Ryan understands romance of the Youth Cup
The FA Youth Cup has always meant something special to Manchester United, and that is also true for Under-18s lead coach Neil Ryan.
For somebody who grew up learning the values of the club, instilled by his father Jim, who not only wore the red shirt but was heavily involved in the Academy set-up, the romance of the competition is obvious for the man who helped steer his side past Lincoln City, Norwich City, Leeds United and Wigan Athletic to reach the last four of the 2019/20 edition.
That was when COVID-19 struck and the tie at Stamford Bridge was postponed indefinitely.
The idea of finishing such a prestigious tournament remained on the table but it was a long wait before the decision to play the games across a long weekend at St George's Park was announced.
"You know it's historic," he told us at the Aon Training Complex this week. "You mention the Busby Babes and obviously the Class of '92, the history of these great previous coaches who have taken youth teams to the cup finals. There is a romantic side and element to it, personally for me, loving the club and the history of the club.
“I've grown up my whole life around this club and to get to take it to the FA Youth Cup final would be very special for me. I am working really hard to make sure we go out, compete and put on a good performance. Football is unpredictable, you don't know what is going to happen but we want to be ready and that is what we are going to do."
The build-up is extensive for such fixtures and the squad, which is made up only of players eligible for last season's competition, has been reassembled to take on the challenge posed by the Blues, also serial winners of the trophy, particularly in more recent times.
"We had the group together for the first time since March," explained Ryan. "We were saying how good it was that we have the chance to play again as we thought it might have gone. We are all excited. We'll have a few days' preparation and be ready to play.
“We had a video session with them, to provide a reminder of where we were, before the enforced break. We have to get our minds back on the competition, which is important for us. They worked so hard to get themselves into this position to get this opportunity. I had texts from them during lockdown asking about the FA Youth Cup but we never had any news, until recently. The lads have to focus their minds on getting back in together and being a group again.
"It's been quite mixed with the Under-23s and lads have played up there anyway," he added. "They've spent a lot of time together and are all friends and mates so they're quickly back into the team spirit.
“This is where we get to test our youth players in a pressure environment. Before the enforced break, you look at the games they got to play against Wigan and Leeds at Old Trafford, in front of crowds, and the tie at Norwich. They were getting tested physically but also on the tactical side of it and dealing with their minds, dealing with the pressure. These types of games are so important for them. Of course, there is the historical, romantic type of love for this tournament that dates back to the Busby Babes too and our boys are aware of that.
"It's a great opportunity and we want to give ourselves a shot at winning the cup," he stressed. "Of course, we played Chelsea in the previous season and it was a real humdinger of game. That was a fantastic night for us, a really tough game for us, and we know it's going to be another tough fixture because they've got great track record in the Youth Cup in recent years.
“They have been bringing players into their first-team now and bearing the fruits of that so we know it's going to be a really challenging game for us."
MUTV will show the game in full for UK viewers from 22:00 GMT on Friday. It is being shown live on BT Sport.