Academy Weekly: Cox congratulates Kambwala

Wednesday 27 December 2023 10:59

Although the Academy fixture schedule paused over Christmas, excitement within Manchester United’s famous youth set-up continued as Willy Kambwala became our 248th graduate to make his senior debut, while several of his predecessors featured prominently in the Premier League.

Kambwala made his maiden senior appearance in last weekend’s away clash with West Ham United and while the team's result at the London Stadium was disappointing, the young defender's bow was still a moment to be celebrated.

His performance was rewarded with a second appearance, this time off the bench, as manager Erik ten Hag trusted him to help see out our comeback victory over Aston Villa on Boxing Day.

"Willy's route to our first team is, once again, a reminder of how each player's journey is individual and requires bespoke support," said Nick Cox, United's Director of Academy.

"That's a principle on which we build our Academy programme. Three players have made debuts in 2023 (Dan Gore, Kobbie Mainoo and Willy), each with very different routes to success. For every debut, there is a journey and a unique story.

Willy Kambwala joined United at the age of 16, arriving from Sochaux in France.

"Willy, born in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, was recruited from Sochaux in France at the age of 16. Arriving during the Covid-19 pandemic, he showed great resilience to settle at United under very stringent training conditions. Further resilience was required to cope with the setback of a long-term injury shortly after his arrival.

"So, a massive well done to Willy, and, of course, well done to the multitude of staff that have played a significant role in recruiting, developing and supporting him through challenging times.

"There is more work to be done for Willy to establish himself in the professional game. Meanwhile, for our staff, the focus has to turn to graduates number 249, 250 and way beyond, but it’s important we celebrate these moments."

Kambwala was a late substitute against Aston Villa in a game defined by another graduate's match-winning contribution. Alejandro Garnacho scored two fantastic goals to draw United level and displayed great determination.

“He played a fantastic game,” Erik ten Hag told the BBC’s Match of the Day.

“He was so disappointed after the West Ham United game that he didn’t score when he was in one-on-ones and now twice he got rewarded for all the work and all the investment he put into this [Villa] game.”

Alejandro made the majority of the headlines, but he was far from the only graduate contributing to the team’s success. Eight Academy graduates who represented our youth sides in three different decades featured in the victory, with Jonny Evans, Marcus Rashford, Garnacho and Kobbie Mainoo starting and Kambwala, Hannibal, Dan Gore and Scott McTominay contributing off the bench.

It was certainly a proud night for everyone associated with the Academy in a week where we celebrated another life-changing milestone for one of young players.

FA Youth Cup highlights: United v Derby Video

FA Youth Cup highlights: United v Derby

Watch short highlights of the young Reds’ FA Youth Cup third-round tie with Derby County at Old Trafford…


Two of our 2022 FA Youth Cup winners, Garnacho and Mainoo, started against Aston Villa, and the learnings they gained from the competition played a crucial role in their wider development.

This season’s campaign began with a 1-0 third round victory over Derby County at Old Trafford. Ethan Williams scored the only goal, having come on as a substitute. You can watch the match highlights above. 

Given the knock-out nature of the competition it can be easy to get fixated on results in the FA Youth Cup, but it should be forgotten that players on both sides are making lifelong memories by playing these matches at Old Trafford.

Reds defender Jack Kingdon commented post-match: "It's just an amazing feeling, under the lights, playing with friends.”

That sentiment was reflected by his team-mates and Academy staff.

'We'll be looking to get into the fifth round' Video

'We'll be looking to get into the fifth round'

After progressing into the FA Youth Cup fourth round, Jack Kingdon and Ethan Williams are already looking ahead...

Nick Cox, Director of Academy, said: “An FA Youth Cup tie at Old Trafford was the perfect end to a year of incredible activity across the Academy.

“Well done to the staff and the players involved for all their hard work in getting to this stage and creating such a great evening.

“Old Trafford is the best place in the world to play football and these nights are magical for our players. Our staff would like to thank the fans who made the effort to attend the game during the busy Christmas period. Your support has a real effect on these young players’ development. Just look at Alejandro celebrating in the same corner he celebrated in the FA Youth Cup two years ago.

“We’ll do our very best in the new year to continue to help talented young players to maximise their potential.”

2022 FA Youth Cup winners Kobbie Mainoo and Alejandro Garnacho started together in the Boxing Day victory over Aston Villa.


Our fourth-round tie at Swindon Town will take place on Tuesday 16 January 2024, kicking off at 19:00 GMT.

MUTV coverage for the match, which will be hosted at the County Ground, is still to be confirmed and details will follow in due course. Supporters wishing to attend the game can buy tickets here.


The annual Premier League Truce Tournament is a fantastic opportunity for our Under-12s group to learn, on and off the pitch.

You can read more about our own programme around the 1914 Christmas Truce here.

This week, the Premier League released a wonderful video which perfectly showcases the holistic approach to player and personal development we aspire to at the Academy. You can watch the video here.