New Manchester United Under-18s coach Neil Ryan is fully immersed in the club's culture already and immensely proud to be taking over the reins from Kieran McKenna.
Ryan, whose father Jim played and coached with the Reds, moves up from the Under-16s and is busy ensuring pre-season continues to run smoothly for the youngsters. The 44-year-old has seen players under his tutelage go on to play for the first team – Jesse Lingard, Scott McTominay, Marcus Rashford and Axel Tuanzebe, for example – and is determined to maintain a production line of talent.
”I’ve grown up with Manchester United all my life,” Ryan told us.
“My dad played for the club in the ‘60s, of course, in the Sir Matt Busby era, with all those great players like Best, Law and Charlton.So I’ve grown up with a lot of United history in my family and obviously I’m a big fan of the club, a big fan of the team, I always have been. It’s just an absolute honour and privilege to be here coaching the youth team now and I’ve got some great challenges ahead.”
After starting out at Luton Town, he left at 21 to embark on a career in the United States, but featured for Altrincham before taking up coaching with United’s Under-11s in 2002.
“I think I’m very privileged to have been around coaching and football all my life,” he said.
“With regards to my father and his background, it means I was immersed in the game. I grew up in changing rooms as a little boy, surrounded by managers, coaches and players. I suppose a lot of boys with fathers in the game naturally step into football because it’s been their life. I’m no different there.
”I’ve lived my life constantly in football since I can ever remember, 24 hours a day, and it’s really just a way of life for me. So, it was a natural progression from playing football to stepping into the coaching side and it’s something that I love and I have a real passion for.
”I’m just driven to succeed and make sure, at the club and the Academy, that we can develop all these players and push them on their individual journeys. It’s so exciting when you’ve been working with players and seen their journeys, including some boys who are no longer at the club. But obviously boys like Jesse, Scott, Marcus and Axel are examples who are still with the club.
“It’s great to have played a part in their journeys somewhere along the line and share that experience with them. Now our job is to get the next group of boys to follow in their footsteps.”
United’s Under-18s have often had a reputation for enterprising and attacking football, as was the case in winning the Premier League North title last term, and Ryan hopes any fan following the team will continue to be excited in 2018/19.
“I think it’s the only way we know, as a club, in the sense that it’s the traditions of Manchester United to entertain the fans, to entertain the people, and to make sure we stick to the great traditions of the club,” he added.
“However, it doesn’t mean that you don’t defend and you don’t do the right things off the ball.Nicky Butt has been clear with the philosophy of the Academy and how he wants to play. So, yeah, we’ll definitely make sure that, when our boys step onto the pitch, they’ll be brave and bold, get on the ball and express themselves and play with attacking flair and go on to excite the crowds.”
The hard work is already under way, following the successful training camp in Austria recently, with more plans already in place even before the Under-18 campaign starts.
“You more or less say goodbye to your families for about five weeks in pre-season,” admitted Ryan.
“You just don’t see anyone. It’s 24 hours a day and it’s great because we have training camps, tournaments, tours and it’s just a great time of the season to get everything in place for the year ahead.
”We must get the levels of fitness up for the boys, and do the team-building exercises, on and off the pitch, to make sure we’re all bonding and gelling because there are two groups coming together [last year’s older Under-16s have become first-year scholars]. There are a lot of exciting challenges ahead.”