Darren Fletcher.

Fletcher relays plans for youngsters

Tuesday 01 March 2022 11:13

Darren Fletcher has spoken of his excitement about the young talent coming through from the Manchester United Academy.

The former Reds midfielder says that helping create a path for Academy players to reach the first team was one of the most important parts of his role as the club’s technical director.

In addition to appreciating the quality of those currently out on loan, stressing opportunities can arise for them upon their return to the club, he is also enthusiastic about those in the lower age groups. The Under-19s are preparing to take on Borussia Dortmund in the last 16 of the UEFA Youth League tonight (Tuesday) and there is an FA Youth Cup semi-final against Wolves at Old Trafford to look forward to.

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Our youth teams round-up features Neil Wood's thoughts on tonight's European tie.

“That pipeline of Academy talent is a massive part of who we are as a club,” Fletcher said. “Anthony [Elanga] has done brilliantly since he broke into the first team, and Hannibal has also been more involved in the squad recently.

“I’m working closely with Nick Cox, as Head of Academy, to look at the long-term strategy for bringing players through.

“We have to manage the balance between allowing them to develop and creating the right steps for that, without piling the pressure onto them.”

Fletcher was speaking as part of a football update to United’s Fans’ Forum at Old Trafford and relayed how encouraged he is by the progress of numerous Academy players currently building experience on loan at other clubs. He added that working with Cox to decide which players should go on loan to which clubs was another key part of his job.

“We currently have 13 young players and Academy products on loan and playing regularly in other divisions or leagues,” said Fletcher.

“Hopefully, we’ll see players like Brandon Williams, Teden Mengi, Jimmy Garner, Ethan Laird, Tahith Chong and Amad reap the benefits of that.

“All of them are doing really well on loan and we’re excited to bring them back in pre-season to see how they fare with our first-team players.”

Fletcher’s youth development work is at the heart of his remit to drive long-term strategic planning across United’s Men’s, Women’s and Academy squads – in addition to day-to-day support for Ralf Rangnick’s coaching staff.

“With Ralf and his staff coming in, and Michael [Carrick] and Kieran [McKenna] choosing to move on, we had a quick transition process, so part of my role has been to assist with that, both on the training pitch and during games.

“I guess that’s been the most visible part for me this season, but that’s really an addition to my overall technical director role.

“It’s been a brilliant experience since I took on the role, the combination of long-term planning and contributing to our strategic goals, with the opportunity to still be close to the team and management.”

Asked by Fans’ Forum members about the team’s record at set-pieces this season, Fletcher praised the impact of Eric Ramsay, who joined the coaching staff last year from Chelsea with a focus on set-pieces.

"People only give the one narrative about scoring from set-pieces. The biggest reason Eric was brought in was because we were conceding too many goals from set-pieces. We have really improved our defending from set-pieces and wide free-kicks this season. Eric is a fantastic coach."

Fletcher also issued praise to United fans for the backing they’ve given the team through a turbulent season, including those who made the trip to Spain last week for the first leg of our Champions League round-of-16 tie with Atletico Madrid.

“I want to call out the fans’ support in Madrid. We could all hear it on the bench and among the lads on the field, despite being stuck up in the gods,” he said.

“The support at home has been brilliant this season with the Red Army section and the rail-seating area. The away support is always quality, and you saw how much it meant to be able to celebrate in front of them after the win against Leeds. All the lads were buzzing about that, so I wanted to say thank you for that, on behalf of the players.”

UEFA Youth League: The story so far Video

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Fletcher was appointed technical director a year ago this month, working alongside John Murtough as football director to lead the club’s overall football strategy.

“Darren’s role since starting his job has been invaluable on many levels, bringing his football experience to bear on a range of areas,” Murtough told the Fans’ Forum.

Fletcher spent 20 years with the club as a player after coming through the Academy to make over 340 first-team appearances between 2003 and 2015. During that time, he won five Premier League titles, one FA Cup, two League Cups, the Champions League and the FIFA Club World Cup, as well as 80 caps for Scotland.