Academy Weekly: Closing in on a historic landmark

Tuesday 09 January 2024 14:05

As Omari Forson proudly became the 249th Academy graduate to make a Manchester United first-team debut, several Academy age groups have proudly represented the club at international tournaments this weekend.

The Under-19s competed at the Rewe Junior Cup in Gottingen, the Under-18s in the Mercedes-Benz Junior Cup and the 2012s age group in the Heiden Cup.

“These competitions provide our young players with different stimuli,” Nick Cox, Director of Academy, told us.

“They are small-sided indoor games that force the players to improve their touch and close control in high-intensity matches.

“The opposition includes many high-quality local teams, including major clubs like Bayern Munich, who play in this format every week. That means our players are getting a real challenge.

“This is one part of our consistent focus on delivering a varied programme. The league matches supporters may see the results of are just one part of a wider games programme which we hope will stretch the boys as much as possible to help prepare them for a future in professional football.”
Rewe Junior Cup

United have competed at the Rewe Junior Cup on five previous occasions, winning the tournament in both 2017 and 2018.

Many local fans turn out to watch the Under-19s in this competition, which is another key part of international fixtures, exposing Academy players to the challenge of representing United globally.

United have a long tradition of European youth football, having first entered the prestigious Blue Stars Zurich tournament in 1954. Those players who travelled to Gottingen this weekend, then, are following in the footsteps of the Busby Babes, among many others.

The Under-19s were beaten in the quarter-final by Hannover 96 after earlier fixtures against Union Berlin, FC Gleichen, Fortuna Dusseldorf, JFV 37 Gottingen, JSG Norten, FC Hansa Rostock and JFV Eichsfeld-Mitte.
Mercedes-Benz Junior Cup

United last won the Mercedes-Benz Junior Cup, which was established in 1991, nine years ago. It has regularly provided a great challenge for our young players, including those who have graduated into the first team, such as Marcus Rashford. Other stars to feature in the competition include Bayern Munich’s Joshua Kimmich and Leroy Sane.

This weekend, United faced a healthy variety of opponents in VfB Stuttgart, SC Freiburg, FC Heidenheim, FC Union Berlin and Royale Union Saint-Gilloise. The young side finished fifth.

Heiden Cup

The 2012s age group were involved in the Heiden Cup, a futsal 5v5 tournament, facing Bayern Munich, Juventus and Hertha Berlin.

“These types of events are invaluable for the boy’s long-term development, both on and off the pitch,” says Neil Gittens, Head of Player Development U9-U12. “The tournament provided a high level of football challenge technically and tactically.”

Forson becomes latest Academy graduate


The young midfielder was handed his first-team debut by Erik ten Hag at the DW Stadium.

Omari Forson makes first-team debut

Huge congratulations to Omari Forson who made his first-team debut in our 2-0 defeat of Wigan Athletic in the third round of the Emirates FA Cup.

“After three first-team debuts last year, we’re delighted to see another so soon into 2024,” Nick Cox said. 

“It was only three weeks ago that we were celebrating Willy Kambwala becoming the 248th Academy player to graduate into the senior side and now Omari has become 249. Whatever he goes on to achieve in the game, this is a landmark moment for him and his family to celebrate.

“Congratulations to Omari and those around him and to the multitude of staff who have contributed to his development.

“As we emphasise to all our young players, even after a great deal of hard work, this is just the beginning for Omari.

“For the Academy, it’s another step closer to a landmark 250th graduate. That will be a fantastic occasion to reflect on 90 years of incredible work at Old Trafford, The Cliff and now Carrington. We know we’re following in the footsteps of greats here and while we’re excited to hit 250 and celebrate, the focus will very quickly turn to 251, 252 and all the way to 300 and beyond.”

Forson: It is an honour Video

Forson: It is an honour

Omari Forson reacts after becoming United's 249th Academy graduate...

McNeill returns from loan

Striker Charlie McNeill has returned from a loan spell at League One club Stevenage. He made three appearances during his time there - taking his total senior appearances to 24 - and will now rejoin the Under-21s squad for the rest of the season.

Graduate achievements

Congratulations to Axel Tuanzebe who scored his first goal for new club Ipswich Town — managed by former Academy coach Kieran McKenna — in their FA Cup victory over AFC Wimbledon.

Nick Cox: My 2023 Academy review


Our director of Academy reviews a successful 2023, punctuated by first-team debuts.

Nick Cox reviews 2023

In his latest column, Director of Academy Nick Cox reviews his staff and players’ achievements in 2023, considering the differing pathways of recent first-team debutants Kobbie Mainoo, Dan Gore and Kambwala.

He also picks his standout moment of the year, when an Under-13s player read out a self-written poem at the 65th anniversary of the Munich Air Disaster.

Coming up

The Under-21s travel to Chelsea for a Friday night match at Kingsmeadow (19:00 GMT kick-off). The Under-18s play Newcastle United away from home on Saturday (12:30 GMT kick-off). Both games will be shown live on MUTV.