Academy boss Darren Edmondson spoke this week about the lift his under-18 players will get from the news that 17-year old winger Liam McCarron has signed his first professional deal just three months in to the second year of his scholarship programme.
“I hope it’s a sign of the direction the club is trying to go,” he said. “The connection between the academy and the first team is getting closer under the new regime, if the players are good enough.
“It’s great for Liam, obviously, and it’s also a bonus for the other players as well. Mentally it gives them a lift because they’ve seen some of last year’s players not even getting the chance to train with the first team.
“The place has changed now and they know if they’re doing the right things in training, and when they play on a weekend, that they’ll get a chance to go and train with the professionals. Once that happens it’s up to them to take that opportunity.”
For a player who has always shown his ability to take players on, run with the ball and bring others into play, it came as little surprise to see him step up to the first team ranks to make both his cup and league debuts in recent weeks.
“To be honest, it’s always been about the emotional side of things for the young lad,” he explained. “Liam was blessed with a lot of pace at the age of 15 and that’s why we took a chance on him. Mentally, at that point, he was a young boy who would get very frustrated very quickly.
“As he’s matured and come into full time football that’s been the biggest change in him. He’s always had pace and the belief that he’s going to beat the person in front of him, but he’s become stronger with the mental aspects of the game. That was important, because it’s made him a better all-round player.
“Another side of him is that he has no edge. There are no airs and graces with him. He’s just a good lad who wants to do well. He comes back to the youth team and still does his jobs, and I know he’ll continue to do that, so that’s a grounding in itself. There’s no ego with him, he’s just an honest young lad who is delighted to have signed his contract.”
With the decision having been made on a player who is tipped to have a bright future, we wondered if there was a sense of pride in the academy at having brought him through from the under-18 age group.
“You get a sense of pride whoever gets through,” he confirmed. “Jordan Holt is a lad who has been with the club since he was nine and it was great to see him make it, and it was the same with Keiron Olsen, Sam Adewusi and Max Brown. It’s just fantastic to see it happen.
“Liam is from the same village as Gavin Skelton, so Gav will be feeling pleased. We’ve put time in on getting his emotional state right, particularly with how to deal with things as a game was going on.
“Once we’d improved that, it left us with a footballer who, I think, can now go into the first team environment and do himself justice. It’s testament to how he’s worked over the last 12 months and, even though it’s come a little bit earlier than we expected, it’s fully deserved for the lad.”
“Obviously his family are over the moon,” he added. “They’ve been coming to the games and, having spoken to him privately, I know they’re buzzing. They’re a very close family and I know this means a lot to all of them.
“The pride he’ll get from his family is immense for him, and if he makes a start at some point it’ll be even better. There’s adrenaline when you’re waiting to go on as a sub, but that’s even more the case when it’s a full debut. I’m sure that’ll happen at some point because he has the ability.”
And on the reaction from the rest of the under-18 squad, he told us: “When he came on in the cup game against Morecambe on the Tuesday night all of them had their phones out and they were up taking pictures of him.
“You could tell there was pride in seeing one of their own going out there. Now, they might have doctored the pictures as a bit of fun, I don’t know, but there’s a good spirit in the group because they’ve all come through the age brackets together.
“They’re all delighted that he got his debut but, yes, there will now be a need to manage some of those ‘why isn’t it me’ questions. That’s part of it unfortunately, and we keep telling them that it’s those who can control their emotions better who will close the bracket towards becoming a professional footballer quicker.
“It’s up to them to grasp any opportunity that comes their way. If they can get their own ship in order they’ve got a chance, because the new manager is going to give them an opportunity. He’s shown that repeatedly, and not just with Liam.
“The youth team trained with the first team last week and the manager said again that if players are doing the right things, and if the conversations are positive between the youth staff and him, then players will get their chance.”
With United’s latest graduate having had just over 15 minutes of senior pitch time from his two appearances so far, we left it the academy to outline what type of player the nippy winger could turn out to be.
“He’s physically a man already and that’s added to his ability to leave a full back standing, or to hold him off to bring others into play at youth level,” he said. “He has things to learn, but that’s the same with any young player.
“When he first joined the professionals, we told him not to be nervous about it and not to doubt himself. There are days, however old you are, where you don’t train well, or you have a bad spell in a game.
“You have to overcome that quickly, and I think he’s learned that. We spoke to him last season a number of times about the fact he had to be the one to get it back and sort things out if he was the one who gave it away. He embraced that challenge and he’s a lad who works much harder for the team now than when he first came to the club.
“From a footballing point of view, he’s almost a free spirit. He has the ability to go past three players at any given point, when others would have passed the ball and moved to a different area.
“He’s an out-and-out winger who has pace, power and strength and he can take people on. That’s something we tried not to coach out of him, so what we’ve looked at with him is making sure he knows his responsibilities when the team doesn’t have the ball.
“That penny has dropped a lot more with him over the last six months and he’s become a more accomplished player because of it.”