How United's unique Pre-Academy programme is thriving

Tuesday 07 September 2021 13:28

Manchester United’s Pre-Academy programme continues to thrive with boys encouraged to fall in love with football and enjoy an authentic childhood experience.

There have been some amazing success stories from this phase of the Academy structure. A number of current first-team players began their time with the club at Pre-Academy level - Marcus Rashford, Mason Greenwood and Scott McTominay all joined United before they celebrated their ninth birthdays.

The club’s dedication to the development of home-grown talent is, and will remain, a core part of the Academy programme. Under Premier League rules this development must begin at Under-9s level and United prepare groups for this phase by engaging with a number of children to enable them to experience the programme before registration.

The programme is overseen by Neil Gittins in his role as Coaching and Programme Manager (Under-7s to Under-11s). Neil has worked for United for 11 years in various roles and now devises a coaching programme that is suitable and age-appropriate which prepares boys for the next phase of the Academy.
Our Pre-Academy programme is led by a group of highly qualified coaches.
Connor Hunter was previously Lead Phase Scout (Under-6s to Under-8s) before being promoted to Pre-Academy Manager. He has been at United for four years and is responsible for providing a varied programme that operates in line with the beliefs and values of the club.

Jarrad Ince is Pre-Academy Lead Coach having previously worked in the Emerging Talent programme. Working closely with the other coaches to evolve the coaching programme, Jarrad has helped to create an environment in which children fall in love with football.

Neil, Jarrad and Connor have established a culture of encouragement and support which aims to ensure that the boys develop a genuine love for the game of football that will continue well into their adult lives.

Simply put, the Academy has developed an environment that is a fantastic addition to the boys’ childhood which remains a positive influence throughout their lives, regardless of the football outcome.
The programme is aspirational, inspirational and avoids early professionalisation. The nurturing environment challenges the boys but ultimately provides an authentic childhood experience throughout their time with United. The layered system, which gently ramps up each year, seeks to contribute to childhood rather than dominate it.

Match results are by no means the priority for the group. Individual development is always the focus over short-term team results. Each player’s journey in life and football is unique and a range of individualised initiatives ensure that all of the boys in the system are catered for.

One example of this is boys regularly playing up and down the age groups to provide the best possible environment for each individual child on a weekly basis. The decisions are regularly reviewed by coaches who work with the player and their parents to ensure that they are happy and understand the reasons behind this.

Football is just one aspect of the Academy system, with a great deal of work going into ensuring that the environment is the right one for each boy. Teams are encouraged to be playful, creative and experimental. They regularly participate in other sports and activities away from the club to encourage a genuine childhood experience and avoid early specialisation.
The young Reds have enjoyed playing at Old Trafford.
Each boy is engaged in a personal development programme. The programme enables boys to explore their passions away from football and helps them to develop into well-rounded people.

The group have had the opportunity to learn about the life of Walter Tull, a footballer who was the first black infantry officer in the British Army, and heard first-hand from a holocaust survivor.

Trips are regularly arranged with boys enjoying new experiences and developing independence as well as learning from new cultures. Recent destinations include France, Malta, Italy and Germany.

Before joining the group, a meeting takes place with the child and their family to ensure that the programme is the best place for the boy to develop.

Talent identification is notoriously complex, especially at this early age given the varying rates in which players develop. Children are scouted at Pre-Academy level on the basis that they have the talent to reach the next phase with no pressure or expectation added on top of this.

Many of the boys join from grassroots clubs and Manchester United continue to hold a number of excellent relationships throughout the North-West. Local teams are regularly invited into Carrington to experience coaching sessions with United’s Academy coaches.

The work is continued through the Emerging Talent team who share resources and experiences with players and coaches of grassroots and school teams throughout the age groups.
Some of the coaches and participants from United's successful Pre-Academy programme.

The Academy continues to thrive with five graduates making their debuts for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side last season. The current crop continue to add to the rich heritage which has been at the heart of the club’s identity - an Academy graduate has been involved in the first-team squad for over 4000 consecutive games.

Gittins said: "We have established a brilliant set of development staff for the Pre-Academy. They act as guardians of the culture that we have embedded, the boys are supported by empathetic and understanding staff.

"Mark Jablonski, Remise Dejonge and Steve Juliff provide excellent support for our playing programme. Gary Riley and his staff work closely with grassroots clubs to ensure a seamless transition for children entering our programme. Bernard Concannon, Dermot Clarke and Jack Fallows play a vital role in a child’s journey and echo our values to the grassroots clubs that they engage with.

"There are so many people that deserve to be mentioned for their hard work behind the scenes to enrich our boys’ lives and help them to thrive both on and off the pitch."

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Our young Reds will have gained some valuable experience through an event held on home soil.

Nick Cox, Head of Academy, said: "Throughout the Academy we put the child first and focus on their holistic development. All of our boys are extremely talented so the person is key, the performer comes further down the line. We always ensure that the experience meets the age and ability of every player to provide a unique and personalised programme.

"Our Pre-Academy benefits from a fantastic group of dedicated coaches who are all aligned on the aims for this phase. We are extremely proud of the way in which our programme preserves the pleasures of childhood whilst providing a challenging and fun football environment."

World-class players are regularly produced but above all else, the Academy develops good people who are humble, confident, disciplined and creative. The holistic aims of the programme ensure that lives are enriched by the Academy journey, regardless of the final destination.

Manchester United also provides opportunities for girls to play football at the highest level. The Regional Talent Club offers intensive training and support, along with the chance to compete against other clubs from across the North-West. If you would like to find out more visit the Manchester United Foundation website.