Sat. Jun 6th, 2020

Man Utd

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Manchester United youngsters could still follow in Paul Pogba’s footsteps

4 min read

Teddy Sheringham had waited eight months to celebrate Manchester United’s Treble in front of Arsenal fans and when the time came he milked it like a cow.

‘He went to Man United and he won f–k all’ had been ringing in Sheringham’s ears in 1998-99 but was adopted and altered to ‘and won the lot’ by United matchgoers. On Arsenal’s visit to Old Trafford in January 2000 Sheringham – warming up – approached the away end, held up three fingers and basked in the abuse. He was later sent on and equalised, cupping his ear towards the away end as he walked back to the halfway line.

Jose Mourinho urged United staff to raise three fingers after the Europa League final three years ago, counting the Community Shield among the season’s ‘major’ honours. The United museum staff could don white cotton gloves to handle three trophies before the end of this year before the delayed Community Shield.

The FA Cup and Europa League are scheduled to restart, and the Football Association is still hopeful of completing the FA Youth Cup. There are two semi-finals and a final to play, with each stage now one-legged affairs. Nicky Butt suggested it would be manageable to condense the latter stages into a mini-tournament between the four teams at St George’s Park over a weekend.

Butt, the head of first-team development at United, said ‘to be in a Youth Cup semi-final and it all stop is disastrous for everyone that’s involved’. The fulfilling experience for youngsters of playing in sizeable stadiums and in front of fuller crowds has already been lost and exposure might be scant. Fixture congestion is inevitable and the ties could easily clash with televised Premier League matches.

“There are only a couple of games left to go across the whole competition so, realistically, that could be squeezed into the beginning of a new season,” the United academy head Nick Cox opined. “You would have the slight issue of which boys are going to play, is it last year’s group or is it the new age-group for next season? I guess you would have to work that out.

“But it is well within the realms of possibility that that could get played. I think for the stature and a prestigious competition, it would be strange to have a year without a winner, so we’re really keen to get it played.”

United have not reached the Youth Cup semi-finals since 2012 and the 2011 class of Paul Pogba, Ravel Morrison, and Jesse Lingard were the last to hoist the trophy at Old Trafford. The class of 2020 have benefited from kind draws (Lincoln, Norwich, Leeds, and Wigan) and Chelsea, winners of seven of the last 10 Youth Cups, await in the last four.

United prevented Chelsea from retaining it in 2011 through inspired performances from Pogba and Morrison in each semi-final leg, and Mason Greenwood’s clinical hat-trick 17 months ago inflicted a first Youth Cup defeat on Chelsea in more than five years.

There is a growing belief United can reach their 15th final. “Very, very tough game,” academy coach Neil Ryan said after the quarter-final victory over Wigan “It’s what you want.

“At the start of the year, when you plan what you’d like, semi-finals in the Youth Cup against Chelsea? You’d go, ‘yeah, we’ll take that, great’. Down at Stamford Bridge, a one-legged game, it’s going to be tough and challenging for us but we’ll pose a few problems for them.

Deji Sotona celebrates scoring for the United U18s at Everton in March
Deji Sotona celebrates scoring for the United U18s at Everton in March

“If you want players to come through the system they need to go and play and games like that and be able to shine. Hopefully we’ll do that.

“There are a few players still involved in this group who played in that last year, so we fear no-one. You’ve got to be able to go and play against the best teams in the country and we’ll look forward to that. You want to test yourself against the best.”

Charlie McCann, Teden Mengi, Anthony Elanga, and Reece Devine were involved in the competition last season and the 18-year-old Elanga regained fitness to be available for the trip to Stamford Bridge in late March before it was indefinitely postponed.

There was a buzz about Hannibal Mejbri before he appeared at Leigh Sports Village and the Under-18 captain Teden Mengi was the youngest inclusion in Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s squad in Astana. United have agreed a contract with the coveted Shola Shoretire, another mid-teen sensation who has already gone viral after his Uefa Youth League debut at the age of 14.

McCann is in the same elegant mould as James Garner, Charlie Wellens inked a professional deal with United last week and Mengi’s usual defensive partner, Will Fish, first travelled with the academy to their pre-season base in Austria aged 15.

After last season’s uplifting triumph over Chelsea, three teenagers travelled to France for that night in Paris: Greenwood, Garner, and Brandon Williams.

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