Kobbie Mainoo and Alejandro Garnacho

Lifeblood shows the Academy is our past, present and future

Saturday 11 May 2024 11:57

It's a story that everyone in world football knows: Manchester United's connection to youth development.

From the Busby Babes to the Class of ’92, through to Rashford, Garnacho and Mainoo too.
With each passing year, the patina on our legendary youth programme seems to grow richer, to acquire more magical mystery. And is it any wonder? 
And what about that mind-shattering stat you regularly see bouncing all over social media? Eighty-seven years and counting with an Academy player in every single matchday squad. A period of time that encompasses more than 4,000 matches.
Lifeblood: History Video

Lifeblood: History

FULL FILM | ‘Lifeblood: History’ tells the story of our iconic Academy, with a focus on Alejandro Garnacho’s emergence…

Even amid the turbulence of the post-Sir Alex Ferguson era, our Academy has remained steadfastly productive. 
The United player with the most goals since the great Scot cancelled his Wrigley's Extra subscription? Marcus Rashford, 131.
But how well do you really know United's Academy? What's really behind its incredible, enduring success?
Those are the questions that a new, club-produced documentary series, 'Lifeblood', seeks to explore. The first episode premiered on Friday, and it's a must-watch for anyone with an emotional connection to Manchester United. (Is there any other kind?)
Episode one is a whistle-stop tour through the Academy's origin story, taking us from the needs-must beginnings of the MUJAC (Manchester United Junior Athletic Club) in the threadbare 1930s to the slick, innovative Carrington operation helmed by Nick Cox today.
It's a treat, in numerous ways.
As the images, newspaper cuttings and glorious video clips fly by, and the epic outline of the story is passionately told by presenter (and diehard Red) Harry Robinson, you just feel pride and awe. That our club has done all of these things; that this is our story.
Then you see Tony Whelan – a man who knew Jimmy Murphy, who trained with Best, Law and Charlton, who is still intimately involved with the Academy – walking around Old Trafford and The Cliff, and you start to get a real feel for the through line that still connects modern Manchester United to Ferguson, Busby, Murphy and beyond.

The rise and rise of Alejandro Garnacho


“It doesn't seem like it's real!” says Garna, in the first film from our new Lifeblood documentary series.

In later episodes, we'll get the meat on the bone: about how the Academy operates on a more granular level; about the amazing stories behind the rise of players like Rashford, Mainoo and Willy Kambwala; about how our coaches create a culture of detailed excellence that can power young footballers forward.
But this first half an hour is all about the spirit and essence of the Academy. Because, before anything else, there has to be an idea. And what has kept Manchester United at the forefront of youth development for more than 90 years now is a commitment to that idea.
A commitment to believing that, yes, you might have already produced the Busby Babes. Yes, you might have birthed the Class of ’92. But who's to say that the best is not yet to come? 
Alejandro Garnacho symbolises that institutional approach as well as any current player, and we spend plenty of time with the flying, Madrid-born winger in this first film. Few players embody United's playing traditions better than the thrilling 19-year-old, yet he is also an emblem of the Academy's thirst for evolution.
Player highlights: Garnacho’s Youth Cup final Video

Player highlights: Garnacho’s Youth Cup final

Player Cam | Alejandro Garnacho stepped up in the 2022 FA Youth Cup final, scoring twice in a talismanic display…

The big, headline attraction of Lifeblood is the behind-the-scenes glimpse it offers fans of Carrington – its pitches, its people, its inspiring corridors and state-of-the-art suites.
But what I found most interesting were perhaps the scenes at The Cliff. As Tony Whelan implies, while our old training ground is now only typically used for junior sides, it still harbours so much of the spirit, the essence of Manchester United. At one point, Nick Cox mentions how important it is to foster The Cliff's feeling and inspiration at our contemporary home.
Manchester United essentially won the Treble from The Cliff – a humble pitch and office block in Broughton, Salford. And that idea remains all over United's Academy: that world-beating excellence can spring from anywhere, if nurtured with care, diligence and hard graft. If those things are there, the ordinary can become something extraordinary.

For most of us fans, it's like a magic trick when Marcus Rashford or Ethan Wheatley appears in the first XI, right? We might have watched the odd Under-18s or Under-21s game, but I don't think many of us are meditating on the fact that these lads have often been studying and learning at United for a decade or more by that point.
Lifeblood shows the painstaking reality: that years and years and years of work have gone into shaping and sculpting these players' skills and their understanding of the details that decide football games at the elite level.
'I can remember it like it was yesterday' Video

'I can remember it like it was yesterday'

Lifeblood clip | Garna sits down with Harry Robinson to revisit the significant moments of his Academy journey...

How that's done is mightily impressive, but what gives me most joy as a fan is the way people like Nick Cox and Tony Whelan cradle the ideas and inspiration passed on by those that went before them.
Yes, we must innovate. You don't produce more top young players via copy-and-paste jobs. But it's vital that we remember, too: remember why the Academy is so integral to this club; remember how it has saved this club on numerous occasions. Remember that 18 of our league titles and all three of our European Cup/Champions League wins have been fuelled by Academy-produced players.
Tony Whelan calls the Academy our 'scarlet thread'. The 'lifeblood'. Harry Robinson calls it our 'tribute' to those that died in Munich. Sir Alex Ferguson called it 'the foundation of United'. 
I simply believe it is our past, our present and our future. And if you watch this film, I think you'll see what I mean.