A decade on from a famous FA Youth Cup win
A life in football is a fast-moving one. A decade has now passed since Manchester United's 2011 FA Youth Cup victory over Sheffield United at Old Trafford.
The anniversary of the second leg is on Sunday, as Paul McGuinness's Under-18s defeated the Blades 4-1 to seal a 6-3 aggregate victory, following an entertaining 2-2 draw at Bramall Lane.
It was a memorable team assembled by United but few could have predicted the future with any accuracy after that evening's game. For a start, the visiting centre-back, a certain Harry Maguire, was forced off with a head injury and received a warm ovation from the fans.
Little did anybody know he would become our senior captain.
Yet you look at the home side and Paul Pogba and Jesse Lingard have also worn the armband for the first team. Pogba is a world champion and is a top-class talent, brought back to the club from Juventus, of course, while Lingard has regained top form on loan at West Ham United and looks set to be named in England's Euro 2020 squad after helping Gareth Southgate's side reach the World Cup semi-finals in 2018.
Sam Johnstone and Michael Keane are proven Premier League performers and have also been recognised by England, while the likes of Tyler Blackett, Ryan Tunnicliffe and Will Keane are performing well in the EFL.
Ravel Morrison scored twice on the night and was an inspiration throughout the successful run. He has recently been capped by Jamaica. Captain Tom Thorpe, Michele Fornasier, Sean McGinty and Gyliano van Velzen also started the final, while Larnell Cole had been impressive in the earlier rounds.
Striker Will Keane, who scored the other two goals against the Blades and was the focal point in attack, told us: "I think we always knew we had a capable squad. When we looked throughout the team, we could see physicality and, on top of that, players who were technically capable. We were strong in pretty much all areas so we knew, if we got on a good run, it was going to be tough to stop us.
“I think Harry Maguire got injured; he had concussion and had to come off. It was probably a massive blow for them, being the rock at the back. I scored two and Rav got a couple. One of my good mates, George Long, I was with him at Hull, was in nets and I still see him and take the mickey out of him when we talk about those good times. I sent him the wrong way from the penalty spot and that settled us down a bit. We were quite comfortable in the end.
“It was a great achievement and I remember the celebrations afterwards. All the lads and Paul [McGuinness] were buzzing. Working with him for a couple of years, we knew how much it meant to him so to go out and show what we could do and win it on top of that was extra special. I remember all the lads cheering and soaking him with water bottles. It wasn't champagne back then! It was good fun."
Pogba told us his memory of the occasion in a recent fans' Q&A session: "I remember that it was new, something of a new culture for me, coming to United. It was a dream come true. What I remember is with our kids, like me, Jesse, Sam Johnstone, all the players, the Keanes, we had a dream to play professional and play for the first team. To enjoy [it], and when I see the guys in the first team, and follow our dream. It’s this that’s beautiful, just beautiful. We believed and we achieved and that is something that, if I have a message for kids and everything, it is just to believe in your dream and you can achieve it.”
Tunnicliffe, who played alongside the Frenchman in the engine room and faced the Reds in this season's Carabao Cup with Luton Town, said: “It was really special for me. I grew up with all the boys and to win that at a massive club in Manchester United, to be in the club's history and to look at some of the legends who won it as well. It will be forever in the history of Manchester United so to win the Youth Cup was really special.
“They're some of the greatest memories I've had as a player, winning the only proper tournament at that age. It was the first real feeling of being a professional footballer and probably the best memories from that early stage of my career. To do it with my close mates was great.
“Paul [McGuinness] loved it, he loved the history. He taught us a lot about football and being adults and it was really special for us to win it for him.”
Blackett came on in the final for van Velzen to help the Reds over the line to clinch a then-record 10th success in the much-respected youth competition.
Now with Nottingham Forest, he told us: "Do you know what? I've just realised it's 10 years ago and it's flown by. It was obviously a great time when we were young, just enjoying it and just being part of that team was really good.
“I spoke to Paul [McGuinness] not so long ago, keeping in contact with him and seeing how he was and how he is doing. Paul was very big on the FA Youth Cup because of the history and the boys who had played in it before. It was always a big thing for us.
“I speak to Jesse quite a bit, I've spoken to Ryan Tunnicliffe and played against him a few times. There is always that friendship we've had from a young age. It's always nice to see them and good to keep in contact."
The players do come up against each other on the pitch from time to time and try to stay in touch wherever possible, even to reflect on that magical time for them.
"We're still friends and obviously we've got that bond which will last forever," added Tunnicliffe. "If I see them, I speak to them but everyone grows up, gets married, have kids and you lose the time for your childhood friends. But I speak to them now and again. I don't pester them or cling to some of the boys who are really famous now, I just leave them to their life."
"It's hard in football," accepted Will Keane. "You cross paths and then go your separate ways and don't speak for a while. I still to speak to Sam and it was great to see him get his England call-up, which was well deserved for him. I was with Rav at QPR and enjoyed playing there with him for a couple of months. He branched out but we still speak now and again.
“I've spoken with Jesse a couple of times but not heard from Thorpey for ages. Some of the Italian lads got in touch on social media a couple of months ago. It's just nice to reminisce and talk about the good old days and we all look back with fond memories. At the time, you probably just take it in your stride but it was a big thing for us to win the FA Youth Cup.
“You expect you're going to win more trophies in your career and move on and forget about it. But it's still a massive achievement and I'm sure the lads look back on it as one of our top moments. I'm not sure how many have won trophies since then, probably not loads. Rav and I did get winners' medals in the Championship play-offs with QPR but this has still got to be up there for me."
It remains an enjoyable memory for everyone associated with United's Academy and it has been fascinating to follow the players' progress ever since.