Neil Ryan: Winning is 'just a bonus' for Man Utd U18s
Written by Callum McFadden — March 9, 2021
MANCHESTER UNITED Under-18s coach Neil Ryan says winning is “just a bonus” for his side and that preparing players for senior football is the most important thing.
Ryan is the son of former United player and assistant manager Jim Ryan and was promoted from U16s to U18s lead in July 2018.
His side currently sit joint top of the U18s Premier League, alongside neighbours and rivals Manchester City, but Ryan said winning the competition would just be “the icing on the cake” for his team.
“Looking at the group, they’ve been doing well up until the Christmas period and are around the top of the table, but that hasn’t been the focus or emphasis,” Ryan told me for the Football CFB Podcast, which you can listen to via the player below.
“Myself, I’m not looking at the league each week. If the groups are successful at any point and do well winning the league, that’s just a bonus, the icing on the cake. That’s something the players really love to see and get caught up in at times, but as staff to keep an even thing about performance is key.
“We will win games and lose games, that’s guaranteed, but if you can keep performing at a good standard then that is the really important thing for me. At times you don’t tend to focus too much on ‘this is my team,’ it’s a collective really. It’s not a true team you have each week.
“The days are gone where you keep your best players in one group. You see them as a sliding scale - 16s step up to 18s when required and of course the 18s step up to the 23s and mostly that’s by design. We want them to be stretched, to have tough games, tough moments through the season.
“There are a number of boys in the squad who you want to give fair game time to, but also your best players will ultimately be stepping up to the U23s group, or due to a positional thing or a requirement they need.
“I look at how the U23s are doing and take as much pride in some of those boys who are stepping up and performing so well. And of course you take tremendous pride in the next step, which is seeing a Shola Shoretire step up to the first team and he’s had a decent bit of playing time the other night in the Europa League. It was fantastic to see him cope at that standard and do so well.”
Shoretire, 17, became the youngest player to make his European debut for United in the Europa League tie tie against Real Sociedad at the end of last month. At least one homegrown player has featured in their first-team matchday squad for the last 83 years.
These are proud records and Ryan said it was crucial that the manager, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, was such a believer in youth.
“It’s vital for the Academy to have someone at the top like the manager who believes in the youth and who will trust that the players we are bringing through will be ready for that step up,” he said.
“Obviously he’s put players in and given them debuts, Shola being the most recent. The relationship we have with the manager is just fantastic. He has his eye on the youth and there are Kieran McKenna, Michael Carrick and Martyn Pert there who work in the first team and really have that interest in the youth system as well.
“I feel every time we see the coaching staff in the first team you get this nice feeling that everyone is striving to work together to get these boys through.
“Of course they have to have the talent, the physical attributes maybe, but really they have to be at the level to succeed there. They are not going to be put in just as a favour for the Academy. And of course we have Nicky Butt who is bridging that gap between the first team and Academy with the manager.
“Prior to the last year, when we’ve not been able to be on site together, the communication process has been excellent and the manager himself sends me messages.
“It will be a fantastic support to us knowing that the manager will give these boys an opportunity and really respects what goes on in the Academy.”
- Callum McFadden is the founder of the Football CFB website and podcast. You can find him on Twitter at @CallumCFB