Inside the life-enriching journey at the Manchester United Academy

Monday 03 April 2023 14:30

Everyone is well aware of the amazing Academy graduates who honed their skills within Manchester United’s world-leading youth development system.

Players have won World Cups, Champions Leagues and Premier League titles. The Academy has an unrivalled record of developing players for a winning first team, with at least one graduate in the matchday squad for the last 85 years.

However, success for our Academy isn’t defined by the one-dimensional statistic of crossing the white line for a debut.

There is also immense pride at the personal growth that is seen in young people as they strive to achieve excellence.

While the Academy's driving force is to develop players that are capable of playing in a winning United first team; the staff take great pride in supporting young people to achieve amazing things both in football and in adult life.

The Academy operates a programme which provides its players with experiences that will help them to understand the values of Manchester United, to grow and succeed in life, and to maximise their talents. 

Manchester United offers young people various opportunities that they wouldn’t otherwise have had the chance to experience, were it not for their association with the club. 

Ultimately, the Academy creates memories that last forever, allowing young people to explore other countries and cultures, make lifelong friendships and develop a range of skills that will benefit them throughout their lives.

Players have travelled all over the world on football, educational and cultural trips with groups visiting locations in America, Hong Kong, Germany, Austria, France, India, Singapore and many more.

Boys regularly have unique experiences that rarely occur in a formal education setting, such as meeting Formula One drivers, hearing the testimony of Holocaust survivors, learning from Apprentice participants, public speaking in front of thousands of people, visiting various historical landmarks such as Auschwitz, attending alternative sporting events and regularly meeting their footballing heroes.

The formal education of all Academy players is at the forefront of our programme, whether this is through the day-to-day support of designated members staff working with the players at partnership schools, or through regular communication with the schools that Academy players attend.

Every effort is made to limit the time that players spend out of school, enabling them to enjoy the full experience of school life and an authentic childhood, while ensuring academic progress is unaffected by involvement in the programme.  

Achievements away from the pitch are equally celebrated, with the Academy hosting an annual awards night at Old Trafford to recognise the progress and personal development of its young players through educational and community work. 

Players work towards achieving excellence, which enables them to acquire a range of skills that will prepare them for adult life regardless of what they achieve in football. The Academy strives to enable each participant to become a great communicator, a collaborator, a lifelong learner, a good citizen, and to act as an ambassador for the club with resilience, drive and determination.

Supporting and trusting young people is embedded into the history and the culture of Manchester United. The Academy journey has all the ingredients to promote wellbeing: purpose, connection with others, exercise and the development of new skillsets.

The Academy encourages all boys to dream but never over promises on the realities of professional football. Staff pride themselves on being honest with participants and their parents about where the journey could take them and what success looks like. Each player is encouraged, and provided with the tools, to fulfil their potential.

The club is proud of each player who represents us, and players have a lifelong association with the club regardless of when they depart. Expert staff ensure that each player is provided with bespoke aftercare support should they leave the club.

The team of staff is dedicated solely to supporting players off the pitch and includes wellbeing experts, player support experts, clinical psychologists, safeguarding specialists, education providers, sports psychologists and mental health first aiders. The Academy is proud to have staff with years of experience in other walks of life, such as social workers, foster carers, head teachers, and teachers - all of whom are experts who provide a broad support network to each individual. 

Shaping futures


These quotes from our Academy graduates really champion the impact of United's youth system.

The various aftercare provisions far exceed the minimum requirements put in place by the various governing bodies, with the Academy holding itself to the highest possible standard of support for those within or exiting its system. 

A wide range of exit strategies enable Academy staff to utilise their range of contacts to support players in finding new professional clubs. During this period, boys continue to train and play for United in order to provide them with the maximum opportunity of remaining in the academy system.

There is huge excitement across the whole academy when boys debut at other clubs or reach career landmarks. The celebration of achievements away from United remains a key part of the Academy’s culture.

An annual celebratory event is held at Carrington for each player who achieves a scholarship at another club.  Staff and former team-mates present boys with signed shirts and photographs to congratulate them and remember their journeys together.

Former players regularly return to Carrington Training Ground for a catch-up, reminiscing on memories and reflecting upon the positive impact that the programme has had on them and how it has paved the way for their opportunities in later life.

Nick Cox, Head of Academy, said: "We are dedicated to creating a healthy and positive environment for the children in our care.

"Academies in general are wonderful environments for young people. United, in particular, is an amazing place that enriches the lives of players and staff alike. We should all be proud of the work that is being done with our young people here.

"We give boys opportunities to experience and learn things that they most likely wouldn’t have the opportunity to do if they were not associated with this football club.

"We obviously exist primarily for the development of players for a winning first team, however through our processes and wider curriculum our boys are constantly learning skills that will help them to succeed in life.

"I have been privileged to work with talented young people who are passionate about football for more than 25 years. I have seen academies do amazing things for children’s lives, such as travelling abroad for the first time, creating lifelong friendships or learning new cultures and languages.

"What we do is about a lot more than just football. We are a world class education system that enables boys to maximise their talents and achieve their full potential.”

Rashford’s legacy continues to grow


Marcus added a League Cup medal to his trophy cabinet on Sunday, as the 25-year-old continues to thrive at United.

Dan Polakowski, United Academy player from 2013-2022, said: "The club teaches you a huge amount on and off the pitch. You develop as much as a person as a player. The support you are given by the staff is amazing and enables you to grow, achieve your targets and go on to set even bigger ones."

Tom Heaton, United Academy player from 2002-2007, said: "Everyone’s journey is unique and the Academy enables each player to believe in that and thrive. The coaches and staff will provide so many opportunities and their support is vital. The teaching of continual progression has benefitted me throughout my career."

Marcus Rashford, United Academy player from 2007-2016, said: "My time in the Academy gave me my grounding and the belief that I could achieve whatever I set out to. It widened my understanding and also made me see where I can get to and where I wanted to be."

Paul Woolston, United Academy player from 2018-2022, said: "Once you're in it you understand what the Manchester United family is. They do so much for you as a player and also for your family."

Joe Thompson, United Academy player from 1998-2005, said: "The coaches teach you things way beyond the white lines of a football pitch. United doesn't create just winners on the pitch, it creates winners in life."

Dan Galbraith, United Academy player from 2006-2008, said:  "You look back and think about how fortunate you were to have the support and as well as the football development, the development away from that as well. You are not only focusing on the football, you are also gaining experience and learning another side of life."

Gerard Pique, United Academy player from 2004-2006, said: "I didn’t play as much as I would have liked but it was a masters degree in development both as a player and a person."

These are just a small selection of the hundreds of success stories that the United Academy has produced over the years, whether that be in football, business, broadcasting or other industries.

We continue to strive to support the development of young people with the aim of maximising their potential in football and life.