CTS: Evening Nick, are you looking forward to the fixture?
Very much so, last year we played against Chelsea in the semi-final so it’s great that the fixture has come round again.
CTS: Have you been surprised by how well we’ve done this season, especially considering the amount of 1st year Scholars in the side?
I have been massively surprised! Whereas last year we were expecting to do well because we had lots of 2nd years in the team, this year we were only really hoping for a couple of wins and didn’t expect to get anywhere near last year’s achievements.
In many ways, getting to the semi final with such a young team, and such a physically undeveloped one at that, is almost as big an achievement as winning it last year.
This interview is taken from our latest pod, during which we also talk Athelic (Bielsa, Llorente and Javi), WBA (Rooney, Pogba and Hodgson) and Wolves (including another interview)! Available on iTunes.
CTS: On that note, what is the distinction between 1st years and 2nd years and how has it effected this team?
Each year there is generally a new intake of between 7 and 8 scholars. However, we’ve had 17 this year to replace all the guys that have moved up from U18 level to Reserve level.
Last year, the team was made almost exclusively of 2nd years so this year’s team only has a few second years who played in last season’s campaign at all and is therefore very inexperienced.
CTS: Do you think the physical inferiority has been a contributing factor to our injuries this season?
It has definitely played a part although I think it’s more relevant in the League as in the Youth Cup itself we have come up mainly against good footballing sides.
In the Academy league, there are lots of big, physical teams, who are more athletes than footballers, unlike the United team, so unfortunately we’ve picked up some significant injuries; Luke McCullough, our captain, has just come back from a long injury lay-off; Adnan Januzag, the young Belgian we signed from Anderlecht last summer, has been injured for a few months, having probably been our best player of the season and both Joe Rothwell and Tom Lawrence, who both would have started this fixture, are now injured.
Nonetheless, we’ve coped pretty well and in terms of strength and depth, it’s a big youth team squad. They’ve done well to cover the injuries and even when McCullough dropped out, Ioannou, a schoolboy, came in and did brilliantly, especially against Swansea and Charlton; He is definitely one to look out for next year when he moves up full-time. Same goes for James Wilson, who scored the winner in the last round, who probably wouldn’t be playing if Januzag was fit.
United Celebrate Their 3-2 Victory in the Quarter Finals v Charlton
CTS: Are Academy seems in great health at the moment. Bearing that in mind and our policy of bringing in players from abroad, such as Pogba, Van Velzen and Januzag, what have you made of the proposals set out in the FA’s Elite Player Performance Plan?
It’s encouraging in some respects, such as the scrapping of the 90 minute rule which should, in theory, allow United to bring in more British youngsters which has restricted us before.
Beckham (above) would not have qualified under the rule, for example, and Brian McClair has been saying how it is easier nowadays to bring in players from Barcelona that it is from, I can’t remember exactly but, Basingstoke (or something like that).
It’s evident that United invest heavily in their Academy so it’s good to see they’ll get benefits from the new system but I am not entirely sure about aspects of it; looking at it from a broader point of view, such as that of smaller clubs who will have their best talent cherry picked by the bigger clubs, for a pittance, and the plans for the Reserve league to become an Under 21 league as it basically already is one.
CTS: Could you just pick out 3 or 4 key players that will hopefully catch the eye against Chelsea?
Tyler Blackett was part of the team that won it last year and is a second year defender now. He’s strong, quick, skilful and is a really big prospect- one you could possibly see moving up quite quickly just because of how well he has developed physically (as he’s already ahead of Fryers in that respect) and could be an outsider for the Carling Cup team next season.
Luke McCullough, we missed him a bit whilst he was injured but he’s back now and has been excellent recently. He is technically a 2nd year but he basically missed the whole of last season so we can refer to him as a 1st year almost. He’s quite similar to our captain last year, Tom Thorpe, but he’s a bit more rugged and is slightly less comfortable on the ball.
Mats Daehli, he was inspirational in the last round, when he moved into central midfield and he just totally ran the game. He’s short and diminutive and, even though I hate to make these comparisons, is Iniesta-like in his style (not quality obviously) and is a brilliant player to watch. I just love watching him play.
Jack Barmby, he has scored in every round so far and has 12 goals this season for the Academy so he can’t be missed. Having a famous dad he obviously has some added pressure on him but he’s done really well.
CTS: Bearing that in mind, do you think we’ll progress?
I have gone into a lot of games this season not sure we were going to win and I’ve been surprised so bearing that in mind, I’m going to say no which probably means we will.
Chelsea themselves have a lot of young players in their side but I just think they might a little bit further on in their development and that could be crucial, especially over two legs.
Either way, it is sure to be a close game, one that everyone should be watching on ITV4 (at 19:00 UK Time) if they’re not going Old Trafford.
CTS: Finishing off, Paul Pogba made an appearance against West Brom, on Sunday, and is rumoured to be signing a new contract soon, what have you made of the whole affair?
You cannot imagine that Sir Alex would risk losing face by playing him again if he was still going to disappear to Juventus but personally I thought it was done and he was going. The way in which he went from appearing on the bench for a run of games to suddenly disappearing made me think he was on his way out but seemingly either the club has persuaded him to reconsider or the rumours were all false.
It will be great if he does stay and a big boost to the perception of the club’s academy, after the departure of Morrison in January, as to regards to progression from the youth to senior ranks; as if neither Pogba or Morrison make it then the question has to be asked, who would as they are probably the best players we’ve seen come through in a long time.
You can follow Nick on Twitter, @ManUnitedYouth, and follow him for updates during the match, live from Old Trafford, and check out his Youth blog here.