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Neil Ryan makes his point from the sidelines.

Ryan keen to bridge the gap

Manchester United Under-18s head coach Neil Ryan has explained how matches have been arranged at Under-17s level to provide a bridge for some of his first-year scholars.

A lot of work goes on behind the scenes organising fixtures at the younger level, with a recent friendly against Sheffield United just one example of ensuring playing time for members of the squad.

Ryan, the former Under-16s coach at the club, is mindful that each player needs their own individual plan and develops at his own pace.
Harvey Neville in action against Newcastle
Harvey Neville is one of United's first-year scholars.

”It’s very challenging to give them [the Academy players] game time,” he told MUTV. “Everyone wants to play and start for the Under-18s but we have got a big squad. A lot of the first-year boys, at times, play in the Under-17s and we have our own Under-17s programme. Those boys understand that, at times, they might not always be involved in the starting XI with the youth team on a Saturday but we’ll make sure the games they need.

”Each player really has his own development pathway – some are starting in the youth team and playing every game and others are on a different pathway. It could be physical maturity, it can be playing for the Under-17s is right for them and others have got to fight for a place. There is competition in training to get into the team now which is good and healthy. It’s been very competitive in regards to all the training we’ve been doing – individual work, working in units, working with the team and with the group. So we’re in a healthy situation at the moment with the numbers and it’s been really good.”

When asked if he wants to encourage that competitive environment within the group, Ryan replied: “I think there’s no other way. It has to be competitive. You want them to compete and be competitive within games and it has to come from the training. The old catchphrase is you train how you play. I think we get those demands in training. If the boys aren’t competing and working hard in training, myself and the coaching team are jumping on them quickly to get the level up because it’s the only way we know really.”

Other clubs are also recognising the need for the extra fixtures in order to bridge the gap between the Under-16s and Under-18s, plus afford opportunities to promising schoolboys. Although it obviously involves more planning and scheduling, the Academy is determined to ensure the best possible games programme for the youngsters.

”We have busy weeks with lots going on with Under-17s fixtures, as well as our development system,” added Ryan. “They go from being schoolboys overnight to being expected to play in the Under-18s, when they could be playing against boys who are two years older than them. So the logical step is to play the next stage, Under-17s football. Some boys are ready to go to the Under-18s but some aren’t at that stage of development. In their career at the club, it will be that Under-17 football next and we’ve had those games and are enjoying it.

Charlie McCann joined the club from Coventry.
Sixteen-year-old Charlie McCann joined the club from Coventry earlier this year.

“We’ve played at The Cliff and had some games under floodlights. We played Sheffield United the other night and it was a real tough, physical challenge for our boys, which is what we want. Each player is getting that individual development programme, whether it be the Under-17s, Under-18s, Under-19s and some boys have been up with the first team in different stages, as well as the Under-23s. So it’s pretty healthy.

”Yeah, I think [other clubs do have a similar view on the Under-17s]. Each club has a different number of players as the season goes on and injuries can affect those games as well. But most clubs are looking for Under-17s fixtures at different times within the season. It’s a logical step up for schoolboys in the Under-16s too to get their next challenge as well so it’s all good.”

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