-time goalscorer, was there with his family, as was Jason Wilcox, the club’s new technical director. Darren Fletcher, whose son Jack started against City on Tuesday night, was also in attendance.

Phil Jones, who is doing his coaching badges and working with United’s Under-14s and U18s, posed for selfies as the players continued celebrating on the pitch.

The build-up to United’s Premier League Cup triumph included the players being sent a good luck video from Kobbie Mainoo and Alejandro Garnacho, two first-team stars who won the FA Youth Cup when they played for the club’s U18s side.

GettyImages 2149319944 1

Ethan Wheatley celebrates scoring the opener (Ash Donelon/Manchester United via Getty Images)

Lawrence also emphasised his message before the match, telling them their career would not be defined by a win or loss while encouraging them to soak up as much experience from the final as possible.

Such is the promise of this young squad, coupled with the injury crisis Erik ten Hag is battling with the senior team, Lawrence had to withdraw Harry Amass, Wheatley and Louis Jackson at half-time as Ten Hag needs them in today’s squad to play Sheffield United at Old Trafford.

“It’s carnage,” Lawrence said of the post-match celebrations inside the dressing room. “There is a lot of singing, a lot of noise. They have got to respectfully enjoy these moments. They have earned the right to celebrate and enjoy it.”

Before a ball had been kicked this season, there was a moment when Lawrence felt the group he had was capable of achieving something special.

That came during their arduous pre-season, where the U18s had lost multiple players to the U21s. Several members of the older group headed to the United States with Erik ten Hag’s first team. This meant members of the U17s squad were promoted to the U18s.

United entered the team into U19s tournaments and travelled to Northern Ireland to play Hertha Berlin and Liverpool, among others, before participating in the Zagreb Cup — a competition they reached the final in after playing Monaco, Udinese and Dinamo Zagreb.

They also travelled to the Netherlands to play in the Otten Cup at PSV Eindhoven.  “We were very stretched in pre-season, so we had small numbers, a lot of games and we were younger than the opposition,” Lawrence said. 

“I think maybe through circumstance we were more extreme in going into those tournaments with a younger team and off the back of that you saw some resilience in the group, a little bit of togetherness came from that, and that held the group well throughout the season.”

Another key moment highlighted by Lawrence was his side’s league win against Nottingham Forest, having had a player sent off and going a goal down. 

“That was one game I looked at and thought the mentality of the group is really good, the ability to not only respond in that situation but also the expectancy to dominate,” Lawrence added.

“That was the one league game, not that it was just about winning the league, but that was the game that if you are going to win a title and get to the latter stages of something, you have got to be able to cope.”

At the beginning of the season, and to coincide with the U18s becoming full-time players, they were presented with the famous club suit, which carries with it decades of history and tradition. When they arrived at Leigh Sports Village on Tuesday night, they departed the team coach, dressed in their blazers and headed to the pitch.

“It’s a massive thing,” Nick Cox, United’s academy director said of its symbolism. “The blazers and the badge are a tribute to everyone that came before us. For the players, you are walking in the footsteps of an endless list of greats. 

GettyImages 2091895534

Mainoo and Garnacho’s first-team breakthrough shows the pathway (Michael Regan/Getty Images)

“You put the blazer on and that is what connects us through 91 years of youth development. The boys have got to know they are writing a chapter of an amazing story, the greatest football story in the world.”

As part of United’s plan to aid development, a large pool of players are rotated between the older age groups, meaning Lawrence rarely has the same starting XI — let alone squad — from week to week. This, however, is something Lawrence agreed to and it is a “challenge” he enjoys as there is a club-wide belief that it significantly improves player development.

“The group of staff across the age groups are focused on the individual players first, then the team stuff comes from that and it is easy to work that way,” Lawrence adds.

Much of the U18s success this season has been due to the work put in at Carrington, with Sunday the only day off the players receive.

The group is in on Monday to spend half a day doing educational work, as well as training, before reporting in to train on Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. Thursday is set aside for education and Saturday is their match day.

As opposed to training at first-team level, which is geared towards performing at the highest level, the U18s are put through their paces differently. There are double sessions, and if a player is beginning to feel fatigued going into a game, then Lawrence says “That’s OK” because they are “pushing them to get to a certain resilience point”.

In recent weeks, the U18s have been wearing gum shields during training as part of a Premier League study to track the frequency of hits to the heads — and the force and direction of each impact.

United’s youngsters won their league with ease, winning 19 out 22 matches. Players such as Wheatley, Amass, McAllister, James Scanlon and Jack Kingdom, among many others, played key roles in that success.

Their main setback came in January’s FA Youth Cup fourth-round defeat to Swindon Town, with another low moment stemming from their 4-1 defeat away to Manchester City in March. But they responded to both losses and then had vengeance against their local rivals in the final.

After winning the league, the U18s were greeted at Carrington by a welcoming party that included Ten Hag and Fletcher. 

Lawrence knows that all of this season’s success will count for nothing if this group of players do not go on to have careers at United or another professional club. Mainoo and Garncaho have shown there is a pathway to the first team, and the academy staff will hope that their breakthrough seasons inspire the U18s.

“Erik and his staff have shown that if the players are at the level they need to be, then they won’t be held back,” Lawrence adds.

“The job for our players is to come in every day, be hungry, show their personality and desire to improve, and ultimately show the qualities that will get them there. It is an achievable dream for them.

“We want the players to maximise their potential and we want this to be part of the programme and their experiences. We don’t want it to be the pinnacle (of their career).”

(Top photo: John Peters/Manchester United via Getty Images)

Source link

About The Author

Scroll to Top