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Manchester United academy providing some promise during disappointing season

Manchester United’s academy are providing some promise in a disappointing season for a club that is a win away from a first FA Youth Cup final since Paul Pogba, Jesse Lingard and Co triumphed in 2011.

It has been another week of scrutiny and introspection around the club after Ralf Rangnick’s Red Devils suffered a chastening Premier League derby defeat at Manchester City.

That result ratcheted up the pressure ahead of Saturday’s clash with top-four rivals Tottenham, but Old Trafford is hosting another important game before then as the under-18s take on Wolves in the FA Youth Cup semi-final.

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United are the most successful club in the competition’s history and head of academy Nick Cox is excited by the progress being made by this talented group.

“The players and staff are aware of what the Youth Cup means at this football club in terms of the history and association we have, and some of the players and some of the groups that have won the competition,” he told the PA news agency.

“We know that here is a lovely opportunity for the boys to put their name in the history book.

“For some players that go on to have a career, it will still be one of the most magical things that they do. For some of our boys that go on and don’t have a career, it will be the thing that they’re telling their grandkids about forevermore.

“We get that, we understand that and we will do our very best to win.

Alejandro Garnacho has impressed in Manchester United's development teams

Alejandro Garnacho has impressed in Manchester United’s development teams (Martin Rickett/PA)

“The other side of the coin is that whether we win or whether we lose – we could lose the game by a mistake or a lick of paint – it doesn’t actually change the quality of player we’ve got in that group.

“We know that we’ve got some highly-talented individuals who are going to go on to do really well in the game.

“I love that the Youth Cup brings learning opportunities, I love that it replicates a little bit of what it’s like to be in the first team.

“Man United have to be competitive, we have to play to win, but it won’t define us if we were to win (on Wednesday).

“What will define us is the quality of the players that we have and never losing sight of the ultimate objective we have, which is helping young people be the best they can be.”

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Travis Binnion’s players have overcome Scunthorpe, Reading, Everton and Leicester on their way to the semi-finals, with Alejandro Garnacho impressing during that run.

The 17-year-old joined from Atletico Madrid in 2020 and heads into the Youth Cup semi-final fresh from the stunning news that he was named in the same Argentina squad as Lionel Messi.

Born in Madrid to an Argentinian mother and Spanish father, the 17-year-old was included in La Albiceleste’s provisional squad for their upcoming World Cup qualifiers, despite having yet to make his first-team debut.

“He’s a talented boy,” Cox said. “I think some of his performances have caught the eye. He’s one of many talented boys we’ve got.

“We’ve been in constant dialogue with him about what he might do.

“This is pretty fresh news. He’s yet to make a decision. I know he’s proud of his heritage, he’s proud of both countries. I think he’s honoured that both countries have an interest in him.

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“And, really, the take-home message for me is ‘you’re doing OK if you’ve got two countries that are interested in selecting you’.”

United are at the semi-final stage for the first time since 2020, when burgeoning talent Anthony Elanga was among those that fell at this hurdle.

That match was behind closed doors due to Covid-19 regulations and Cox hopes fans will fill the stands on Wednesday as this crop look to reach the final for the first time in 11 years.

“We would love to get a crowd in,” Cox added.

“It’s really important that people understand that by turning up you’re contributing to the development of our young players.

“You’re creating the noise, you’re creating the pressure but also it’s nice to come and see what the future might hold for this football club. “

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