Manchester United’s development chief Nicky Butt has urged fans to remain patient with the club’s young talent as the likes of “unbelievable” Mason Greenwood attempt to make headway during a transitional period for the Red Devils.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side have endured a tough start to the 2019-20 season, although Sunday’s 1-1 draw against Champions League holders Liverpool showed light at the end of the tunnel.
Among the handful of positives in the opening months have been the opportunities afforded to academy graduates. Brandon Williams recently made his debut and James Garner has been around the squad, while fellow teenagers Tahith Chong, Angel Gomes and Greenwood have played multiple times.
Greenwood last week signed improved and extended terms with United having netted in two of his three starts this season, but Butt has pleaded for fans to remain patient.
“They’re very exciting players,” Butt, United’s head of first team development, told the PA news agency.
“We’re all excited about these young boys and there’s probably another four or five in the background that are slowly going to come up behind them.
“Hopefully more behind that and more behind that, but they’re only babies and young at the minute.
“But, for me, it’s difficult to bring in a lot of players into a team that’s not firing on all cylinders, if you like.”
Butt, 44, knows a thing or two about successfully coming through the ranks at Old Trafford.
He was part of the ‘Class of 92’ group of home-grown youngsters, along with the likes of David Beckham, Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes and the Neville brothers, who would go on to help United enjoy a remarkable period of success under Sir Alex Ferguson.
“A lot was made when we came through. It was nothing to do with us as players,” Butt said.
“We were just good players, we were playing with world-class players who were superstars, who were men, who were leaders, who were winning trophies, winning leagues, getting to FA Cup finals every single year.
“We went into a team like that, so you’ve got to be careful and I am not talking for Ole because he knows exactly what I am talking about, he went through it himself here.
“You have to be careful when you put these players in because if they get too much expectation on their shoulders at an early age, a few bad games can see them fall by the wayside.
“We know ourselves as adults. When you get rejection as a young teenager, whether it be football, girls doesn’t fancy you or something happens at college, you fail your driving licence, it’s like the end of the world.
“So, can you imagine playing in front of 76,000, having a bad game and getting beat 4-0 and you’re reading the paper – because they all read papers and obviously now it’s social media – and you get a bit of stick on there? It can kill them.
“I genuinely do believe that we have some really, really top talent but my concern would be putting too much weight on their shoulders at this moment in time, which might have to happen because of injuries or suspensions or whatever goes on in the squad dynamic.”
United have a long history of bringing through young talent, with a study by the PA news agency showing that no Premier League club gave more minutes to their academy graduates last season.
Asked if established players like Paul Pogba, Jesse Lingard, Marcus Rashford and Scott McTominay can aid the current crop, Butt said: “Yeah, they can. They can play a big role by going on the pitch and performing.
“But at this club, you have to perform week in, week out, every single week, in front of 76,000, twice a week.
“It’s very, very difficult and the message we want to give as an academy and as a club is, yeah, Mason Greenwood, if you want to use his name, he looks like an unbelievable, talented boy, which he is.
“But the word ‘boy’ is what he is, and we have just to as a fanbase and supporters be patient with these boys.”
Solskjaer says Greenwood is one of the best finishers he has ever seen – high praise from United’s treble-sealing striker, whose work with United’s young talent has been a positive from his topsy-turvy reign to date.
“He’s really approachable and he knows the club inside out,” Butt said of his former team-mate Solskjaer. “He knows what it takes to be a footballer here.
“Even though he wasn’t an academy member, he come as a very young boy over here and was lost and didn’t know what to do and embraced the club and ended up becoming one of the family, if you like.
“A big thing about that is the connection between the staff. In fairness to all the managers we’ve had over the years, they’ve always helped the academy.
“Some obviously are easier to approach than others because of personal connections and we’re fortunate at the minute that Ole is in the hotseat.
“He’s coached in the academy, he did his coaching badges with academy players, with academy coaches, so he knows pretty much everybody right down to the Under-12s in the club.
“And that can only be beneficial. We’re very, very lucky to have someone like Ole in charge. It makes our job certainly a lot easier.”