Manchester United’s FA Cup win huge for young squad

Manchester United’s FA Cup win this season is a huge hurdle its young squad has overcome.

The Reds beat Crystal Palace 2-1 after extra time at Wembley to claim their first trophy since Sir Alex Ferguson retired in 2013. For the majority of the United’s young players, it has been their first season in the senior squad and early success will be huge for their development. A total of 10 players under the age of 25 have made their debut this season alone (including new signings). Although many of the academy graduates have won things at youth level, nothing can compare to senior success.

The famous class of 92 won two Premier League titles and an FA Cup in their first two seasons before going on to help the club achieve one of its most successful periods to date. Early success can only further strengthen a team’s spirit and helps overall squad growth. This season’s cup triumph also helps to end any talk of a baron trophyless run after three years without a title. It prevents pressure mounting regarding when a first senior winners’ medal for many of the squad will come.

As well as providing a huge confidence boost and belief for the squad, it also gives the players a taste of success which can only fuel their desire for more. Under Ferguson, a title-winning season would usually lead to further success the following season. This has become part of the club’s DNA, whilst continuing in the traditions and exceptions. The younger players can only grow having met these expectations to a certain extent while success also endears younger players further to fans.

Back in 2011, I wrote an article about there being a bright, young future at Old Trafford after a number of young players were either signed or promoted to the first team. That side went onto to win a Premier League title, following missing out on goal difference the previous year. Coming from two goals down at Wembley to win the Community Shield 3-2 against Manchester City had an invaluable effect on the newly formed squad’s resolve.

As Jose Mourinho takes over at Old Trafford next season, he can surely not ignore the club’s promising youth at his disposal – especially after winning the FA Cup. Louis van Gaal has followed in the club’s philosophy of promoting youth and hopefully this squad can continue to progress. Although much of United’s young side are yet to experience the success of winning the Premier League, this victory will only help with future title pursuits.

U21s – Manchester United 1-0 Tottenham Hotspur

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Manchester United host Tottenham Hotpur
Manchester United narrowly overcame league-leaders Tottenham in a 1-0 victory on the Reds’ debut at the Salford City Stadium in the Under-21 Premier League.

Ryan Tunnicliffe scored the only goal after 56 minutes, in a game free for supporters. Sir Alex Ferguson watched from the stands and would have been pleased to have seen the young side limit Spurs to few clear cut chances. The London side’s best effort came from a Christian Ceballos free-kick which clipped the top of the bar in the second-half. Warren Joyce’s side can take huge positives from their evening’s display, with goalscorer Tunnicliffe, Adnan Januzaj and Jesse Lingard all looking particularly impressive in a well organised United side.

A power cut late in the first-half caused a floodlights outage but after a brief pause in play and consultation, the final five minutes of the half were completed without the need for artificial light.20130415-111300 PM.jpg

Last season’s Premier Reserve League North winners have now kept a clean sheet in seven of their last eight games and move above Liverpool into second place, five points behind tonight’s opponents, with a game in hand.

Manchester United’s under-21 side now await a clash with Liverpool which was due to be played at Old Trafford on Friday but has been postponed after the Merseyside club’s involvement in the FA Youth Cup.

Barclays Premier League Under-21, top 8

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Barclays U21 Premier League: Competition format explained

Manchester United’s Director of Communications Phil Townsend talks Reds off the pitch

Manchester United Director of Communications Phil Townsend believes the rivalry between United and City is a “good thing” for the Premier League.

The Manchester rivalry has intensified in recent years, and after Manchester City overcame their neighbours to win the Premier League in an emphatic late comeback on the final day, this sets up the most enthralling bout yet between the two sides next season.

Townsend believes the competition between the top teams is a positive advert for the league in general.

“The fact that it’s a more exciting and a closer product than the Spanish or Italian League, it’s a major part in its popularity and value to television companies around the world, ” he said. “I think it is a good thing for the Premier League as a whole, there are several teams now who are capable of winning the league.”

The Red’s Director of Communications believes the club has become more proactive on the commercial side since he arrived. After the club recently announced followers of 659 million across the world, he spoke about how it has become easier to communicate with such a large fan base.

“The mobile partners that we have in 45 countries, allow you to literally bring the team and action to the palm of someone’s hand as people obviously carry mobile phones around. Through that, it’s possible to speak directly to supporters.”

The Old Trafford board member made it clear, ahead of next season’s pre-season tour, how not only is a global fan base important but also local supporters. Last year’s ‘Champions 19 Tour’ visited places across the world but also to the local community.

“What is also important is the Manchester legs of the tour, so it went to schools in Stretford, Urmston, Flixton and places like that. There was never an ignoring of the local fan base. It was a global thing but very much for the whole Manchester United family.”

Old Trafford
Old Trafford

Townsend, who has been at the club for eight and half seasons, reiterated how important Old Trafford is to the club.

“Old Trafford is one of the key assets of the club. The centenary celebrations that we had in 2010 were reflective of the value everybody sees in Old Trafford, you wouldn’t want to change it. You go to say the Emirates Stadium, the concourses are larger, the seats are probably bigger but for me, it doesn’t have the feel of Old Trafford.”

Sir Alex Ferguson celebrated 25 years in charge of Manchester United last season and the club dedicated this achievement by changing the name of the ‘North Stand’ to the ‘Sir Alex Ferguson Stand’. Townsend, who was studying his A-Levels when Sir Alex took charge, said it was completed with great secrecy with only a few people knowing about the change.

Sir Alex Ferguson during the new stand name unveiling

“It was David Gill’s idea and he drew people in as and when necessary. We were able to source a company, the company was never told in what order the letters would be appearing. They were just sent a random array of letters,” he explains.

“They assembled them in blocks of three, those blocks were erected in a certain order and the guys putting them up didn’t know. Whilst they were putting it up it was covered so the CCTV cameras in the stadium couldn’t pick it up and see it.

“I think the fact the manager didn’t know was, firstly astonishing but also added to the sense of occasion on the day as he was staggered by what he was seeing.

“I think it achieved everything we wanted it to, we probably kept that more quiet than Paul Scholes’s return in January, because even his team-mates didn’t know. So it shows even in football you can keep secrets from people some of the time.”

The planned Sir Alex Ferguson statue is on course to be up by November time.

“The plan for that will probably be for in or around the 26th anniversary to unveil that. It will be like, in terms of size and feel, the Sir Matt Busby statue and will be outside the Sir Alex Ferguson stand,” Townsend explains.

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An Interview with Alan Keegan ‘the Voice of Old Trafford’

Alan Keegan with Dennis Law

Alan Keegan has been the stadium announcer at Manchester United for over 10 years and has seen many changes at the club in that time.

I recently sat down with ‘the Voice of Old Trafford’ halfway through the 2011/12 season, which is his thirteenth with the Reds.

  • How did you become involved with Manchester United?

I’ve always been interested in sport on the whole, specifically Manchester United and football. If we’re looking at a pathway, when I was younger I did a lot of radio work and in the early days I worked for Manchester City and specifically their Junior Blues. It was a case of getting involved with a sport that I loved and the fact that I supported Manchester United was irrelevant at that time. I was just pleased to be involved with a football club; it didn’t matter if it was Backstreet Wonders as long as it was somebody I could just involve myself with. As a result of work with City’s Junior Blues I stepped in for James H.

Reeve, who was a prominent broadcaster in the Manchester area at the time. He used to host the Junior Blues once a month during the season for nine months and coming up to Christmas he dropped out as he had other things on his agenda. I got asked, to cut a long story short, two people recommended me and I ended up doing it for Ian Niven who was the chairman of the Junior Blues at the time and I was a bit concerned as I was a Man United fan. But I made it clear to him that I would be professional.

Then one thing let to another, where I remained at City for a number of years, and then they asked me to do the warm up on the pitch for the main announcer which I willingly did. It was a great step up for me and really boosted my confidence because I was talking in front of, at the time I think City’s capacity at Maine Road was 38,000 and it was packed every week. That was good training for me and their announcer left and I got his job, so it was over a period of years and I was always professional at Manchester City.

At the end of the day I had a great time at City, it was a fantastic stepping-stone for me and I was very grateful for the break. As a result of that I started working at Manchester United in corporate hospitality hosting their rooms. Then the Man United announcer at the time was leaving and United found out that the guy who did City was a United fan, maybe we should interview him and the rest is history. I got the job at the club that I love.

  • You’ve been at Manchester United now for over ten years, how has your job changed in that time?

It’s changed quite a lot actually as the part of the stadium announcer’s pre-match build up is now aimed at the commercial side and the sponsorship because nearly every match is sponsored by one of the companies at the club. For example one match it maybe Nike, the next it could be AON or Audi so there’s a lot of engagement with the sponsors at Old Trafford and partially with presentations. So over the years, what were just general announcements about the club and tickets, which we still do, it now has a bigger impact with the sponsorship side both pre-match and at half time. You’ll have a half time activity which might be a penalty shoot-out or it might just be a presentation so the role has changed considerably.

My role has also changed because I do a lot of events outside of the match days now as an announcer role. For example in the summer I went on tour with the team for the three weeks to America with my role being very much engaged with hosting the corporate events with the sponsors. DHL came on board and they had a lot of activity, especially during half time for the first three games, so there’s a lot of interaction and activity which I’m involved in.

  • Do you have any interesting stories from your time at Manchester United which you can tell?

Well there’s always interesting stories when you work in the public domain, and you’re doing an announcing job there’s always going to be situations which occur that are always funny on the back of a mishap, and there’s been many of them. I’ve had quite a few mishaps in the last ten years but you’re experience takes you through. There’s been a few funny stories, for example, Teddy Sheringham came back to the club when he was playing for Spurs, he was substituted and due to force of habit he went to go into the United dugout and as I stand next to the dugout on a match day, I just gave him the nod and said Teddy you’re over there. The lads were saying you should have let him come up, it would have been even funnier and maybe I should have as it would have bee very funny.

Then you’ve got the scenario, because of where I’m positioned on a match- day, when Arsene Wenger kicked the water bottle and the referee sent him to the stands. He ended up going on to the presentation platform and it we had this glorious picture of him with his arms out. So there’s all those funny situations, Sir Alex is brilliant when you do any events with him, he’s absolutely fantastic. He’s such a fan of the club, I know he’s the manager but he’s a fan as well which comes across and what he doesn’t know about United’s not worth talking about.

Arsene Wenger stands in front of the Old Trafford crowd
  • You’ve been described as ‘the Voice of Old Trafford’, how does it feel to be associated with a ground which boasts over a hundred years of history and with Manchester United?

It’s an honour, a privilege. It’s absolutely fantastic because I’m Manchester born and bred. I consider it a privilege to be called ‘the Voice of Old Trafford’, they did a day in the life of me a number of years ago on DVD and the section was called ‘the Voice of Old Trafford’ and it’s sort of stuck. It’s brilliant, I love it, I’m a Manchester United fan and I celebrate like a fan when we score a goal, really there should be a bit of me which is impartial because of where I am but I can’t help it.

I never ever bore of what I do, every match day’s different. It’s just a dream come true, it’s the ultimate dream job. I love the fact I’ve had some great times in the time I’ve been the announcer as a supporter of United as I remember when we got relegated and the Tommy Docherty era where Stevie Coppell and Gordon Hill . Two wingers playing great football and winning promotion but like I say it’s a dream job.

  • You spoke about Sir Alex Ferguson, what are your opinions of the United manager who recently turned 70-years-old and what he’s achieved, and still achieving in his career?

Unbelievable. His energy, his enthusiasm. I’ve been fortunate enough, like I say, to have worked at the club for thirteen seasons and had a lot of interaction with Sir Alex because you’re doing presentations with him, you’re doing the corporate events and it never ceases to amaze me, his energy. I think that’s the ultimate compliment I can give him; he’s always energised and very active in the club, and proactive with what he wants to achieve. I think the beauty of Sir Alex is he’s the leader, he’s the man that we follow and you know at the end of the day, he’s 70-years-old but he certainly doesn’t look it in my opinion and doesn’t act like it.

I think that the team and the club but particularly the team, the way he’s rebuilt it over the years, they keep him youthful. I think he’s had to change as the years have developed and he’s moved with the changes, that’s the key to his success. If you think back to when he first joined, the main basis of the team was British players, as such and over time you’ve got the foreign input of players and he’s gone with those changes and adapted. He’s just absolutely fantastic and long may it continue.

Sir Alex Ferguson
  • What are your opinions on the current title race which appears to be between your former employees Manchester City and United?

It’s fantastic for Manchester overall, at the end of the day it’s about us being the capital of football if you like. It’s interesting that it is City because we’ve always had challenges if it be Blackburn with the money that Jack Walker brought in, whether it’s Arsenal, Chelsea with the Roman Abramovich money and we now have another challenge, Man City and Sheikh Mansour’s money. So that challenge will always be there and I think that’s another element which keeps Sir Alex going and motivated because everything’s a challenge.

Obviously with we had the two Champions League finals which we lost to Barcelona but the beauty of Sir Alex is he always goes back and rises to the challenge and I think that’s what City has brought to the table. It’s an interesting time at the moment because of the next six games which the two clubs have, it appears City have the easier matches. We’ve [Manchester United] got a testing time ahead with our schedule, with Liverpool and with Chelsea coming up.

The football cliché is there’s no easy matches, so it’s interesting but we’ve been there before so that will hold is in good stead. As long as you’re only one match behind it’s a good place to be because we’ve got the experience in the club, a manager who knows what it’s like and I think it will go to the wire, I wouldn’t be surprised if it went down to the last day. I just hope it doesn’t go down to goal difference.

Find out more about Alan by visiting his official website.

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David De Gea can be the greatest for Manchester United

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David De Gea with Sir Alex Ferguson
Edwin van der Sar left large boots to fill in goal for Manchester United, but summer signing David De Gea looks like becoming the long term replacement for the Reds.

After a shaky start, it seems the talented youngster has now settled to life at Old Trafford. The Premier League champion’s most expensive summer signing has shown real character by over coming his opening two game mistakes. De Gea acknowledged his mistakes and has shown a desire to improve further. After his debut in the Community Shield win over Manchester City he said: “No, football is football here and in any country. I have to adapt quickly and improve on the whole of my game.” 

The Spaniard may still be young but has a wealth of experience after winning the UEFA Europa League, Super Cup and European under 21 Championships earlier this year. The clean sheet at home to Tottenham and having saved a Robin van Persie penalty in United’s 8-2 victory over Arsenal, will have given the United goalkeeper the major boost needed to get his Old Trafford career firmly on track.

As I spoke about in a previous post I’m very optimistic about the young talent Sir Alex Ferguson has brought in over the transfer window but for me De Gea seems to have been the most important addition. The goalkeeper position was a real problem after Peter Schmeichel moved on in 1999 but eventual long term replacement van der Sar was instrumental in nets for six seasons. The £18 million man seems to be a quick and ideal long term replacement. Also the fact he’s young means he’s a great investment in comparison to buying a 30 year old with a similar price tag. The 20 year old become the second most expensive keeper behind Gianluigi Buffon, who cost Juventus £32.6m in 2001.

Although it maybe premature to say the Spainnish under 21 international will be the long term number one at Old Trafford, from the little we’ve seen of him and the ability he has there is every chance he will be. The 20 year old is clearly ready to claim the long term number one shirt, I can only see the former Athletico Madrid star gaining in confidence and stature for many years to come at the Theatre of Dreams.

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An interview with former Manchester United and Arsenal striker Frank Stapleton

Ahead of Manchester United’s recent Premier League tie with Fulham and on Old Trafford’s 100 year anniversary, I was fortunate enough to interview former Reds and Arsenal striker Frank Stapleton. He spoke fondly about knocking out Barcelona in the 1984 Cup Winners Cup, and how United came back at The Theatre of Dreams to win the tie. 

He mentioned his international career with the Republic of Ireland and how he held the record for the most goals scored for his country which stood for over 11 years. He also talked about what it was like to play against Maradona and how Wayne Rooney’s recent heading improvement is a great lesson to young footballers everywhere.

Frank Stapleton
Frank Stapleton playing for Manchester United
Firstly today is the official celebration of 100 years at Old Trafford – how have you been involved in the occasion?

“Well we’ve been doing some interviews with the TV station here, and they’ve been asking us about our memories and what was, our best ever game or the memories of our best ever game here. For me it was the Barcelona match in 1984 when we came back from 2-0 down (first leg) to win 3-0 (second leg) and I got the third goal in the game. It was just about the atmosphere, and that’s what you talk about when you’re talking about a place which is a hundred years old. When you talk about what it entails and what the whole place is about and of course people remember certain matches and that one stands out for a lot of people. When I speak to those who were old enough to be here, they always look back on that game as being the most special one, even now. There’s been some great nights and afternoons here with the team down the years.”

During your career, you played for both Arsenal and Manchester United, how did the two clubs compare off the pitch at that time?

“When I first came here [Manchester United] I’d spent nine years at Arsenal. At that time when I first arrived here, Manchester United wasn’t as efficient as it is today. Compare it to Arsenal at the time, the way it was run behind the scenes. I’ll give you an example they had a ticket office here were people could wander freely in and out of, I don’t mean staff, people who were friendly with staff used to wander in which is absolutely amazing. Think of security today and how where money is around there’s going to be the temptation for people to try and steal it but that was just open and of course just part of it at that period of time. Manchester United caught up and surpassed Arsenal in that respect but the two clubs are fantastic, brilliant, brilliant clubs and I’ve been very privileged to have played for both and to have spent 15 years at two of the best clubs in the world. I’m a very lucky guy and they’re both such great clubs and they’ll go onto be even greater as time goes on.”

Not many players have United and Arsenal on their CV’s, do you still receive a good reception when you go back to London?

I’ve been there a couple of times, I think if I was to walk out on the pitch I wouldn’t. When I first went back after leaving, I got stick and it continued thereafter, but that’s part and parcel for supporters. They wouldn’t boo you if they didn’t rate you, so I kind of look on that as a kind of compliment. Meeting people wherever, they obviously loathe the fact I ever left Arsenal but the circumstances at the time dictated the move, but they were good memories and I have a positive feeling from the club.”

You had a great international career with the Republic of Ireland, and you held the record of the highest goals scored for over a decade.

Yes I did, I think for 11 years which was amazing. When I look back on it now I don’t say too much because I think Robbie Keane scored 40 or 41 goals and I only got 20, so he’s blown that out of the water. Niall Quinn actually took the record away from me but then Robbie just went on and, I doubt at that level, it will ever be beaten and he’s well worthy of it. Playing for Ireland has been great but we obviously didn’t have the greatest teams. We had a nucleus of first division or Premier division players but the strength as a team both, at club and international level, was always to do with your squad and what goes from 11 to 22 these days, 11 to 16, 11 to 18 – that dictates how strong you are.”

You obviously had a great career, but who for you were the best players you played with and played against?

I played a lot of my years with Liam Brady at Arsenal and obviously with the Republic of Ireland, and he created an awful lot of the goals that I got. We had a very good understanding which just came from playing together for a number of years. I suppose I’ve got to say the best player I’ve played against was Maradona even though he didn’t play great against us, he was the greatest player you could come up against and over two games it doesn’t say whether you’re a good or bad player. We know over a period of time that he was absolutely fantastic, and one of the greatest players who played the game.”

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Diego Maradona playing for Barcelona
To finish, you were a great header of the ball during your career, this is something Wayne Rooney has obviously worked on recently, what do you think of his current form?

It adds to the array of skills and ability that he’s got and it’s a lesson to youngsters that you can’t actually stand still and be happy with the way things are, you’ve always got to strive to be better, and better, and better, and be the best you can. Wayne Rooney isn’t known for being a good header of the ball, but as we’ve seen over the last few weeks the work that he’s put in on the training ground to improve his heading has helped him and I think seven of his last nine goals have been headers which is fantastic. It just shows what sort of rewards you can get allied to the other abilities he’s got. The fact he’s a very strong runner and he can score goals with both feet along with his heading makes him even more of a dangerous player. Working on things like that is a great lesson to youngsters who are wanting to be professional footballers.”

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