Trusting in youth is in United's blood

Thursday's Europa League tie with Real Sociedad was another occasion to cherish for everybody associated with Manchester United's much-vaunted Academy.

The system that keeps on producing first-team talent was heavily represented in the second leg at Old Trafford, producing a sense of pride at the Aon Training Complex and beyond.

Head of Academy Nick Cox believes that, while it may seem extraordinary, having so many homegrown talents play in such a fixture is clearly achievable for United because it is simply in the club's blood.

Shola Shoretire replaces Mason Greenwood.
Shola Shoretire replaces Mason Greenwood in the second half.

United started with Dean Henderson in goal, and it is sometimes forgotten he is a youth product following his loans away from the club. Mason Greenwood lined up on the right wing but the return for the second half saw the Academy representation really ramped up.

Brandon Williams, Axel Tuanzebe and Marcus Rashford all came on after the break. Shola Shoretire replaced Greenwood with 14 minutes left while Ethan Gabraith was one of the unused substitutes. Rashford even took over the armband and maybe the only disappointment was the fact Tuanzebe had a rare goal chalked off after a lengthy VAR review.

“I don't think we'll be too greedy,” said Cox. “It was a really impressive night and that would have been the icing on the cake but that's life.”

It is difficult to disagree with that assessment.

“I think the unusual thing about Thursday night is that it isn't actually that unusual,” explained Cox to us. “I think the world is looking on at how many Academy players were on the pitch and talking about it, quite rightly so because it's an exceptional achievement, to be in a competitive competition and winning the tie with that many young players on the pitch.

“It's something the world of football will be interested in but, actually, we know that's the expectation at our club; that's in our blood and is just what happens around here. That is what makes it most exceptional. I only have to look back as far as the Watford tie in the FA Cup [in January] and think we managed to get seven kids on the pitch - in total not all at the same time.”

Nick Cox.
Head of Academy Nick Cox is rightly proud of what has been achieved again this season.

Another night for the entire Academy to be proud of was a welcome boost as lockdown continues, with hope of restrictions being eased in the coming months.

“I think it's fair to say the staff have probably had the hardest year of their lives,” explained Cox. “In terms of the working conditions they've been under, life at the training ground is incredibly restricted and many of the staff are still dealing with being at home or home-schooling.

“For the staff to see a night like Thursday reminded them why they are associated with the Academy. It really is a wonderful experience for everyone and just gives us all that lift and motivation to keep going at a really tough time.

“For the players, as we've talked about before, there is no more powerful role model than someone just a couple of years older than you. In the same way, it was a lovely moment when Shola replaced Mason. We hope it won't be too long before someone is replacing Shola as sub, who is maybe a couple of years younger than him.

“That chain reaction has always been the way and this week has been a wonderful example of that. Thursday night and Shola's debut last weekend injects positivity into the organisation, which is more important now than it has ever been.”

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