Manchester United’s teenagers are providing hope at the end of a wretched season for the club, with more than 65,000 fans set to flock to Old Trafford for the FA Youth Cup final against Nottingham Forest.
While the directionless Red Devils stumble towards the conclusion of their worst ever Premier League campaign, the focus on developing talent at a club synonymous with homegrown stars is reaping rewards.
The Old Trafford giants have the chance to add to their record of 10 Youth Cups on Wednesday as Travis Binnion’s Under-18s host surprise package Forest, who are coached by ex-United reserve boss Warren Joyce.
A record Youth Cup final attendance will provide an unforgettable backdrop as United’s young talents looking to win the competition for the first time since Paul Pogba, Jesse Lingard and Co did in 2011.
“It’s a massive game, significant in the club’s history,” United youth captain Rhys Bennett, with the club since Under-9 level, said.
“We’re proud to get to the final. We’re buzzing. Comfortably the biggest crowd we’ve played in front of.
“It’s an amazing experience for every one of us. It’s the closest you can get to a first-team game, playing in front of thousands of fans, an unbelievable opportunity.”
Bennett grew up eight miles away from Old Trafford in Denton and is among a core of players from the north west, including impressive Kobbie Mainoo, Daniel Gore and Sam Mather.
Those local players are complemented by a sprinkling of talent from across the UK and other European clubs.
Alejandro Garnacho is the star name of this crop, having shone on the run to the final and been called up to Argentina’s senior national team before even appearing on the bench for United’s first-team.
The 17-year-old, who has since made his club debut, joined from Atletico Madrid before Brexit regulations changed in 2020, when Alvaro Fernandez arrived from Real Madrid and Marc Jurado joined from Barcelona.
“The team-mates and the coach help me a lot to be here,” talented right-back Jurado said. “I am really happy, I keep going. I am doing well learning English.
“Alejandro and Alvaro are doing really well with the season so far. We have loads of good players in the academy, so I follow their steps. That’s it.”
Norwegian talent Isak Hansen-Aaroen and France youth international Willy Kambwala were others to join in 2020, along with Manchester City sharpshooter Charlie McNeill and Sunderland front man Joe Hugill.
“It’s a massive trophy for Under-18s – the biggest you can win,” Hugill said. “But for the club it would be a huge step.
“Whoever plays we’re all confident, anyone can step on that pitch and put a performance on. Whether it’s me or not I want the boys to do well.”
United are looking for silverware at the end of a special night that is helping disadvantaged youngsters across the region.
Tickets for the final cost £1 and all proceeds are going to the Manchester United Foundation, with the Under-18s learning more about its work at an event held at the training ground ahead of the final.
“United is one big family,” skipper Bennett added. “With the Manchester United Foundation, we don’t realise what it actually does until they say it’s going back into the community.
“It’s an amazing thing to know our FA Youth Cup final is pumping money back into the community.”
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