With so many young players pushing for senior involvement, and a glut of ex-Reds active throughout the game, there’s clearly something special about a United upbringing…
The last words on an imposing sign on one of our Academy building’s walls say it all. They read: ‘a proving ground for tomorrow’s heroes.'
Surrounded by images of the club’s legendary youth graduates, it’s a hard point to miss: you’re at the nerve centre of Manchester United, where the development of young footballers is absolutely paramount.
Back in the late 1990s, when Sir Alex Ferguson and his staff were compiling a list of must-haves for the club’s new training complex, a gruelling Continental fact-finding tour (as far afield as Athens and Kiev) led to a £14million state-of-the-art complex at Carrington, flanked by an entirely separate £8million building for the club’s Academy.
That sizeable outlay was in keeping with a longstanding reliance on youth. The Reds’ all-time top five appearance-makers – Ryan Giggs, Sir Bobby Charlton, Bill Foulkes, Paul Scholes and Gary Neville - are all home-grown talents carefully nurtured and brought up the United way, after all.
Even today, Giggs, Scholes and Neville apart, graduates such as Wes Brown, Darren Fletcher and John O’Shea are all central to the cause, and were as vital to last season’s Double success as the big-money, imported talents of Nani, Anderson and Carlos Tevez.
In an age where success has to be instant, and at a club where success is paramount, it’s inevitable that schoolboy-to-star fairytales are rare. The remarkable aspect of United’s system, though, is just how many graduates go on to make the grade elsewhere.
Football is littered with products of United’s Academy. Nicky Butt, Jonathan Greening, Phil Neville, Paul McShane, Ryan Shawcross and Danny Higginbotham have all faced their former club this season. Even Villarreal’s Guiseppe Rossi is waiting for a crack at his former employers in the Champions League. So what is it about a Red upbringing which prepares so many players for a fruitful football career?
“I think it’s instilled into you, it’s how you’re brought up,” says Higginbotham, who made seven appearances at United before joining Derby County in 2000. “From day one you’re just brought up the right way, to respect everything and