Manchester United unveil new Pre-Academy coaching team
Written by Simon Austin — September 7, 2021
MANCHESTER UNITED have unveiled their new Pre-Academy coaching team, led by Neil Gittins and Connor Hunter.
Gittins, who has worked for the club for 11 years, is now Coaching and Programme Manager (U7s to U11s), and devises a coaching programme that is “suitable and age-appropriate”. Hunter has been promoted to Pre-Academy Manager, having previously been Lead Phase Scout (U6s to U8s).
He has been at United for four years and is responsible for “providing a varied programme that operates in line with the beliefs and values of the club.”
Jarrad Ince, who previously worked in the Emerging Talent programme, is now Pre-Academy Lead Coach and will “work closely with the other coaches to evolve the coaching programme” and “help to create an environment in which children fall in love with football.”
The Premier League had proposed regulating pre-Academy football from 2020/21, but that plan was subsequently shelved, TGG understands.
As it stands, clubs are currently allowed to register players from the Under-9s (eight-year-olds can sign on the third Saturday of May every year), although in reality many run teams and recruit much earlier than this. The pre-Academy has to be separate from the main Academy programme.
United said they aimed to create an “authentic childhood experience” and had a “layered system, which gently ramps up each year, seeks to contribute to childhood rather than dominate it.”
Match results are “by no means the priority” and “individual development is always the focus over short-term team results.”
Children play up and down the age groups “to provide the best possible environment for each individual child on a weekly basis” and teams are encouraged “to be playful, creative and experimental.”
They regularly participate in other sports and activities away from the club “to encourage a genuine childhood experience and avoid early specialisation.”
Recent activities have included learning about the life of Walter Tull, a footballer who was the first black infantry officer in the British Army, and hearing first-hand from a Holocaust survivor.
Gittins said: "We have established a brilliant set of development staff for the Pre-Academy. They act as guardians of the culture that we have embedded, the boys are supported by empathetic and understanding staff.
"Mark Jablonski, Remise Dejonge and Steve Juliff provide excellent support for our playing programme. Gary Riley and his staff work closely with grassroots clubs to ensure a seamless transition for children entering our programme.
“Bernard Concannon, Dermot Clarke and Jack Fallows play a vital role in a child’s journey and echo our values to the grassroots clubs that they engage with.
“There are so many people that deserve to be mentioned for their hard work behind the scenes to enrich our boys’ lives and help them to thrive both on and off the pitch."
Head of Academy Nick Cox added: "Throughout the Academy we put the child first and focus on their holistic development. All of our boys are extremely talented so the person is key, the performer comes further down the line.
“We always ensure that the experience meets the age and ability of every player to provide a unique and personalised programme. Our Pre-Academy benefits from a fantastic group of dedicated coaches who are all aligned on the aims for this phase.
“We are extremely proud of the way in which our programme preserves the pleasures of childhood whilst providing a challenging and fun football environment."
Current United first-team players Marcus Rashford, Mason Greenwood and Scott McTominay all joined United before they celebrated their ninth birthdays.