In a recent issue of Inside United, Manchester United Academy manager Brian McClair outlined the youth system's objectives - to prepare players for the first team at Old Trafford or at least in football elsewhere...
How would you assess the recent success of United's youth system?
We are in the third generation of youth development since Sir Alex came down here from Scotland. He reinvigorated the policy that was started by Sir Matt Busby and Jimmy Murphy. Going back all the way to then, they understood the possibility of developing your own young players. Sir Alex did that and had unbelievable success with it. What we’re delighted with, and I’m sure Sir Alex would be the first to say it, is the number of players who have come through that system over the last 20-odd years who have earned and are still earning a living in football. So we think, as a school of football, we’re right up there with any Academy. I’m fairly confident we have more people earning a living from the game than anyone else, in terms of the pure numbers.
Is it important that youngsters who come through the system have a career in the game, even if it's away from United?
Yes, because, when you start looking at six- and seven-year-old boys locally, and signing them on at eight, you have to be confident when you say to them and their parents that a certain number of them will do that. You don’t know at eight which ones they are because things change all the way along the pathway but we know, because of the results and end productivity, that a number will progress. If everything maps out, if they want to put the work in and the time, then they will earn a living as a professional footballer. All these players that have come through, a lot of them have been involved since they were pre-Academy age at development centres.
Would you agree with your colleague Paul McGuinness that fun needs to be part of a player's development?
Fun is the operative word. Everybody should have fun all the way through to the first team. Even then, they should have fun even if, ultimately, winning is the key and the priority. It’s a sport and being part of it should be fun – that’s crucial for me from whatever age, be it five years old or just outside the first team. Everybody who is involved, the coaching staff and the players, should be enjoying it because it’s a wonderful industry to be involved in and playing is only a small part of your life. It should be the most enjoyable part of your life if you love playing football.