United's summer tournament a big success
Manchester United's inaugural Under-18s Summer Tournament was very well received at the AJ Bell Stadium as Brazilian side Flamengo lifted the trophy.
A competitive round-robin format made for some entertaining football, with a late penalty equaliser by Porto on Friday afternoon delivering a blow to the Reds' hopes of reaching the final.
Flamengo defeated Porto on Saturday to come out on top, with Arsenal also taking part in an event designed to provide as much off-the-field benefit as on it. There are now plans to replicate the format for other age groups in the near future.
Academy secretary Steve Higham led a team that organised the two days, which included a dinner at the hotel where the four clubs were staying. A number of innovations produced great benefits, primarily for the players involved, but also from a wider perspective.
“It’s the first time we’ve delivered an event quite like this,” explained Head of Academy Nick Cox.
“This one is quite special and there are some obvious on-pitch benefits behind it. The season starts next week and we’re trying to prepare the boys from a physical point of view for the league campaign and it is also competitive football.
”There are a lot of off-pitch benefits as well because a number of events have gone on and we’ve involved the parents, to engage them in the process of helping develop their kids. At the hotel, there is a dinner where coaches are exchanging ideas and the players will spend some time sharing experiences with each other.
“They have the same passion but very different journeys getting here. Beyond football, it’s a collaboration and we’re trying to create an environment for the four clubs to learn off each other. It naturally happens in that environment, sharing best practice and how each club approaches the same challenges involved in developing young people.
“I can’t take any credit for this other than turning up this morning as Steve Higham and a team of amazing people with him have spent several weeks and months preparing this event and making sure it’s well co-ordinated. It goes beyond the pitch and the officials, as there is travel, transport and everything else as well. I hope it’s the beginning of the hard work because, if the event is successful, we’ll look to replicate it and mirror this in other age groups by running tournaments and festivals with similar objectives throughout the Academy season.
”There are so many nuances in a short space of time, over 24 hours, there are a number of experiences that don’t throw themselves up on a weekly basis. We know the calculations so we can put out a team tomorrow that, if it wins the game by a certain margin, we can still potentially finish in the top two. So it’s a conundrum how we approach that and solve that problem.
Under-18s coach Neil Ryan was able to field most of his squad and get some more minutes in the legs of the players in advance of Saturday's league opener at home to Sunderland on Saturday at 12:30 BST (live on MUTV).
"I’m really enjoying it,
“ he said of the tournament. ”It’s been fantastic. The club have invested in bringing in European and South American opposition across and we’ve got Arsenal up from London – a top Academy side.
The games have been really competitive and it’s a great environment, exactly what we want from these matches. It’s tested our boys as they have been tough games but we’re really pleased with some of the stuff we’ve seen and also happy it’s given them a real challenge, physically and tactically, plus the pressure of playing in front of a crowd.
“It’s a different type of mentality from what our boys normally come up against and what we want our boys to experience, as many simulations of first-team experiences so that when they go away on world tours or play in the Champions League against South American opponents, they’ve had an insight into what they’re doing in different countries. The challenges they face are tactics, formations, gamesmanship, the intensity of the game from their players and the passion from the sidelines. Whatever it is, we’re hoping to expose the boys to more of it.”
“The AJ Bell Stadium is fantastic. I know we’ve had a few Reserves games and Under-19s UEFA Youth League matches here but our lads are playing here for the first time in the youth team. The club has done a great job with the advertising hoardings and giving it the real first-team treatment. It’s close to home, near Old Trafford, and it definitely feels like a home game to us.
“We have such an amazing amount of staff, and brilliant staff within the Academy, and people who probably people never get to see because they’re working day in and day out, behind the scenes. They’re the team behind the team and it’s a good opportunity to show the parents, guests and other clubs what goes on behind the scenes with player care, sports science, the trips that go on, the psychology side of things, it’s not just about the football but the whole package the players get and the whole journey along the way, which is special for our players. We want to evolve and improve it constantly and this has been a good example of that.
”It’s been a really good four-five weeks now of training it’s been intense, double sessions and long days. We’ve had lots of games - we were down at Tottenham last week and had a great weekend with a couple of games and now we’ve got this high-level tournament as well to cap off the pre-season work with a challenging test to take into next week’s game.
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