The Debate: Hope from the FA Youth Cup

Tuesday 17 May 2022 07:00

Manchester United’s FA Youth Cup victory last week gives great hope for the club's future, agreed the panellists on this week’s edition of The Debate.

A 3-1 win over Nottingham Forest at Old Trafford secured our 11th competition title and a record-breaking 67,492-strong crowd was watching on, making it a magical occasion.

The Debate host Stewart Gardner sat down to talk Youth Cup glory, the upcoming Erik ten Hag era, success for our loanees and Sunday’s upcoming match against Crystal Palace. This week’s guests included two European Cup-winners, Paddy Crerand and Wes Brown, as well as ex-Red Danny Webber and The Times journalist Charlotte Duncker.

The group first discussed last week’s Old Trafford excitement, praising the demonstration of support from United fans who came together to create a memorable crowd.

“Incredible, it was,” Crerand said. “The great thing about it was it was a £1 to get in, which was fantastic. You couldn’t believe the number of kids that were here.

“It’s such an important thing for supporters here at United because they come here thinking about the future - ‘who’s going to make it?’ And that’s been the way since it first started.

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“When you’re a kid and you win the Youth Cup - what a thrill that is.”

Danny Webber, who played in the competition during his time as a striker in the Academy, agreed.

“It was unbelievable from the fans,” he commented. “There were people who came to the game who aren’t United fans, who aren’t Forest fans and who were just like ‘how do you even get 67,000 people for a Youth Cup match?’

“Obviously it’s a record. You could see how much it meant to the lads. It made it what it was and to get the win in the way we did was great.

“It’s a bit like in America where you get college football with that kind of crowd. We should do that more often, get behind them like that.”

The crowd was so big for several reasons: the £1 tickets, the excitement at a new generation of talented young Reds, but also perhaps the relative lack of success for the first team this year, as Duncker pointed out.

“The fans were still there about 20 minutes after as well,” she recalled.

“They’ve not really had much at Old Trafford to get excited about this season so for them all to be there and for the lads as well to have that opportunity, I think they were singing ‘Viva Garnacho’ to him [double goalscorer Alejandro Garnacho], an Argentina flag round his shoulders, and he was absolutely loving it. It was a great way to end the season.”

As an occasion, it really was special. Nick Cox, head of Academy, wrote an open letter to supporters the morning after the game to explain his gratitude for their role in the final.

Further to that, winning the Youth Cup is not the only sign of success for an Academy, but it certainly is a sign of a talented and confident side.

“There’s a stat going around that says of all the teams that have won the Youth Cup before, at least one player has gone on to make over 50 first-team appearances so that bodes well for at least one of them, you’d like to think,” Charlotte said.

Access All Areas: FA Youth Cup final Video

Access All Areas: FA Youth Cup final

Transport yourself pitchside and relive our glorious Youth Cup final win at Old Trafford…

Wes Brown and Paddy Crerand, meanwhile, were optimistic about the future for these players.

“Being realistic,” Wes said, “you are looking for three or four players to really improve in the next couple of years and have a chance to play for the club.”

Paddy said: “I was impressed by quite a few of them actually and [I was] thinking ‘they’ve got a great chance of making things here if they get an opportunity’, which I’m sure they will. A new manager comes in and changes the whole scenario, doesn’t he?”

It was certainly a team effort, but the headline-maker proved to be Garnacho, the Argentine-Spanish winger who scored two goals in the final and seven in the competition overall.

“Garnacho didn’t turn up for the first 70 minutes and then came alive, won the penalty, took the penalty, got his goal, did his Ronaldo celebration and the Stretford End responded,” Webber said. “It was a nice moment.”

“I think he’s shown in this competition, the Under-23s and the Under-18s that he’s been pretty consistent,” Duncker said.

“He was named Jimmy Murphy Player of the Season, wasn’t he? It’s not just a Youth Cup thing, but he has been the poster boy [in that competition].

“I thought he was pretty quiet for the majority of the game but then he scores that penalty and then it’s a great individual goal to seal it in injury time. He’s shown that quality, which I think Rangnick’s seen in him and that’s why he’s promoted him.

"I don’t think he’s short of confidence, definitely not, which is what he’s going to need. He’s got to go and back himself. Especially with the new manager coming in, you’d like to think that maybe he can prove that he needs to go on pre-season tour. Maybe he can prove that he should be part of the group. People like him and Anthony Elanga, people will look back on them as the positives of this season.”