Phelan: Academy pathway is so important
In the latest episode of UTD Podcast, Manchester United assistant manager Mike Phelan speaks warmly about the culture within the club's Academy.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s right-hand man has had a long and distinguished association with the Reds, and is one of only a handful of men who have both played and coached under the legendary Sir Alex Ferguson.
He's therefore highly qualified to chat with UTD Podcast presenters Helen Evans, Sam Homewood and David May about many aspects of the club, including our Academy and its incredible record for producing players. There has been a graduate from our youth system in every first-team matchday squad since 1937, which mounts up to well over 4,000 matches in a row - an unprecedented run in English football.
"The coaches within the Academy are second to none," says Phelan.
“It’s important to have a connection between Academy coaches and first-team coaches, I’ve always believed in that. Coaches talk to each other about players and about what’s going on in their group. I think if you have that connection, we learn things quicker and we can develop quicker.
“I think the club has always promoted a younger player into an older situation, just to see whether they can handle it. We’ve brought that back.
“Ole definitely understands that. He has come through that process in some respect, being a coach at that level [Reserves]. Now he has stepped up to the first team he understands what it means to bring those young players into the first-team environment. Not necessarily to play them, but to get them involved, to just give them a lift or an understanding that there is an opportunity. There is a real chance that you can achieve something.
“Once that happens and once you get that player who comes through, I think it invigorates everybody else to the possibility which is important, really, really important for that connection.”
One of United's biggest stars, Marcus Rashford, made it through the ranks of the Academy, bursting onto the scene with two goals against Danish side Midtjylland in February 2016. Phelan hopes the club’s younger players learn from our no.10’s journey to a first-team spot.
“I want them [the young players] to be able to experience what the likes of Marcus felt when he first came in,” Phelan said.
“I saw a video of him yesterday afternoon funnily enough, I think it was put out by the club. I don’t know how old it was [but it showed him] from the Academy through to the first team. And I’m looking at Marcus and I’m going, ‘Wow, what a young kid. A kid with this smile, this enjoyment, this laughter, coming through, really starting out to make progress.’
“That's what you want, and you want that to stay with them. That every time they play, they enjoy playing and they really have a smile on their face. They have worked hard to get there – it’s harder to stay there.
“What I’m trying to say is it’s there for you to enjoy it. Under the pressure, under the spotlight, just bring it all out, show your character, show your personality. It isn’t a burden it really isn’t. It is surprising how many smiles it puts on people’s faces when you bring that energy and that youthfulness. It’s brilliant to see – that’s what we have to do, keep bringing that to the fore.”
During his many years in football, Phelan has seen the sport change, in particular off the field where social media can now have an influence on young players.
“In my day [as a player], everything was left on the football field and the supporters would go away and talk about it. Then they would come back [to the next game] and see if there was improvement,” he says during the podcast.
“Nowadays it is so automatic that you are under the spotlight before the game, during the game and after the game. And it continues non-stop.
“The outside influences now are huge. Whereas before, it could take you a day, or the morning after, to get over a disappointing result, now it is non-stop. Supporters - yours and other supporters - have an opinion and that’s fine, but it can influence a young player.
“We, as coaches, just want the young player to enjoy coming into the place, coming into the building, to kick a football around, to smile, to laugh, to be on that learning path with no hassle, no pressure. But we know that’s not real at the moment. It’s difficult.”
The full fascinating episode of UTD Podcast featuring Mike Phelan is available now from all leading podcast providers.