Mason Greenwood on his full debut.

Butt: The time must be right for our youngsters

Manchester United's Head of Academy, Nicky Butt, has outlined the reasons why youth products cannot be rushed into regular first-team action.

Mason Greenwood became United's youngest starter in the Premier League era when making his full debut in last Sunday's finale against Cardiff City.

The 17-year-old striker showed plenty of promise, was very unlucky not to score after registering seven shots in total, and earned widespread praise afterwards for his performance.

Nicky Butt at the Awards dinner.
Nicky Butt on stage at the annual awards dinner at Old Trafford.

Although there is always a clamour to blood talented teenagers, Butt, who climbed through the club's youth ranks himself, knows decisions are being taken to protect the long-term interest of the players, with Mason no exception.

Speaking to official club magazine Inside United, he said: You’ve got to look at our Academy players as potential Manchester United players in the first team for 10-15 years.

"That’s what we want – to breed our own players to stay at the club forever and be the leaders. 
To carry the baton for the next ones coming up. That is how it should work.

“If you rush them too soon, throw them in when they’re not ready or in the wrong game, then it can set them back a long time.

“Sometimes it does work… look at Marcus [Rashford]. He was thrown in and never looked back. But it’s something we’ve got to study and communicate up and down the levels of coaching staff, from the first team back down to the youth team to see who is ready.

"Some are ready physically, tactically and technically but they aren’t ready mentally. If they’re only 16, 17 or 18, it’s a really massive thing, going to Old Trafford and playing in front of 75,000 fans, making mistakes and being able to carry that burden on their shoulders and go again. The timing has to be right.

The timing was deemed right last weekend for Greenwood to start for United in a front six made up completely of Academy graduates and he will continue to be nurtured carefully.

Although it will be difficult to manage any growing hype and expectation surrounding the England Under-18 international, he will be looked after at the Aon Training Complex.

Kieran McKenna and Mason Greenwood.
First-team coach Kieran McKenna keeps an eye on Mason Greenwood in the warm-up.

“Mason is a phenomenal talent,” added Butt. “He’s done unbelievably well for me in the Under-19s this year and done well when he’s gone up into the Under-23s, he’s playing for England and he’s had his first-team debut.  

"They have to be ready and it's not where they are now but where they are in 18 months.As a club, we have to make sure we don’t go overboard on players like Mason. Yes, they’re very talented. Yes, they’re unbelievably good players. Yes, we hope they play for Manchester United. But how many times have we said that about a player in the last 15 years?

“We are very confident that Mason and the rest of the lads we talk about will have good careers here. But there has always got to be a reality check. It’s got to be a case of okay, as and when it happens, it happens. In the meantime, all the process is to get to where he wants to be when he’s 20 or 21, not where he wants to be at 17 or 18.”

The latest edition of Inside United includes a special feature on the club's Academy and is available to buy now from manutd.com/magazine.

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