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The United youngsters.

Opportunities can come quickly at United

On Manchester United’s away trips during the Champions League group stages, the club’s youngsters also travel as part of the official party due to their UEFA Youth League commitments.

An important part of our job when being part of the trip is to cover the Under-19s in the afternoon, an appetiser before the main course later in the evening. It is always a fascinating experience to see how the Academy kids handle the replicated pressures of these sojourns overseas. It often throws up new challenges and experiences.

Mason Greenwood roars in delight.
Mason Greenwood is thrilled as United go through on away goals.

It is always in the back of your mind that you could be witnessing the start of a footballer’s career at European level. Maybe some of these individuals can make the breakthrough but it is a pretty impossible task attempting to make bold predictions about the future.

Why? Because the future in football is never predictable. Far from it. I was in Turin to see Nicky Butt’s side draw 2-2 with Juventus and Brandon Williams, Angel Gomes, Tahith Chong and Mason Greenwood all started. James Garner had been hugely influential in the first game against the Bianconeri, scoring in a 4-1 victory.

Naturally, I have high hopes for each of them but their opportunity to travel with the senior side, for a knockout game in the Champions League against one of the best teams on the continent, in Paris Saint-Germain, has come earlier than anybody could have expected.

Yes, Chong had been on the bench for the first team for the Old Trafford game against Juve, while Garner and Greenwood were unused substitutes in Valencia, with the Reds already assured of a place in the round of 16.

However, with the stakes as high as they were at the Parc des Princes, it was so refreshing to see them join Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s squad for the flight to France and a timely reminder that opportunities can come at any time, particularly at a club like United. It is something I usually bring up when interviewing the younger players and, time after time, it is proved to be true.

United's players celebrate
Tahith Chong and Mason Greenwood are in the thick of the celebrations.

Seeing Angel, Tahith, Mason and James at the hotel near the PSG stadium, really brought it home to me. Here they are, with the Manchester United first team, and ready if required to make a splash on the biggest stage.

Remember Marcus Rashford really came to the fore with his performances in the UEFA Youth League before getting his big break and never looking back. The prospect of somebody doing similar, even in the toughest of circumstances in Paris, is one that should excite every United supporter, particularly those who have the same sort of belief in youth that Solskjaer clearly has.

Of course, come the game itself and the youngsters stepped out into the stadium to be met with a chorus of ear-splitting whistles. I watched their group intently as they blocked out the noise and went through their passing drills during the warm-up. Williams may not have been the stand-by player and not on the bench but he was still allowed to join in, yet another nice touch from Ole and his staff.

With time running out and the tie in the balance, Ole trusted Chong to help make the difference. The Netherlands Under-21 international entered the fray and ran his socks off for the cause. What a time for Greenwood to make his senior debut too, as he was thrown on for the last few minutes. And, when Rashford scored the penalty, it was so fulfilling to see this pair joining in the celebrations in front of the away end.

After the final whistle, all the boys were there joining in and the experience, that buzz, is something that will never leave them. Mason has literally had a few minutes of first-team action and has already shared in the highest of highs. 

The club continues to invest huge faith in youth. Wednesday night was further proof of this, if any was needed. What a time to be a young player trying to make his mark at Manchester United.

The opinions in this story are personal to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Manchester United Football Club.

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Highlights: PSG 1 United 3Video

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