United’s under-18 squad was back in work early on Monday with both a field-based and gym-based session on the agenda as they were welcomed back from their summer break.
Speaking about the reasoning behind getting the lads going three days earlier than their first-team counterparts, youth coach Gavin Skelton said: “We’ve brought them back earlier just so they can all start the process of bedding in.
“We have some new recruits and it’s a different environment for them, so we’ll use the next few days to get them used to it before the first team come back.
“They know have to hit the ground running so it’s great to be back. You could feel the enthusiasm in the group this morning and that’s nice to see. The sun is shining, and that always helps. We did a good bit of football-based training out on the field with them today [Monday] and then it’s on to some gym work in the afternoon.
“With the first years there’s always nervous excitement and that brings its own kind of energy. You can see with the second years that their chests are out because they know have a bit more responsibility to go with it. They certainly went about setting a good example to the new players this morning, which was great to see.”
“Every single one of them is obsessed with what we’re doing over the next few weeks,” he confirmed. “They want to know how much running they’ll be doing and I’m sure the older lads will have passed a few stories on.
“However, things have changed a lot over the years, even from when I was an apprentice. A ball is introduced from day one, to complement the running, but it’s still as intense. If they don’t do the work that we ask them to do it gets harder for them, they understand that, but they’ve come back with an excellent attitude and long may that continue.”
With the levels of intensity high from the moment they reported back, they were reminded of the importance of doing things properly during the first team talk, held at Brunton Park prior to their first session out on the grass.
“We got them together first thing and told them that, whatever their age, it’s an important year for them,” he commented. “This is a demanding environment but it’s also a brilliant place to be if you put the work in.
“It isn’t a job where they’ll get things for free, or where we’ll allow them to sit back. They have to put the effort in because this is a fantastic opportunity and experience for them. We can put everything in place, but it’s up to them to make the most of it.
“You can’t hide the fact it’s even more important for the second years. We want to see them trying to get involved with the first team during training and hopefully, come the end of the year, they’ll be pushing for a professional contract.
“They’ve watched Sam [Adewusi], Max [Brown] and Kieron [Olsen] go through successfully last season so they know the standards required. I want them all to want the same outcome. There has to be a competitive edge, because you always need that if you’re involved in sport, so we’ll be pushing for more from them every step of the way.”
With the manager having spoken openly about his willingness to use young players a number of times since his arrival, he said: “John [Sheridan] came to meet us and everything he said was hugely positive. It was a great meeting with him and we came away feeling impressed by what he had to say.
“We’ve been able to use that to tell that the lads that they now have to do everything they can to catch his eye. That’s not just out on the field, it’s how they act when they’re in the building and how their body language is whenever they’re around the club.
“The fact of the matter is that you are always on trial as a youth team player. You’ve earned your place, but that’s only the start of it. You’ll be judged by everybody who works at the club and you have to have that in mind.”
As well as the usual punishing training sessions the lads can look forward to some eye-catching friendly fixtures as they work their way through the coming weeks.
“To play the likes of Rangers, Celtic, Derby and Middlesbrough is exciting for anyone,” he said. “They’ll all be tough games, but they’ll give us a good indication of where we’re at. We’ve all had our breaks now and we just want to be getting on with it.
“It’ll be nice to back into the fixtures routine and starting things up today is helping us all to get into the swing of things once again.”
And with academy coach Eric Kinder parting ways with the club to take up the assistant manager’s role with Exeter City, he said: “It’s a fantastic opportunity for Eric. He’s going there to work at first team level and that’s superb for him.
“He came back to help us again just before Christmas and it’s been good to have his experience involved with our under-16 set-up. I’m sure everyone at the club will wish all the best with his new venture.”
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