Justin Cochrane excited to see how U18s handle FA Youth Cup final crowd
Justin Cochrane, head of Academy player development, is excited to see how Manchester United’s Under-18s handle the various challenges of playing in front of a Premier League-size crowd at Old Trafford in the FA Youth Cup final.
Almost 50,000 tickets have been sold for the Wednesday 11 May (19:30 BST) match, in which United will compete for the trophy with Nottingham Forest.
Cochrane, who joined United last summer, also outlined why this match will be a wonderful opportunity for the U18s to ‘stake a claim’ in the club’s future ahead of the arrival of new first team manager Erik ten Hag.
“I’m so proud of the players and the staff,” Cochrane said.
“The players have been fantastic since pre-season. They’ve been committed to developing, learning and improving day in and day out and it’s resulted in them ending up in an FA Youth Cup final, which is fantastic.
“During the games, we’ve had a variety of different tests since the third round and they’ve shown resilience, they’ve had to come from behind, they’ve played in the right style [and] they’ve played an exciting brand of football that is befitting to the football club. I’m really pleased and proud of what they’ve done and the qualities they’ve shown throughout this cup run.”
The young Reds began their cup run with a 4-2 victory over Scunthorpe United. It was the first chance for the team to play at Old Trafford, and a decent crowd greeted them. Since, the players have grown in confidence on home turf, having also defeated Everton, Leicester City and Wolves at the Theatre of Dreams.
The support shown already by fans at these games has been fantastic, but the take-up of tickets over the last fortnight has been remarkable. With more than 48,500 sold already, the largest crowd in FA Youth Cup history is expected.
“I’m looking forward to seeing how the players handle it,” Cochrane admitted.
“It’s another step in their journey - a big step in their journey - so how they handle the nerves, how they handle the crowd, how they handle a strong opposition in Nottingham Forest who have been doing very well; I’m looking forward to seeing how these players adapt in this scenario because they need to show that they can play in this sort of stage and this sort of arena if they want to progress and play in the Premier League for Manchester United.
“It’s exciting. We’re really, really looking forward to it. We want as many people to come and hopefully that [number of tickets sold] can be pushed up a bit further.
“Playing in front of a crowd of Manchester United supporters, of people from all over the UK or people that may be travelling in to watch the game, it’s great for these players. It gives them that real matchday experience and we want players who can play on the big stage. There’s no bigger stage than the Theatre of Dreams, [and] 75,000 [people]. That’s what these boys are aiming for, so if we can recreate that somehow with the supporters coming in, with some noise and some atmosphere in the stadium, that will only be good for their development.”
There has always been a great emphasis on the FA Youth Cup at United. The club were five-time consecutive winners of the competition from its inaugural season in 1952-53 up until a 1957 triumph over Wolves. We've since won it on a further five occasions and have been defeated finalists four times.
The competition has acted as a kicking-off point for many great players in the club’s history, but also for players who have gone to enjoy successful careers elsewhere, on and off the pitch.
Ultimately, though, what is guaranteed with the Youth Cup is memories, Cochrane explains.
“What I’ve mentioned to the players is we can create memories,” he began.
“Not everyone who’s won the Youth Cup has gone on to have really high-level careers, but I’m sure everyone who’s won it will remember it. That’s part of what you can do in football and in team sports, in winning trophies and being junior champions, you’ll remember for the rest of their lives so the boys have got an opportunity to create memories that will last a lifetime.
“[This is a] club where youth is at the priority of their thinking. We’ve got Darren Fletcher who has been key in supporting the young players and supporting the progress of the young players, not just for the Youth Cup, but in training with the first team, we’ve had players make their debut, we’ve had players be on the bench, players regularly training.
“For this club, being one of the biggest clubs in the world, to still have a clear pathway from youth to first team is great. Darren Fletcher and John Murtough have made it really clear to myself that that’s the priority and it’s exciting times for the football club.
“There’s a new manager coming in. I’m sure he will be playing a style of football that’s required at this football club and he comes also with a background of developing youth players, so for these young players who are going to play at Old Trafford, it’s a great opportunity for them to play well and stake a claim in the exciting times ahead for the young players in the first team.”