The League Cup has always been an important competition, especially for young players. So many have used it as a springboard to start their careers off, including myself. Sir Alex Ferguson sees it as a vital cog in developing youngsters at Old Trafford. He handed debuts to defenders Scott Wootton, Michael Keane, Marnick Vermijl and Ryan Tunnicliffe on Wednesday against Newcastle. It will be a night they will remember for the rest of their lives.
Ask many professionals what the highlight of their careers are and so many will point to the day they made their debut. It's what you dream of as a kid and the moment when it happens, is always special. It's a massive step up from what they've been used to and the pace of the game will have hit them like a train.
It would have been the first time these youngsters have faced playing under pressure from supporters who have paid to watch their team and watch their team win. I can remember clearly the first time I made a mistake in my debut and listening to the crowd groaning (the first of many). No academy or reserve games can replicate this and the pressure alone can be too much for some young players.
But Wootton, Keane and Vermijl can be pleased with themselves with their performances in the 2-1 win over Newcastle. All made mistakes, but you learn from them to make you better. It was interesting to see Ferguson and Wayne Rooney continuing to encourage Vermijl, the right-back, to get forward and keep being positive. The youngster made a few rash decisions, especially in the final third, but Rooney, the captain, knew the importance of helping him through his big night.
Senior players can play just as big a part as the manager does in the development of youngsters coming through at clubs. I've seen some seniors bring young players to tears by being over-critical and impatient. But the experienced players at United over the years have been crucial in the education of the younger members of the squad. Both centre-halves Wootton and Keane can learn so much from Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic, not only from training but also watching them on match-days. They should never be afraid to ask the senior player in their position for advice.
One thing a debutant will learn quickly is that senior football is a man's game. The big step up for the four and also young Robbie Brady, who like Tunnicliffe came on as a sub, is the physicality of the game at senior level. It is one issue that the new Under-21 league cannot bridge. Wootton and Keane came up against two very experienced players in Shola Ameobi and Papiss Cissé. And they both gave the two young defenders a stern test.
It's not unusual for a young centre-half to be anxious to win every ball, especially in the air, and come over the top of the forward to try and make a header. Again, they can learn from the likes of Ferdinand and Vidic, who are masters of the art of reading the ball quicker than their opponent. A last word on Brady, who looked more than comfortable when he came on. Maybe this was down to his 39 appearances on loan last year at Hull. I watched him several times and thought he was at home in the Championship. Quick, skilful and left-sided: expect to see more of him.
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