Nick Cox: Loan moves can bridge the gap

Sunday 04 February 2024 19:00

It was a busy January transfer window for Manchester United Academy as we secured opportunities for players to continue their development on loan with other clubs.

Naturally we would always prefer to see players integrated directly into the first-team squad where our staff have full control of their development and the players are exposed to our own first-team environment. Kobbie Mainoo and Alejandro Garnacho are recent examples of where this has happened successfully.

However, for some players, a period of development away from the club is required to provide experiences that will develop the skills needed to bridge the gap between Academy football and our first team.

I am pleased to say that we have managed to secure loans for all of the players that we identified as being ready for a new challenge this month; the planning for this window having taken place over the last 12 months.

Gore goes out on loan


Our highly rated teenager is to gain experience away from United, in League One.

I’m particularly pleased that we managed to place the majority of players early in the month of January, without the need for any last-minute decisions to be made on deadline day.
- Maxi Oyedele has joined Forest Green Rovers on loan 
- Joe Hugill has joined Burton Albion on loan (and scored on his debut)
- Dan Gore has joined Port Vale on loan
- Rhys Bennett has joined Stockport on loan; Stockport are top of the league and chasing promotion to League One 
- Radek Vitek has joined Accrington Stanley (clean sheet on his debut)
 - Alvaro Fernandez was recalled from Granada to join Benfica on loan
- Hannibal has joined Sevilla on loan 
- Charlie McNeill has returned from his loan at Stevenage

Will Fish (Hibernian) and Brandon Williams (Ipswich Town) continue with their season-long loans at their respective clubs.

Sam Mather and Sam Murray have both been registered with Rochdale, while Sonny Aljofree and Tom Wooster have done the same with Altrincham and Macclesfield respectively. These agreements won’t look like traditional loans, however. Whilst the boys are registered with loan clubs for the rest of this season, they will represent both our Under-21s and their loan clubs between now and May.

Our Under-21s only have nine guaranteed league fixtures left this season whilst teams in the National League and below could have as many as 17 games left to play.  Our players will, hopefully, experience a greater volume of games and a more diverse range of experiences in the second part of the season than they would if they were only playing in the Under-21s. The boys will continue to train at Carrington. You may remember that we took a similar approach with Joe Hugill and Maxi Oyedele at Altrincham last season which has prepared them for their full loans this year.

Academy quartet agree innovative loan deals


Four youngsters are taking up the club's initiative to gain senior football this season.

Naturally it takes a lot of time and effort from a range of staff to ensure these arrangements take place. Thanks to everyone involved, in particular Les Parry, who has coordinated the loans; Matt Hargreaves, Francesca Whitfield, Suzie Yates, Chris Chiang and Jacob Dunlop who have supported with negotiations and finances; Martin Mosely and his colleagues in the legal team; Rebecca Britain and her team in club secretarial; George McCaffery in the communications team.

That’s without mentioning all of the Academy coaches and staff that have worked hard to prepare the boys for their loan opportunities. Apologies if I haven’t named you... I appreciate all of your efforts. A real whole-club approach.

As is always the case during any transfer window, players also leave us on permanent deals to continue their careers at other clubs. Isak Hansen-Aaroen (Werder Bremen) and Mateo Meija (Sevilla) have left us to further their careers. They will be aspiring to build long and successful careers away from United and follow in the footsteps of many graduates who have done so before them.

Deadline-day move for Hansen-Aaroen


Isak seals a permanent switch from United, subject to international clearance.

Most recently we have seen the boys that left us last August achieve great success. Matej Kovar has made his debut at Bayer Leverkusen. Zidane Iqbal has made his senior debut at Utrecht. Anthony Elanga (Nottingham Forest), Dean Henderson (Crystal Palace) and Teden Mengi (Luton Town) are playing regularly in the Premier League; meanwhile, Charlie Savage (Reading) has made his senior international debut for Wales and Axel Tuanzebe (Ipswich) is frequently in a matchday squad in the Championship.

On that note, this month, the European Champions Report identified our club as the third-most productive club in Europe in relation to transitioning Academy talent to senior football. We are still ranked number 1 for such productivity in England by the Premier League.

The message we reinforced to our players at our recent celebration event is that our definition of success is ‘striving to reach your full potential’. The outcome will look different for each individual and that is certainly the case for those players mentioned above. I look forward to watching their careers unfold.

Mejia leaves United on permanent deal


The Under-21s forward and Colombia youth international has signed for a La Liga club.

Let me focus on just one example for now. Mateo Meija joined us at the age of 16, arriving from Spain. His time with us was challenging for a number of reasons. Arriving in a new country at a young age is hard enough, however, he experienced two major, lengthy injuries and had to endure being away from his family on his own during the pandemic.

Mateo left us last month with a huge smile on his face, grateful for all the support he had received both on and off the pitch, and the skills he had learnt that will prepare him for adult life, both in and out of football. "Manchester will always feel like my second home," he told me. His best memory? A wonderful goal against Arsenal at Old Trafford for our Under-21s which marked his return from injury.

Our driving focus will always be to support players to form the core of a winning United first team, but that won’t be the case for every young player we work with. As a passionate youth developer, I get as much satisfaction from stories like Mateo’s as I do watching boys debut for our first team.