When Manchester United's players head out on loan, every step is taken to ensure they are happy in their new environment and gaining the valuable experience that is the primary purpose of the transfer.
This is not merely on the field but off it as well and many Reds speak of growing up and becoming a man by being placed in a new situation away from the club where many have spent their entire young lives. Gaining independence and learning new skills, they still retain assistance from United and support when required.
Les Parry, the former Tranmere Rovers boss, is the Academy performance manager and charged with the responsibility of keeping tabs on those sent out to other clubs. It’s a full-on role and one he embraces with enthusiasm and a real sense of care for the players.
“I generally talk to them, definitely on Monday after a weekend and definitely on a Friday to find out whether they’re playing,” he told Inside United.
“Then I go and watch a midweek game and watch a weekend match as well. The other staff go to watch games, particularly the goalkeeping coaches, but I’ll attend a Saturday fixture and then, on Sunday, watch all the games before speaking to them to discuss how they’ve done. I also watch them train maybe once every six weeks.
“I’m quite fortunate that my background is in the lower leagues as I usually know somebody at a club. This is quite good as it means I can speak to somebody, usually the manager, to find out how our boys are doing.”
There are new experiences awaiting all of the youngsters – Kieran O’Hara washes his own kit at Macclesfield Town, Matty Willock is staying in a small apartment above a shop at St Mirren and Regan Poole had to contend with three different managers during his single season at Northampton Town.
“It’s unbelievable the level of care they get here,” explained Parry.
“Everything is top notch but you don’t have to go very far down the ladder to go somewhere where that’s not the case. It opens their eyes a little bit. When I spoke to Devonte Redmond last season [after his spell at Scunthorpe United], he said it was nice to get out of the United bubble. He didn’t mean that in a horrible way but was being realistic about the world out there.”
Cooking is a major element of living on your own and, inevitably, there are different levels of proficiency among them.
“I’m trying my best,” admitted Demi Mitchell, who is currently at Hearts.
“I’m a good learner. Chicken drumsticks are the most adventurous thing I’ve cooked but you have to get the seasoning right. Add some pepper and some rice and coleslaw. I don’t make the coleslaw, though, I buy that from the supermarket!”
Parry suggests Willock prides himself on being good in the kitchen but Andreas Pereira joked the only thing he could manage to cook at Valencia was popcorn so he needed to get some help in!
“Tom [Whitehead], our nutritionist, does some lessons with them,” added Parry.
“It’s just basics, like boiling rice and pasta, but they do embrace it.”
Away from United, life is different and nothing beats the first-hand experience of dealing with problems, footballing, environmental and social. The loans are an important part of the developmental process but the club's staff are committed to helping young players throughout the journey.
“[Goalkeeping coach] Alan Fettis and Les are a big help, keeping track of our progress,” said O’Hara, who is keeping goal with Macclesfield.
“Maybe at other clubs, people get lost in the system and even forgotten about but there are structures in place here, which I think is good and can all be used to our advantage.”
For Parry, there is a real degree of responsibility and pride in his work. Utilising new technology, he is able to provide a level of support that would have been unachievable years ago.
“We do care about them,” he asserted.
“These loans can be the making of them. It’s important we give them feedback.
“Sometimes, coming from their manager, it’s not delivered in the best way so it’s quite good for them to be able to discuss things with someone, whether that happens to be me or, with the keepers, Fetts [Alan Fettis]. We’re detached from it and the lads will tell you that I’m really honest with them.
“If they were poor, they’ll be told they were poor. We talk about things they need to improve on and then our analysts clip video of some instances of what we’re talking about and put them on Hudl so they can go online and watch it. Even when I was talking to Dean Henderson about something at Sheffield United, I said I’ll film it on my phone from the screen at home and, five seconds later, he’s received it and can see it on his phone.”
No stone is being left unturned in the bid to ensure the loans are of maximum benefit to United and the individual. Parry is extending his network of contacts at clubs and doing background checks to deliver valuable information on lower division teams who could make approaches for the club’s youngsters in the future.
“We’re building a database,” he explained.
“Certainly with the north-west clubs and I’ve been to the likes of Fleetwood Town and Wigan Athletic. I’ll visit them and have a word with the manager, find out their philosophy and look at the facilities. So we can then be more prepared. It’s important we understand the physical environment. Some of our players wouldn’t thrive under a certain type of manager and we’re trying to take more control of it.
“When you think about it sensibly, the chances of an ideal club coming in for your specific player are pretty slim. So we need to be proactive when we identify a player who needs to go out on loan for his development and target clubs where we know he will get the right set of experiences.”
More loan moves are anticipated when the transfer window reopens in January – and you can rest assured United will be perfectly prepared for these well in advance.
This article first appeared in Inside United, the official club magazine.Reading this in our app? If not, you might miss some exclusive features not found on ManUtd.com. Download the Official App here.