United’s director of football David Holdsworth spoke more about the importance of creating a healthy academy system in the wake of the news that first-year scholar Jarrad Branthwaite had been tied to the club with a two-year deal earlier this week.
“What we want in an ideal situation is to be bringing as many of our academy players through as possible,” he said. “Growing from within brings so many benefits and, as I’ve said before, it helps you to develop the kind of club identity that fans can really get behind.
“Something I spoke about a lot when I first came to the club was that we wanted to create our own DNA and identity. One of the ways of doing that is by bringing through good young players from our own academy system.
“The only way to achieve that is to nurture and develop those young lads who you identify as having a chance. It’s important that work is done alongside the first team management staff, and that’s certainly how Steven has been doing things since he came in.
“It’s a method and ethos we feel is important for a club like ours because we feel it’s the best way forward. The key to it all, of course, is having players who are deserving of being pushed forward in the first place.
“The harsh reality is that if these players aren’t good enough, they won’t make it through. However, we’re now showing that if players do work hard, listen, and demonstrate their ability, they will get the rewards that go with it.”
“I think we demonstrated with Liam McCarron at the start of the season that this was a policy we were keen to adopt and pursue,” he continued. “He made the jump into the first team squad, initially to train, and he showed an ability to learn from the senior players and staff around him.
“When players stand out as having the potential to progress, as Liam and Jarrad have both shown, you also have a responsibility to look after the club. Jarrad has been identified as a player who could develop into a good player so, like Liam, he comes under that banner.”
On the message the deals given to the club’s youngsters sends out, he told us: “We’re demonstrating that if you’re good enough it really doesn’t matter how old you are.
“I think it’s important that we show our young players, and that includes those who are starting their journey as eight or nine year olds, that if they get their dedication right, if they conduct themselves professionally, and if they do their jobs with pride then we will back them all the way.
“That’s how it should be and that’s how we can persuade good young players to come to and stay with our academy, because if they’re working hard they’ll make their way along our pathway to the first team squad.”
And on the advice he would give to the 16-year-old centre back as he embarks on this journey, he said: “The first thing I would say is that he needs to keep listening to his parents, because they really are lovely people.
“They will know better than anyone how to keep his feet firmly planted, and I’m sure he’ll take what they say on board. The good thing for him is that he now has more parents here inside this football club.
“The academy staff will look after him and guide him, and the first team manager and his staff will be looking out for him as well. This is a real opportunity for the lad and all I can say to him is that it’s up to him to grasp it.
“There really is a lot of hard work ahead for him but he’s with good people and in the best place possible to help him to achieve what he and we want him to achieve.”