Manchester United's Head of Academy Nicky Butt believes opportunities will arise for his Under-19s players to follow Tahith Chong's lead in obtaining a senior call-up.
The young Reds were outstanding in scoring four goals for the second successive match in the UEFA Youth League, with Juventus defeated 4-1 on the back of the 4-0 success over Valencia at Leigh Sports Village. It was another exciting display by the team, particularly without one of the key men in Chong, who was on the first-team bench for the evening encounter against Juve in the Champions League at Old Trafford.
Chong's elevation may have been just reward for his efforts but Butt is convinced others can hope to push on as well, if they take on board his messages about keeping their foot on the gas. Such was the level of perfomance against the Bianconeri's Under-19s, there were many positive displays in front of the crowd of 1,352. Josh Bohui, Mason Greenwood, James Garner and substitute Dylan Levitt supplied the goals but the coach was thrilled with the overall outlook.
“Chongy has done really well and been one of the stand-out players when he’s played at this level,” Butt told MUTV.
“He’s gone up with the first team today [Tuesday] and I said to the lads at half-time there is no better time to go and be a footballer at Manchester United.
”There is room for them to go and play there as it’s a club that really insists on youngsters going up through the Academy and playing in the first team. The club demands it, the fans certainly demand it and the board demand it. I said that at half-time, there is no reason why three or four of them couldn’t be up in the next squad.
”It’s why they need to do well here and not take their foot off the pedal but keep driving and driving. It’s easy for me to say it as an older man who is now retired as, when I was young, I probably did the same thing. But it’s really important to keep giving them the message that, when it gets easy, it’s not the time to take your foot off the pedal.
“You’ve got to keep going and the reason why is because, if not, you let teams back into the game. Also you never know who’s watching. You never know when your next opportunity is coming. It might be around the corner for one or two of those players in that dressing room.”
Butt believes it is a squad game at this level and all about developing young footballers, a factor helped by the ability to make five substitutions in this season's UEFA Youth League tournament. He has also managed to fit a number of attacking players into his line-up, with captain Angel Gomes performing at the base of what appeared to almost be a diamond formation to allow Aliou Traore, Chong's replacement from the previous win over Valencia, to operate just behind striker Greenwood.
Not only did Garner provide a box-to-box display in midfield but Bohui and Aidan Barlow kept attacking from out wide with full-back Ethan Laird, in particular, contributing many goals and assists this term for the Under-18s and Under-19s. With the substitutes contributing, as against Valencia, the whole situation looks rosy at present.
“It's a good way [to do it],” Butt said of the ability to make more substitutions.
“It works that you can only do it at three separate times in the game because it stops timewasting. It means you tend to get the players on and the lads need experience.
“It's development football, you must keep remembering that. We like to win, Manchester United is about winning things, but it's more about developing players. If they're going to sit on the bench, you are not giving them minutes and not developing them all. The lads understand that it's a squad game. If we're winning, and doing so well, we brought off probably one of the best players on the park in Ethan Laird.
”He came off and that doesn't usually happen except in development football. He's done his bit and comes off so Brandon [Williams] went on and had 12-15 minutes and did well. Arnau [Puigmal] did well as he has in the past and [Aliou] Traore has come in and got his starting pace today so I was really pleased with how it works.
“Angel has got the ability to play pretty much anywhere. He's a footballer so everyone automatically thinks he's an attacker but we like him in the pivot role to set up play and get the ball moving. He keeps possession and, in European football, keeping the ball is massive. If you don't keep possession in the middle of the park, it's going to be a struggle.
”He did that, along with Jimmy, really well and we had Aliou at the point of the midfield as we knew his power and pace would cause problems. He did that and pretty much every single player on the pitch put in a good performance.
“Again, the lads came on from the bench,” added Butt.
“I've mentioned a couple of times now but certainly in meetings, they've been amazing when they have come on.
”They kicked us on again when we got a bit sloppy and injected pace and power and created goals. As I've said in there [the changing room], it's a squad game and we could have a lot of players who are missing the next five or six games. Chongy has gone up with the first team and we have more injured. George Tanner was unfortunately suspended [after his red card in the Under-23s' win over Sunderland] and he could struggle to get back in now but it's a squad game and they have all got to keep going and playing well.
“They must keep the pace and it's very healthy to have that kind of challenge in the squad.”
United's next UEFA Youth League outing is at Juventus as the team strives to keep the 100 per cent run going on 7 November.
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