Manchester United’s head of academy Nick Cox believes the club’s traditions remain as strong as ever after their latest talented crop won the FA Youth Cup.
After a thoroughly miserable season at Old Trafford, the club’s under-18 team provided some optimism as they beat Nottingham Forest 3-1 to win the competition for the 11th time.
A crowd of 67,492, including club icons Sir Alex Ferguson, Bryan Robson and Ryan Giggs, saw the likes of Alejandro Garnacho, Rhys Bennett and Kobbie Mainoo make names for themselves.
Manchester United’s head of academy Nick Cox (L) says the young stars have a long way to go
The Under-18 team beat Nottingham Forest 3-1 to win the competition for the 11th time
And Cox, who joined the club in 2016 and replaced Nicky Butt as academy head in 2019, has helped restart United’s production line of young talent.
He said: ‘This football club is built on success and youth and tonight I genuinely feel the fans turned up to show those embers still burn bright. It doesn’t matter in the short term what goes on, in the long term those things don’t leave this football club.
‘The fans turned up and reminded us this place is built on youth. They’re really proud and we’re really proud. I have never witnessed anything like it and I doubt we ever will again.’
A record crowd for a Youth Cup final roared United to victory in the closing stages, with Garnacho first converting a penalty and then smashing home a third in stoppage time.
It is the first time United have won the competition since 2011, when Paul Pogba and Jesse Lingard were in their ranks, with Chelsea and Manchester City the dominant academy sides in the interim.
Alejandro Garnacho was the hero as Manchester United won the FA Youth Cup on Wednesday
Legendary former United boss Sir Alex Ferguson was among those in attendance for the match
Even amid the celebrations, Cox supplied important context for Old Trafford’s new generation.
‘My mandate is not to win trophies. Trophies are a nice by-product of helping kids be as good as they can be,’ he said.
‘For these kids, this is a landmark in their journey but they have a long and winding road to go.
‘They have so many more landmarks to tick off before they can say it’s my job or my career. Can I get to 10 games, 50 games, 100 games? Tonight is wonderful and we will celebrate and encourage them to celebrate but there is work left to do for them.
‘If you play for Manchester United at any age group, you’re good. They are good footballers. I think everyone will have picked their favourites and you will have seen something in all of these boys.
Garnacho (left) produced Cristiano Ronaldo’s iconic ‘Siuuuu’ celebration after making it 2-1
The youngster then made sure of victory deep into stoppage time to cap off a fine 3-1 win
Kobbie Mainoo was also a standout player on the night
‘But the journey is never linear – someone who impressed tonight might fall short, someone who was sitting on the bench might make their debut. That’s the enjoyment of the role.
‘I always straight bat these answers but I am willing to concede they are a talented bunch of kids and some of them are going to go on and play in the Premier League and beyond.’
United’s match-winner Garnacho has already made his first-team debut, coming off the bench late on in last month’s draw with Chelsea.
And Cox believes there is no greater motivation than seeing your team-mate or friend make that breakthrough.
‘Our kids are naturally hungry. You don’t get this far through the journey without being hungry and having an intrinsic drive,’ he said.
A huge crowd of more than 67,000 turned up at Old Trafford for the FA Youth Cup final
‘But when your mate makes a debut, it makes something that appears extraordinary, ordinary. Your mate does something and you believe you can do it too.
‘To have role models who can be so close to you, for your mate to be your role model, that’s what this place has always been about, following in the footsteps of other folk.
‘Sometimes you look into the past and try to play like Bobby Charlton but it’s hard to relate to someone who played so far ago and you’ve never seen him play.
‘But you can relate to your mate who’s a year older or six months older or the kid you sit next to in the dressing room. That’s the beauty of this place.’