Kobbie Mainoo’s role switch, Harry Maguire’s speech and more – behind the scenes of Manchester United’s Youth Cup win – Samuel Luckhurst

The veteran Manchester United photographer piled the little ones together and urged them to roar. The piercing sound was unmistakably junior, high-pitched enthusiasm worthy of a schoolyard.

It’s been a disproportionately long time since United reached the FA Youth Cup final, their longest without an appearance for 40 years. Against physical and whimsical wolves, Carrington’s latest treadmill batch thrived in front of a crowd of 6,000 at Old Trafford. The 3-0 scoreline flattered Wolves.

“It means a lot to all the boys,” said midfielder Dan Gore. “We left everything behind on the pitch. I think the boys deserved everything we got for the hard work we put in.

READ MORE: The Academy brings out the best in United

“The boys executed it perfectly because the game plan we had was to send them away. They are a great physical team. But the boys handled it well. We stopped the crosses from coming in.

“To see all the fans here coming out to support us means a lot. To also see some of your friends and family, even people you don’t know.”

Charlie McNeill and Alejandro Garnacho, names practically household names since their high-profile arrivals 18 months ago, got the goals and the headlines. After Wednesday night, Gore’s name will likely have climbed up Google. The 17-year-old, previously at Burnley’s academy, managed the midfield with precocious Kobbie Mainoo.

Gore donned number eight and describes himself as a box-to-box midfielder. Mainoo was sporting ‘6’ and many academy anoraks are already raving about the 16-year-old from Stockport. Born six months after Wayne Rooney’s debut for United, Mainoo was playing for the Under-18s at the age of 15 and would be eligible to compete in the Youth Cup in two years.

“Kobbie is a top player and a good boy too,” enthused Gore. “We work well with each other. If one is not in position, the other will replace him. We work well for each other, we talk to each other a lot and the boys encourage us. Me and Kobbie have played together for a long time, we have a good connection and we know each other very well.

“I think I did well with the ball and out of possession,” adds Gore modestly. “I tried to keep them wide, not in the middle. But obviously there is room for improvement every game and hopefully in the next game I can improve my performance.”

“They played with real maturity,” Under-18 assistant coach Colin Little said of Mainoo and Gore. “They had to be aware of the counterattacks, they couldn’t just get lost in the game.

“It can happen with young players, they get the ball and think they’re in every attack, but actually sometimes they’re not, they’re there in case we lose it. I thought they turned it off fires, cleaned up the meter – attacks quite well.

“He (Gore) has been absolutely brilliant. You get what you see with Dan Gore. He brings it to training every day, he’s competitive, combative, he’s a very good footballer. He has very good progressed, as the I think he got injured when he had to come back to the team.

Little, a former Hyde, Altrincham and Crewe striker, was a United manager for nearly 10 years and was tasked with housing Marcus Rashford just months before he came on the scene against Midtjylland in 2016. Mainoo, previously a No.10, perhaps best represents the evolution of the homegrown midfielder at United with his flawless ball retention and proactive play.



Gore and Mainoo thank full-time fans

Expectations are now certain to skyrocket. “I can’t get carried away,” warns Little. “They still have a lot to do to get to the other side. But it’s great, we can see what they’re really good at, the things they need help with, it’s everyone’s job days.

“The more high-level games they play, the more pressure they get. That’s what you want. At the end of the day, they have to be able to perform under pressure in those types of games, the tasks they need .”

Rashford had three Youth Cup cracks and the farthest he got was the fifth round. United fielded some remarkable sides during their 11-year drought but had only reached the semi-finals twice before this season’s progress to the final.

Playing three consecutive games at Old Trafford over a five-week period was an advantage. Garnacho has scored against Everton and Leicester, as well as Wolves, while McNeill has scored three goals in as many games at the stadium in the competition.



McNeill celebrates his first goal against Wolves
McNeill celebrates his first goal against Wolves

Development is the priority, but winning comes first in the Youth Cup and Youth League, from which United were sadly knocked out by Borussia Dortmund last week. Refreshing the staff was also essential. Travis Binnion took over from Neil Ryan as U18 coach this summer and first-team development manager Justin Cochrane has built on the foundation laid by Nicky Butt.

“We haven’t been to a lot of finals lately, so that means a lot to the guys,” Little said. “Player development is the main thing but we want to go and win it now.

“Each round was nice, a different challenge. We had to come back from a goal, break five backs tonight, sometimes we had to beat the underdogs. They responded and found solutions.

“Justin and Trav said before the game, ‘You’re going to have to play like men tonight.’ This maturity, the next step is the realism of the game, doing the right things to get the result. We have an eye on development, but tonight was also about getting a result. It was a mature performance .

“You need luck. We had very good teams and very good players and we came out with 80 per cent possession, 20 odd goal attempts, conceding one. But the character of the team is l ‘essential.

“We have very good players of all ages at United – if not, we have a problem – but you need determination. I think this group really has that.”

One is U18 captain Rhys Bennett, of Ashton Under Lyme. “I thought it was a good, solid team performance overall. I don’t think there was a department missing. We locked it from the back, communicating, the guys up front put the ball in the back of the net.

“It’s a huge achievement to get what we have, but the job isn’t done. We’re one game away from winning an FA Youth Cup, which is a dream come true. I’m absolutely thrilled. The atmosphere is buzzing. Everyone is so happy with the win.

“We had some ups and downs in this tournament, we had to dig deep, but as a team we really bonded.”



Former United reserve manager Warren Joyce, technical director Darren Fletcher and captain Harry Maguire watch
Former United reserve manager Warren Joyce, technical director Darren Fletcher and captain Harry Maguire watch

Harry Maguire approached academy director Nick Cox on Tuesday to ask if he could help with the preparations. Maguire has known Binnion since he was 14 at Sheffield United and they were part of the same setup that were beaten by United in the 2011 final.

Maguire was at Leigh Sports Village to watch the Under-19s in the Youth League earlier in the season, dispelling any notion it was a token gesture. “It was really nice of him to give us some words of wisdom,” Bennett beams. “It was a boost of confidence that the captain of Manchester United took his time getting into the dressing room, it was an incredible feeling.

“It’s a very prestigious tournament. It was a big boost. We knew what we wanted to do but we didn’t finish.”

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Rebecca R. Santistevan