Nick Cox: A season of Academy achievement

Monday 17 June 2024 17:30

As the Manchester United Academy programme comes to an end for the 2023/24 season, I thought I would take some time to summarise what has been achieved by our staff this year.

Our driving force will always be football development; the ultimate aim is to support young people to form the core of a winning first team at United. Notably, this season, Academy graduates have contributed 24 per cent of all first-team minutes. 56 per cent of first-team goals were scored or assisted by graduates. Ten graduates made appearances for the first team, with four players making their first-team debut; Willy Kambwala, Omari Forson, Dan Gore and Ethan Wheatley.  
Many more Academy players contributed to first-team training and appeared in matchday squads. Harry Amass, Habeeb Ogunneye and Louis Jackson were on the bench for the semi-final of the FA Cup.
Marcus Rashford played his 400th game for the club this season while Scott McTominay, who captained the club for the first time, reached the landmark of 250 games. Impressive achievements.
And what an end to the season we had with an FA Cup final win over Manchester City. Goals from Kobbie and Alejandro meant they became the first teenagers to score in an FA Cup final for 20 years (Cristiano Ronaldo being the last, for United in 2004).

Mainoo scoops another accolade


Kobbie has received a further award for his impressive 2023/24 campaign.

Both Kobbie and Alejandro experienced breakthrough seasons with our first team. Alejandro became one of only three teenagers across Europe’s five major leagues to play outfield for more than 2,500 minutes. And who can forget that strike against Everton, which was recently declared the Premier League Goal of the Season.
Kobbie reached several significant landmarks including a Premier League debut, his first senior goal, and his England debut.
The Press Association revealed that Academy graduates received more first-team playing time at United than at any other Premier League club this season. Our graduates contributed 11,835 minutes - 40 per cent more playing time than the team placed second in the chart, Chelsea.  
The same research also revealed that our Academy graduates also delivered more playing time across the whole of the Premier League than any other Academy. Contributing to this statistic were three players who left us last summer. Teden Mengi made 30 appearances for Luton Town, Anthony Elanga played 36 times for Nottingham Forest and Dean Henderson had 18 games for Crystal Palace.
Like Teden and Anthony, several players left us at the start of the season to pursue a career away from United; we are proud of them all. Some of the standout stories are Matej Kovar playing in the Europa League final for Bayer Leverkusen, Dishon Bernard having a huge role in saving Sheffield Wednesday from relegation, Charlie Savage making his senior debut for Wales, Noam Emeran being promoted with Groningen and Zidane Iqbal recovering from an injury to play 12 times for Utrecht.
Incidentally, the Academy generated £38m in revenue from player sales this season.

We also saw a former staff member enjoy success with their new club. Kieran McKenna, once our Under-18s coach, lead Ipswich to promotion and in doing so was named the Sir Alex Ferguson LMA Manager of the Year.  Our learning environment is as much about the development of staff as it is players.
We saw 13 players gain experience out on loan, with senior debuts for Maxi Oyedele, Joe Hugill, Rhys Bennett, Radek Vitek and Alvaro Fernandez.
Alongside these impressive statistics, it’s important we also consider our progress against our vision of being renowned as a world-leading development environment for young people and staff; offering an outstanding and inspirational education through football that changes lives forever and for better. It makes no sense to define the success of young people just by debuts. In striving to reach their full potential, each of the young people we work with can achieve their own versions of success.

It's been a really positive season throughout the Academy and our various programmes of delivery.

At this point, it would be easy to focus on the Under-18s' victories in the League, Premier League Cup, and National Finals. We have talked a lot recently about how these games have been both memorable experiences and wonderful development opportunities for our young players. We have also reminded ourselves that winning games is a by-product of good coaches, the right programme and a daily focus on developing individuals. However, these trophies only tell a story about a small part of the work that has been delivered this year.

U18 Premier League National champions! Video

U18 Premier League National champions!

TROPHY LIFT | Watch the moment United were crowned U18 Premier League National champions...

The players below embody some of the success that has been achieved this season across the Academy:
Kobbie Mainoo – An example of how so many people contribute to the success of one player. Kobbie has engaged with every part of our programme from the Moss Side Development Centre and Pre-Academy Programme right the way through to the Under-21s. He attended Ashton-on-Mersey School (where he achieved excellent grades) and played in front of 60,000 fans at Old Trafford in the famous 2022 FA Youth Cup victory. Earlier in the season he played in the EFL Trophy and Under-19s UEFA Youth League before making his Premier League debut in November. He even spent some time with the physios!
Ethan Wheatley – The 250th graduate from our youth programme to represent our first team. A reminder of the club's 92-year commitment to youth development, the great players and developers whose footsteps we follow in and the privilege we have to uphold their legacy. At a recent event, Ethan articulated his journey from the Under-9s. This was brilliant for the parents and guardians who attended, because the journey he experienced, which is quite typical, didn’t look as they might have expected it to.

Dan Gore – After Sir Bobby Charlton sadly passed away in October, Dan represented the Academy in outstanding fashion as he laid a wreath at Old Trafford ahead of the first-team fixture against Copenhagen.  A few days later, our Under-18s and Under-21s (wearing their treasured club blazers) gave a guard of honour outside Old Trafford as the funeral cortege passed. So many of our young players have represented our club across the world in an exceptional way this season. The Under-13s and their contribution to the Munich memorial are at the forefront of my mind.

United celebrate 250th Academy graduate debut


Erik ten Hag and Nick Cox are both quoted in the club's press release marking a landmark moment.

Jaydan Kamason – The first player from our Emerging Talent Programme to sign a professional contract.  A reminder of our commitment to ensuring we leave no stone unturned in order to give local talent every opportunity to engage with our programme.

Teden Mengi –
Teden is an example of what can be achieved by our players, no matter what setbacks they face. Last summer, knowing he had no future with our first team, he was exceptional in the way he committed to pre-season with our Under-21s to prepare himself for the next phase of his career. He has had a great season with Luton.
Joe Thompson –
This season saw the launch of our alumni programme, as we created a network of former players to enable them to celebrate their experience with our Academy and to share ideas as to how they might redirect the skills they have developed through football to achieve success in other walks of life. Joe, despite his own personal battle, has been a great ambassador for former players and has engaged with the programme in the same way he did his football career, with energy and effort, a positive outlook, and a smile. The programme, although in its early stages, has been inspirational for all involved.

Academy hosts Alumni launch event


Last Friday, we formally launched our Alumni Programme with more than 40 former players in attendance.

We have seen 19 players released across all ages this season, and they have received care and attention from some amazing staff to ensure they find a positive destination for next season. For example, one of our Under-16s was informed in November that he wouldn’t be offered a scholarship with us, but he remained committed to the programme for the rest of the season and earned himself a contract at a Premier League club. Like him, all of the players have left the club with the opportunity to celebrate everything they achieved while they were with us.

The end-of-season event for our Under-16s was some of the best ‘youth development’ work I have ever seen. The brief review of the season gave players and staff the opportunity to reflect on the group's progress and development whilst celebrating successes. The five members of the group who are leaving for other clubs left the event feeling like ‘champions’ as their achievement in finding employment with another club was rightly celebrated. I believe we have changed a narrative; these players didn’t feel like they had been released. Instead they felt like they had been placed at another club.

Our players have had fantastic experiences travelling around the world, to places like Hong Kong, America, Belgium, France, Spain and many more exciting locations - including some in the UK. One of our Under-16s recounted to me how he has happy memories of trips to Shrewsbury and Snowdon when he was younger. Across the Academy we have delivered 37 tours across the world, providing amazing development opportunities and some even more incredible memories.

This season also saw amazing collaboration across the club to create a five-part documentary series called ‘Lifeblood’. You can watch part one below.

Finally, I want to thank our Academy staff for all for their hard work and dedication this season. Some of our staff have been in the media spotlight and will have grabbed headlines for the excellent work they have delivered. But most of them have not had the attention and have instead worked quietly in the shadows to ensure our young players have an incredible experience. Their work has not gone unnoticed within the club.

We have to do it all again next season, when I hope we can all demonstrate some of the learning that we have taken from recent guests of the Academy such as Phil Beadle, who talked of the power of inspirational teachers that commit to building connections with individuals, and Martin Hibbert, who reminded us of what can be achieved when you remain positive, optimistic and show the ability to adapt, even when faced with the most unthinkable challenges.