Manchester United Women

Man Utd creating a path for home-grown stars after WSL Academy Cup win

Jamie Spencer
Karna Solskjaer is part of a Man Utd Under-21 team that has just won the WSL Academy Cup
Karna Solskjaer is part of a Man Utd Under-21 team that has just won the WSL Academy Cup / James Gill - Danehouse/GettyImages

As a club, Manchester United’s dedication to youth football and developing home-grown talent stretches back to the late 1930s.

Initially an antidote to the effects of financial strife that made it necessary to cut costs and focus within, it has come to define the club and the men’s team boasts an incredible record of naming at least one home-grown player in every single matchday squad for the past 85 years.

The women’s team, while only properly formed in 2018, also has a strong home-grown record.

Of the players recruited to join the inaugural women’s first-team squad almost four years ago, several had been developed within United’s own academy at junior level.

There has long been a centre of excellence that has trained many talented girls. But a lack of first-team operations prior to 2018 forced the likes of Katie Zelem, Ella Toone, Millie Turner and others to move on and begin their senior careers at clubs who could provide those opportunities. When United finally took the overdue step into senior women’s football, plenty came straight back.

As United begin to take a central role in shaping the future of women’s football in England, the future of the club in that respect now looks incredibly bright. This past week, the Under-21 squad managed by Charlotte Healy won the WSL Academy Cup, thrashing Birmingham in the final.

Maria Edwards and Karna Solskjaer are two of the leading names fans will hope to see make the step up to first-team level before long and keep the club’s traditions strong. But there are others like Alyssa Aherne, Rebecca May and Under-21 captain Poppy Lawson to keep a close eye on.

First-team manager Marc Skinner confirmed in the wake of the Academy Cup triumph that the club is ‘working hard’ to best prepare the many talents for senior football and suggested it would be ‘ideal’ if the first-team is ultimately able to recruit directly from its own junior ranks.

“It’s such a big gulf and we’re working so hard, whether that’s experience and training with us or pre-season with the first-team – all different things that can help them bridge the gap,” Skinner said.

“What you have seen is a wonderful base talent. If we can recruit from our academy, that would be the ideal for me. Realistically, you can’t put all of them in at this moment. They might join us a little bit later, but we're going to keep that experience going.”

United are working on a more cohesive approach across men’s, women’s and academy football that is already seeing shared knowledge and experience shape the next generation of the club’s female players. Academy head Nick Cox is involved in that process in regular contact with Healy.

“What they’ve experienced [on the men’s side], they’ve experienced for a longer period of time than we have. There are invaluable assets within the club that help each other combine thought processes,” Skinner explained.

“We know how hard Charlotte works anyway, but what we’re trying to do is make sure she can get across the first-team aspects too, so there is a seamless transition.”

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