Manchester United’s FA Youth Cup victory: The atmosphere, the development and Alejandro Garnacho

A historic night took place at Old Trafford on Wednesday evening. Not for the first-team that sit sixth in the Premier League table, but for Manchester United’s Under-18s team that was led by manager Travis Binnion. A record crowd of 67,492 supporters watched a passionate side come out as 3-1 victors in the FA Youth Cup final to win it an eleventh time, two more than any club in the country.

It was jubilation at the final whistle when United were crowned. The entire squad jumped onto the pitch to celebrate with each other. Even Alvaro Fernandez — who was awarded with the Denzil Haroun Reserve-Team Player of the Year on the pitch at half time, but was unable to play due to age restrictions — left his family in the stands to rally onto the pitch with his teammates once the whistle was blown.

The players that took to the pitch on the night would’ve played in front of a larger home crowd this season than any Premier League club, other than their seniors. And while the occasion was unbelievable for them all, it will only make them hungrier to make it their permanent play ground for the future.

Nick Cox, head of the academy, was delighted with the experience for the team.

“I’ve enjoyed tonight immensely and I’m proud of the lads, but it’s not about me, it’s about the kids and I’m delighted that they’ve had an experience like that,” He told UtdDistrict. “They’ll never ever experience such as one sided crowd in their lives in a final, it was a once in a lifetime opportunity and I think the crowd really just reminded exactly us what this football club is about. It was something really special, I don’t know if anyone else could replicate what we just witnessed.

“My mandate isn’t to win trophies, trophies are a nice by-product of helping kids be as good as they can be,” Cox asserted. “These boys, that’s a landmark in their journey but they’ve got a long and winding road to go. They’ve got so many more landmarks that they need to tick off before they can say that ‘It’s my job’ or maybe ‘It’s my career’… ‘Can I get to ten games? Can I get to 50 games? Can I get to 100?’ Tonight is wonderful, we’ll celebrate and encourage them to celebrate, but there’s work left to do for them.”

The 44-year-old was impressed by the team on the pitch, but insisted that the gun should not be jumped and that there is a plethora of talent growing inside of the academy.

“If you play for Manchester United at any age group, you’re good. They’re good footballers. I think that you’ve all picked your favourites tonight and you’ll have seen something in some of those boys and you’ll ask me but I’ll ask you back, but the journey is never linear. Someone who impressed tonight might fall short, someone who was sitting on the bench might be the one who makes their debut – that’s the enjoyment of the role. They’re a talented bunch of kids and some of them are going to play in the Premier League and beyond.”

The incredible crowd that attended the fixture were not just there for the looks or records. As the going got tough in the game, as you’d expect, they were able to push the team like they’d never experienced before.

Captain Rhys Bennett opened the scoring for United early in the first half, but United were pegged back just before the interval when Nottingham Forest’s Josh Powell had a driven shot go under the arms of Radek Vitek.

The second half saw chances go the visitors way, and United were having troubles. Yet, the roar of the crowd was vital in their late push for the win and there was no better player on the pitch than Alejandro Garnacho to put the dagger in Forest’s heart.

Before his calm penalty hit the net though, you could see Marc Jurdao, who had a fantastic game from right-back, push the crowd further. He fired a shot towards the goal mid-way through the second half that tested Aaron Bott, and when the ball was sent for a corner he was inspiring the crowd, lifting his arms in the air and asking for more.

Not long later, after United took the lead, it was substitute Joe Hugill‘s turn to fire the Stretford End up. His pressing of the last line of Forest’s defence was met by a reaction from the crowd, and when the ball was sent out of the pitch, he rallied the troops in the stands in a similar fashion to his Spanish teammate.

“The crowd played an integral part of everything that you witnessed tonight and they did two things. Cox added. “Number one is that they created the backdrop for a learning experience that we could’ve never recreated without them, so the fans have helped develop our players and if some of them make debuts it’s because of the people that paid their pound and turned up tonight.

“And the other job they did is when the game was beginning to maybe flatline and maybe it was going Forest’s way, they sang the kids names and they sang beautiful songs and you could see the kids got a lift. Right at the end you could see that the kids were really feeding off the crowd.

We did our best to try and talk to the kids about what it might be like… there’s no amount of talking that prepares you for this, you’ve got to just get out and do it and have a go at it. I think the kids embraced it and played up to the backdrop that our wonderful fans were so passionately prepared to provide for us. I can’t thank them enough, it was immense.

You could see the entirety of Old Trafford jump to their feet as the ball fell to Garnacho’s in the fourth minute of added time. Not many footballers have the ability to make that happen, but the support was justified when the ball ended in the back of the net seconds later. The 17-year-old ripped his shirt off in celebration after pulling out the ‘Siuu’ celebration for his first. Can you tell he’s been training with Cristiano Ronaldo?

While the Argentine stole the headlines, as you’d expect with a brace in the final, it was not a one-man routine. The defence showed solidarity and the midfield were superb on the night.

His teammates will not see his push into the first-team environment as a negative, however, it will only make them believe that the path is one that is possible if they continue on the right trajectory.

“Our kids are naturally hungry, you don’t get this far through the journey without being hungry and having an intrinsic drive,” Cox stressed.

“But, when your mate makes a debut it makes something that appears extraordinary, ordinary. When your mate does something you believe you can do it too. So to have role models so close to you, for your mate to be your role model, that’s what this place has always been about.

“It’s following in the footsteps of other folk now, sometimes we look into the past and try to follow the footsteps of Sir Bobby Charlton, but it’s hard to relate to someone who played so long ago that you’ve maybe not ever seen them play, but you can relate to your mate who’s a year older or six months older, or the kid that you sit next to in the dressing room and that’s just the beauty of this place.”

In a season that has not been a positive one at Old Trafford, it was special that so many supporters were able to watch a team with passion and quality win a trophy at the Theatre of Dreams.

The pillars of United’s values and success were on display. With Erik ten Hag coming into the club fresh from a league title with Ajax, fans will be hoping that he can return those pillars to the first-team.

“This football club is built on success and youth, and tonight I genuinely feel like the fans turned up to show that those embers still burn bright,” Cox expressed. “It doesn’t matter in the short term what goes off, in the long term those things don’t leave this football club. I’ve never witnessed anything like it and I don’t think we ever will do again.”

The ‘Class of 22’ have joined a historical list of winners in this competition, but this is only the start of their journey.

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