I was recently invited to present at a conference with the specific task of reflecting on more than 20 years of working in youth development and academy football.


My general conclusion? It has been a privilege to have the opportunity to work with so many young people in such an exciting and vibrant field.


I have been lucky enough to work in some academy environments that I believe to be some of the best learning environments for young people that there are, and I know that my experiences are generally replicated at clubs up and down the country. In particular, the programme we deliver at United is one that we should be extremely proud of.


Of course, I acknowledge that, sadly, there have been some isolated historical incidents in youth football where young people have unfortunately had negative experiences.


I am also a believer that, given the enormous responsibility that comes with caring for young people, we should never stop looking to improve and refine the work that we do and the experiences we create.


Over the last 20 years, an enormous amount of work has gone into modernising the approach that is taken in youth football, both in grassroots and professional football clubs. As a result, I believe, football academies are amongst some of the most sophisticated learning environments there are. Football as a sport has more robust systems than other sports (we are blessed that we have significant resource available by comparison) and, most importantly, these environments are more inspirational than many other education providers and I include schools, colleges and universities in this.

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