Man United Under-23s lead coach Neil Wood in Austria.

Introducing Under-23s lead coach Neil Wood

Manchester United's new Under-23s lead coach Neil Wood has explained what getting the job means to him as a lifelong Red.

A relatively young coach at 36, Stretford-born Wood is a former Reserves captain at United and was part of the coaching team at Aston Villa before returning home to Manchester.

He is being assisted by Quinton Fortune, with Head of Academy Nicky Butt overseeing things, as the youngsters embark on another Premier League 2 season.

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Neil Wood at the training complex in Lindabrunn.
Neil Wood speaks to MUTV at the summer training base near Vienna.

“I was at Villa a few years ago when Tony Whelan at United rang and asked me to come,” he told MUTV. “I always wanted to move to Manchester, back home, and it was an opportunity I was never going to turn down, being from Stretford, and always being a United fan. I started working with the younger age groups - the Under-13s, Under-14s, Under-15s and Under-16s down at the Academy.

”I joined the club's Centre of Excellence, as it was then, when I was eight and Nobby Stiles was in charge. I think I've worked out I've spent half of my life at this club, as a player and a coach, so I've been here a long time.

“I always played a year above myself and it was a challenge just to improve every year to try to get into the next group and get the next contract. I had a great time coming through.

“I went to Royal Antwerp, on loan, with Alan Tate and actually later on, when I was playing for Oldham Athletic, Warren Joyce wanted me out there again but, unfortunately, I snapped my cruciate ligament after two days. I also went to Sarajevo in Bosnia for a year as I just felt I needed to get out of English football as, coming through at United for so long, I was used to everything one way in football. I was a playmaker so, as I dropped down the leagues, it was becoming harder and harder to adapt.

”I just felt I needed a challenge to go to a country where it was more technical and it was really good. It was the first time I'd gone from the normal 4-4-2 tactics in the lower leagues in England to 4-2-3-1 and 4-3-3 so it was a new experience for me. We played good football and we had a lot of older players, ex-internationals from Slovakia and Slovenia. It was quite far away and doesn't have that exposure but, football-wise, it was one of my most enjoyable times after I left United.

“I moved back from Bosnia and didn't want to flit around and keep moving from club to club. I was struggling with my knee at that point. I'd had six operations on my left knee and just decided it was time to stop playing. I was about 26 or 27 at the time. I had a little break from football as it was just the shock of not being able to play. The injuries cut short what I wanted to do all my life, since I was eight years old, and it hit me hard. I got myself together and started to make my way on the coaching path really and started at Villa.”

Neil Wood with Angel Gomes and James Garner.
Neil Wood chats to Angel Gomes and James Garner during an Under-23s game last season.

Wood can lean on support from people he knows within the game, including former South Africa international Fortune, of course, who played with him at United.

“I'm 36 now and quite young to be in the role,” he added. “I feel I've worked with a lot of good people coming up as a player and worked with a lot of good people coming through the years as a coach as well. They say take the best information out of all the people helping you and that's what I've done. I've been on a big learning path in the last couple of years and now it is time to deliver in this role.

”There are so many mentors on hand to help. The coaching staff speak every day and you learn something new every day. The coaches I had when I was younger are always willing to help too and listen so you have to use that to your advantage as well.

“I had people I looked up to at the time I was Reserves captain - Paul Scholes and Roy Keane. How could you not learn from them and want to copy them? It's been great having Quinton around already as I've known him a long time. We played a little bit when I was a player here so we already had a good relationship. He's gone straight in with the lads, who have got respect for him, and it feels like he's been here a long time already. I'm really pleased and we're working well together. It's good.”

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