No chopping! How Cochrane helped develop Garnacho at Manchester United
Written by Simon Austin — November 28, 2022
IN June 2021, Justin Cochrane was appointed as Manchester United’s first Head of Player Development and Coaching, with a remit to “maximise the potential of each individual player" aged 17 to 23.
Speaking on the latest episode of the Training Ground Guru Podcast (which you can listen to below), the 40-year-old has given a fascinating insight into how he did this with Alejandro Garnacho, United's most exciting young talent of the moment.
Cochrane, who left United to become first-team coach at Brentford in the summer, explained how his philosophy of “content and connection” was put into practice with the 18-year-old Argentine.
“It was interesting, because I had to get to know him initially,” Cochrane said. “His English wasn’t great, I had a few words in Spanish, but we built up a bit of a connection.
“We had a clear development plan for him and he followed that. It’s gone quicker than I thought, but he’s an example of connecting with the player, getting to know him, understanding him and then having a bit of context.
“He listened to me and he listened to the other coaches about some key development traits that you see him do now when he is playing for Manchester United. It’s fascinating for me to see, because it further cements my ideas on coaching."
Garnacho signed for United as a 16-year-old from Atletico Madrid in October 2020. He made his first-team debut as a 91st-minute substitute in the 1-1 draw with Chelsea in April.
Cochrane said: “At Manchester United, if you were going to get in as a winger, you had to challenge Anthony Elanga, Jadon Sancho, Marcus Rashford and now they have bought Antony.
“So for Garnacho, he had to make sure that he’s really good at what he’s good at - and he is excellent on transition, he makes darting runs in behind, he is quick and he can finish.
“So we had a clear development programme for him that he was part of, that he had insight into. He contributed to it and we spoke in detail about just a couple of areas.”
The teenager, who played for Spain's Under-18s before switching his allegiance to Argentina, the country of his mother's birth, scored his first goal for United against Real Sociedad in the Europa League on November 3rd.
He followed his up with a 93rd-minute winner against Fulham in the last Premier League game before the World Cup break 10 days later. Cochrane was particularly delighted, because the goals demonstrated something he had been working on with the player.
“One of the areas actually was that we said about no 'chopping',” Cochrane revealed. “He used to go down on his left foot and always want to come back onto his right.
“And one of the things I said (was), ‘Look, in the next few games, when you get it on your left foot, take the left-foot shot. So before you chop, you’ve got to have two left-foot strikes before you can come inside.’
“Something so small like that made a difference to him and then we laughed, because I used to say to him ‘no chops.’ And then when you see him score for the first team in the Europa League and he takes it on his left foot you are delighted - and then he takes it on his left foot the other day again.
“So, listen, that’s not me and the coaches at Manchester United, it’s all him. But you know that you tried to have an impact on the development side with him.”
Garnacho was called up into the senior Argentina squad for the first time in March, although he didn’t play. At the time he thanked Cochrane and Darren Fletcher, the club's Technical Director, for their support.
“Justin and Darren Fletcher are two members of the club who are always very attentive to me, supporting me in all kinds of decisions."
Now there is huge interest in the player, both in Manchester and beyond. Cochrane acknowledges the challenges this will pose, but says he has seen enough of the player to believe he will not be phased.
“It’s hard with these young players now,” admitted Cochrane, who coached at Tottenham and with England's U17s before joining United. “I think he’s into two or three million followers (on Instagram Garnacho currently has 3.2m followers) - just in one year, it’s crazy!
“He has got that quality that he thrives in the big moments. He did it in the Youth Cup (final) last year. I remember speaking to him before the game. He was taking ages to get ready.
“The players were ready to warm up and he still didn’t have his boots on. I said, 'Alejandro, come on! Get ready, hurry up.' He was like, 'Don’t worry coach, I’ll score two goals today.'
“And then he went out and scored two goals. Little things like that make you laugh. Me and Travis (Binnion, who led the U18s last season) would speak about it and laugh about it. Some of these high talented players can drive you up the wall at times, but you need to be able to work with talent and work with difference.
“Not everyone is going to be the model young player. And they are young players, 17, 18, 19, not adults, and they don’t think like adults all the time. They shouldn’t.
“They are going to be a bit challenging, a bit different. You’ve just got to be accepting of that. It’s not accepting that anything goes, but you’ve got to have an understanding that they’re going to push the boundaries and you’ve got to know when to pull them back in.”