Young Reds making up for lost time
Manchester United's youngsters are making up for missing out on a plum UEFA Youth League draw with Real Madrid last season by participating in the 2021/22 competition.
The resumption of a tournament that mirrors the senior Champions League provides vital experience for young players across the continent, with many showing their potential at this level before moving into the main competition at a later date, such as our very own Dean Henderson, Marcus Rashford and Mason Greenwood, among others.
While the tie with Real would have been a special occasion, there was obviously an appreciation of the realities of trying to organise the fixtures due to the ongoing COVID-19 problems but, thanks to a lot of hard work from many unsung heroes, the Under-19s squad were able to travel to Switzerland to face Young Boys on Tuesday afternoon.
Shola Shoretire, who first played in the UEFA Youth League as a 14-year-old, scored the only goal of the game as Neil Wood's boys kept a clean sheet to take the three points home.
It's Villarreal next in Group F, in a 13:00 BST kick-off at Leigh Sports Village on 29 September, with the Spanish side beating Atalanta 2-0 in the other group fixture.
"In normal times, the opportunity to go to play top European opposition has always been important for us," head of Academy Nick Cox explained before making the trip to Bern.
“That's why we try to make sure it happens across the age-groups. It's no good being the best player in the north west of England because you become complacent. You've got to get out of the bubble and see the best players in the south of England, Europe or even South America.
“So the opportunity to go to play in the UEFA Youth League is great for us, getting out of the bubble and pitching ourselves up against top opposition, going up against a team that plays a slightly different style of football to what we're used to and different culturally. It's a great learning opportunity for us.
“It will come with a challenge as it's the first trip abroad with young players since the pandemic hit us and there is a number of staff working incredibly hard to jump through hoops there, and rightly so, to get the privilege of taking the boys abroad, in terms of testing protocols and the behaviours demonstrated whilst travelling, and once we get there.
“People are working incredibly hard to make it happen and we're excited. Ultimately, we had the opportunity to play Real Madrid at home last season and it couldn't happen unfortunately. It was the right thing not to happen but it is a piece of development missed. Hopefully, we're getting into a world where these opportunities are getting built back into the programme."