Cox relishes opportunities of the FA Youth Cup
Nick Cox, Manchester United's Head of Academy, has explained how the FA Youth Cup prepares the club's Under-18 players for their first-team debuts.
The young Reds have knocked out Scunthorpe United, Reading, Everton and Leicester City to set up an exciting semi-final against Wolverhampton Wanderers at Old Trafford this Wednesday evening. Fans in the UK will be able to watch build-up from 18:30 GMT and then the full match live on MUTV, on ManUtd.com and in the United App - regrettably FA regulations prevent us from making the coverage available elsewhere.
“It’s been a fantastic cup run,” Cox said.
“What I like is that every game has been slightly different and as a result, the boys have faced lots of different learning opportunities: playing a game away from home, playing at Old Trafford, having to come from behind to win a game, having to hang in there right until the last minute to score a winning goal, playing against different types of opposition. The learning opportunities that the competition has brought has been fantastic.
“We’ve been fortunate to play some home games and selfishly that’s really nice because ultimately we’re trying to prepare the boys to play at Old Trafford in the long-run, so the fact we’ve had a few repetitions at Old Trafford has been really healthy.
“I’m also really proud that we’ve been represented by quite a large number of the squad, probably 17 or 18 members of the squad have played, so we’ve managed to put those learning opportunities into not just the starting XI.”
Wednesday will see the Under-18s walk out at Old Trafford for the fourth time this season. Few sides have been able to enjoy so many experiences at the first-team stadium as this one, and it’ll have great benefits in the long-term.
“Playing in stadiums in front of crowds, not just at Old Trafford, is really important from a development point of view,” Cox said.
“Playing games where something hangs off the result is really important. Winning isn’t the be all and end all but as a development tool, putting the boys into an environment where there’s an expectation to win and a pressure to win, and knowing that a win builds you more learning opportunities further down the line is absolutely why the competition exists and that’s why we’re enjoying a run of games.
“There is an association at this football club between youth team and Youth Cup and the history that the Youth Cup has, and it brings about pressure.
“It’s a pressure that you welcome because you can’t replicate that pressure in any other walk of life, so the pressure that the competition brings is the close as we can get to the pressure of playing in the first team.
“[Nevertheless] we try actually not to do anything too different for the Youth Cup. It’s important we don’t get carried away and hype it up and turn it into something it’s not. It’s a game of football and it’s a learning experience.”
Only players who were between the age of 15 and 18 on 31 August 2021 are eligible to take part in this season's FA Youth Cup, but that still creates the chance for several groups of players to form together and grow relationships. Some will be regular Under-18s players, others Under-17s and some will play in Premier League 2 for the Under-23s as well.
“What the Youth Cup has done is brought a particular group of boys together regularly and we can see some great camaraderie and cohesiveness amongst that particular group of boys,” Cox explained.
“That’s been quite fun to watch that one evolve. That happens naturally across a season anyway, you can observe progress, development, you can see that the boys towards the end of a season have got a grasp of things that maybe they didn’t have at the beginning of the season, but what the Youth Cup does is it gives a real good focus and a real benchmark for you to obviously monitor progress.”
A win over Wolves would secure a spot in our first FA Youth Cup final since 2011, when a side including Paul Pogba and Jesse Lingard triumphed against Harry Maguire’s Sheffield United.