Manchester United are back in the FA Youth Cup final, a competition of such significance to the Old Trafford club, for the first time since the likes of Paul Pogba and Jesse Lingard were coming through their ranks.
That was 2011, so long ago that the duo are now established senior players who will turn 30 on their next birthdays.
On Wednesday, in front of a record crowd of around 65,000 against Nottingham Forest, an exciting new crop led by coaches Travis Binnion and Colin Little get the chance to write their names into United folklore and extend the club’s proud record in the competition.
Paul Pogba (second right) and Jesse Lingard (second left) played for Manchester United the last time they appeared in the FA Youth Cup final, back in 2011
Now a new generation of Old Trafford talent, including Alejandro Garnacho (middle) will hope to impress in front of a crowd of around 65,000 on Wednesday night
United have had to take a backseat over the last decade while Chelsea and Manchester City have emerged as the dominant forces in the Youth Cup.
Despite that, still no club has won it more than United’s 10 triumphs.
Now it is the turn of the Class of 2022 to firstly follow the path well-trodden by the likes of the Busby Babes, George Best, Mark Hughes, Norman Whiteside and the Class of 92 by winning the Youth Cup and take an important step, they hope, towards the ultimate end goal at United.
Justin Cochrane, United’s head of player development and coaching, said: ‘The Youth Cup is an important part of the club’s history and although winning the cup doesn’t mean that you’re going to have lots of players for the first team, it means that these players will have a memory that they’ll never forget.
‘Usually teams with very good young players do reach finals and we’ve had games where we’ve played a good style.
‘Reaching the final isn’t the marker of youth development success, though, getting players into the first team is.
‘We really do like the group that we’ve got and we feel we’ve got some potential players who can go on and have careers in the game.’
Charlie McNeil, a prolific goalscorer in the youth ranks, celebrates in the semi-final
Kobbie Mainoo is another player in the United side to watch out for against Nottingham Forest
Justin Cochrane, United’s head of player development and coaching, appreciates the important of the FA Youth Cup
There is no shortage of inspiration for United’s latest hopefuls, from the roll call of former winners through to one of the most recent academy graduates Anthony Elanga, who has played in United’s UEFA Youth League campaign this season before progressing quickly to earn a first-team spot under interim manager Ralf Rangnick.
Coming up behind the now-full Swedish international is a batch of players creating a real buzz at Carrington.
Alejandro Garnacho, a goal-scoring winger, has been rewarded for his season with a first-team debut against Chelsea last month and also a first call up to the Argentina squad. With five goals he is United’s top scorer in the competition.
Kobbie Mainoo is rated as one of the best players of his age in England and caught the eye along with fellow central midfielders Dan Gore and Isak Hansen-Aaroen.
Charlie McNeil is one of the most clinical strikers around at youth level and tall centre-back Tyler Fredericson is a late developer who has come to the fore.
They and many of their team-mates have been recognised by their international teams, a further indication of their promise.
Rangnick has already highlighted the technical quality of the youngsters progressing through the United ranks and Cochrane said: ‘We’ve got players that have got more to come. Sometimes you can look at a player and you can see he’s finished [developing].
United’s Class of ’92, featuring the likes of Ryan Giggs, David Beckham and Gary Neville, won the Youth Cup that year
The new generation at Old Trafford will be eager to impress incoming manager Erik ten Hag
FA YOUTH CUP FINAL
Man United vs Nottingham Forest
Wednesday May 11; Kick-off 7.30pm
Live on The FA Player and MUTV
‘In academies you might lose games because you’ve got players with less physical capabilities but what we’ve got at Manchester United now is players with some good physical capabilities but with more physical development to come which is really good for me as a developer.
‘There’s been a lot of players that have impressed and they’ve all been dedicated to getting better every day.
‘And that’s, that’s because of the environment created by us as the staff and then applying themselves daily.’
Cochrane has been key to that since arriving last summer, providing the overarching football and coaching expertise to help knit everything together in the structure setup by Nick Cox, the head of United’s academy.
Cochrane has been specifically tasked with overseeing the development of all of United’s under-17s to 23s, ensuring all players individually get what they require to maximise their potential while also making sure all the support departments such as sports science and nutrition are all on the same page to aid the process of developing the club’s future stars.
They all have tailored development plans to follow highlighting areas they need to improve on.
And, as an example of United’s joined-up-thinking to the development of their young players, their under-18s through to under-23s are treated as one big group from which the coaches pick teams for each age group game.
Highly-rated former Tottenham and England youth coach Cochrane is a hands-on, daily presence on United’s training pitches with his new colleagues noting how they have gained new coaching qualities thanks to his expertise and experience.
United under-18 coach Travis Binnion (left) on the sidelines during a recent league game
Cochrane also has a knack of getting the best out of young players, identifying not just what they need to improve but, crucially, how.
That ability to guide young people is only enhanced by his work outside football with Holler, an organisation founded by Cochrane with the aim of inspiring the next generation and helping them fulfil their potential, using workshops and aspirational speakers to show what they can potentially achieve in their own lives.
On the aim at United, Cochrane said: ‘It’s about being an elite individual off the pitch, so having an elite mentality in terms of your rest, recovery, diet nutrition, gym programme and then a team mentality on it.
‘These are the things we’ve brought in, they are taking it really well and it’s helping the players improve off the pitch and maximize their potential and on the pitch they work well together as teammates.’
Now the spotlight will shine specifically on their under-18s team.
Manchester United celebrate their 3-0 win over Wolves to book their spot in the final
Cochrane said: ‘At Manchester United we do want junior champions, young players to experience winning, and know what it feels like because it creates that thirst for winning and improving.
‘The players have done very well so far and the work that is being done day in, day out with the coaches has really helped and made an impact on these young players’ development.
‘If you come to Old Trafford to watch us you would have seen some real football befitting of the stadium.
‘People have left there thinking ‘wow this is exciting. This is the type of football we want to see. This is how Manchester United teams play.’ That’s the feedback I’ve been getting.
‘The players that we’ve got here, the next 18 months could be very interesting for them, the football club and supporters because they all want to see young players from the academy and this club has got a history of producing them.’
Youth Cup final facts and stats
Jonny Brick has written a book chronicling the history of the FA Youth Cup complete with player recollections about the competition from the past 70 years.
From Kids to Champions, by Pitch Publishing, is released on May 16 and you can order it here. Jonny has provided Sportsmail with some facts and stats about Wednesday’s final: