Manchester United decide not to release youth players amid coronavirus pandemic

No player under the age of 19 will be let go by the Red Devils due to the unique circumstances brought about by Covid-19

Simon Peach
Friday 07 August 2020 15:57
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Manchester United academy chief Nick Cox believes young people have “never faced such a difficult time” and underlined the club’s duty of care in helping players cope with the impact of coronavirus.

While the club’s first team prepare to jet off to Germany for the Europa League on the back of their third-placed Premier League finish, life is more uncertain and unsettling for those trying to progress through the ranks.

United’s Under-23 team did not even know what division they would be playing in until Thursday, when they were promoted to the top division of PL2 on a points-per-game basis following last season’s abrupt ending.

Neil Wood’s second-string side and the Under-18s have only recently been able to get back to training, while those below the youth team have yet to return to the field as this challenging, coronavirus-shaped period continues.

Head of academy Cox is acutely aware of the strain this is putting on young people, leading United to decide that no player under the age of 19 will be released due to the unique circumstances brought by the coronavirus situation.

“We took the decision, while people were on lockdown, that it just wasn’t right to release kids from the programme – and actually that we’ve got a role to play in the recovery,” he told the PA news agency.

“And I don’t say ‘recovery’ lightly. There’s going to be a recovery process here. People have been through trauma. Different people, different levels of trauma. Some people won’t have been affected too much. Some people have had a really difficult period of time.

“The football club has a duty to assist and aid young people’s recovery from what they’ve just been through. They have been deprived of social interaction, they haven’t been hanging out with their mates, their routine’s gone, their structure’s gone.

“We’ve got a job to do to say: ‘Hey, at the end of all this come back with a smile on your face, play football, hang out with your mates.’

“So there was no way we were going to release anyone during that period of time and we managed to be consistent with that message right the way through to our very young professionals, or anyone that hadn’t made a senior appearance.”

Players from Manchester United’s academy

Even with those players that were released, United provided support by inviting them back to train and creating information packages to aid their look for a new club. In addition, financial support was offered to a number of them. But for those still in the system, there is a variety of issues to contend with as the older age groups step up their return and a “more chilled out” approach is taken with the younger kids.

“There’s no need to catch up, because we didn’t miss anything, because no one’s been playing football,” Cox said. “We’ve got to use football as a vehicle to help people recover.

“Come back, reconnect, see your mates, have a great time, get a smile on your face, find some normality, find some routine, get some physical exercise, enjoy a bit of sunshine. And then once we’re back to some familiar ground, we can start to think about ‘what does the world look like from here on?’ from a football development point of view.

“But slow and steady is the answer right now. I think we all have a duty to look after young people, who have never faced such a difficult time. Full stop. Ever.”

PA

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