United’s director of football David Holdsworth spoke again about the importance of the club’s academy system following Friday’s announcement of the retained and released list.
“One of the good things when looking at the list is when we see the crop of young players who will be around the first team environment next year,” he said. “That’s a policy I wanted to introduce from the moment I got here, and it’s testament to the work done by Eric Kinder and Mark Birch that Josh Dixon and Taylor Charters have been joined by five more young men who we feel have huge potential.
“Developing an effective academy system is vital for a club like ours and I’m sure all of the coaches from the young age groups upwards will look at those names and rightfully feel a real sense of pride.
“This is the next step for all of them, Josh and Taylor included, and it’s up to them to take it. I know the manager has already told them that, but they need to understand how important this next 12-month period is.
“We’ve sent a real message as a club that we aren’t frightened to give good young players a chance, and that should give everybody within the academy system, players and coaches alike, a real sense of focus.
“None of this is lip service or contracts for the sake of it. They’re given out because we feel we can develop and improve those players, but they have to want it. They now have to get their heads down and work hard, and maintain a real aim of pushing their way into the match day environment.
“It’s exciting for us and for them, and we’re looking forward to seeing who rises up to the challenge and ho it is who will give Chris plenty to think about.”
And speaking again on the work done behind the scenes in the lead-up to last week’s press releases, he told us: “The club has restructured over the last two years in terms of how we’ve gone about things.
“We’ve been very economical but we’ve also been supportive when the time has been right, as we showed with a very busy January window.
“With the way we readjusted our methods of work we found ourselves in a much better place, and the upturn of results in the games leading up to the lockdown had given us all a huge lift. All that’s missing now is getting back to playing in front of our fans, and I know that’s something we’re all looking forward to.
“The work we’re doing now has that in mind, because once a firm decision is made on what happens with next season, and I hope that comes soon, we know we need to be ready to take to the field and represent this club in the right way.
“Everything we do, and I don’t mind repeating this, is done to protect our football club. In terms of recruiting players, very soon a lot of them will be out of contract and I’ll have agents who will want to be my best friend again.
“We’re in a position now where we will set our wage levels and I’m confident that the policy we have will allow us to get good players, within the funds available, who will buy into the ‘all-in’ ethos and help us to push on.”
“Chris has done remarkably well in a short space of time and we’re looking to him to continue the work he’s been doing which, if that happens, will take us on an upward curve,” he added. “I’ve had a lot of conversations with him and I know his plans inside out, and he’s connected with the fans by being honest, direct and through hard work.
“I enjoy working with him and I’ve watched him take on what was a tough task in a determined way. That’s credit to him. He’s played a style of football that suits the league we’re in, but he’s very much focused on getting to the next level as well.
“We feel he’s the person to take us on that journey, and I know he’s enjoying what has been a unique challenge at a club where he feels he can make a difference.”
“One of the important things for all of us this past few months is the way we’ve tried to keep our supporters updated as much as possible,” he concluded. “I think our updates to the fans have been informative and regular, and the feedback I’ve had has been really positive in terms of our fans feeling that they’ve been given information as and when we’ve had it.
“Credit goes to Nigel [Clibbens] and the media department for making sure information and interviews have flowed from all areas of the club. In situations like this you tend to find a lot out about people and it’s confirmed to the board of directors that they have staff working here who have the club constantly at the forefront of their minds.
“They highlight issues before they become issues and they’re looking for ways of keeping this club moving forward all the time. It’s fantastic to be part of that and to work with them.
“Whether it’s having a focus on community engagement or helping with local schemes and projects, we’re available, and people have found that we’re here to help. I think that will stand us in good stead going forward.”