Ole’s out to prove he can win it with kids


Manchester Evening News - - FRONT PAGE - By SA­MUEL LUCK­HURST in NUR-SUL­TAN

THE United teenagers only checked into their Nur-Sul­tan rooms at 5.30am yes­ter­day.

James Gar­ner donned a snood and Luke Shaw re­sem­bled the Miche­lin Man. The weather app clar­i­fied it felt like -22 de­grees C upon our ar­rival at the ho­tel. The nearby Ishim River is frozen.

United sup­port­ers re­ceived a warm re­cep­tion be­fore they set foot in the sprawl­ing cap­i­tal of Kaza­khstan. The Air As­tana flight an­nounced greet­ings to the dozens of sup­port­ers on the flight from Heathrow prior to take-off and the in-flight meal was ac­com­pa­nied by a small box of Kazakh choco­lates. A big screen at Nursul­tan Nazarbayev In­ter­na­tional Air­port pro­moted tonight’s match as fol­low­ers queued at pass­port con­trol.

A re­mark­able num­ber of United fol­low­ers have made the 5,200-mile round trek. Fa­mil­iar faces from Old Traf­ford’s south stand ar­rived in time for break­fast at their ho­tels, though some were well re­freshed from the six-and-a-half hour flight.

Like the re­cent Europa League odysseys to Odessa and Ros­tov, or the mi­nus tem­per­a­tures of Vi­enna in 1996, this is a Euro­pean away day badge of hon­our.

With qual­i­fi­ca­tion for the knock­outs al­ready as­sured, there is so lit­tle to glean from the tie.

The theme of youth could work in Ole Gun­nar Sol­sk­jaer’s favour. Pro­vided the four non-teens – Shaw,

Lee Grant, Axel Tuanzebe and Jesse Lin­gard – start, there will still be four debu­tants in an XI set to in­clude James Gar­ner, An­gel Gomes, Tahith Chong and Ma­son Green­wood. Nine of the starters will be academy grad­u­ates.

United are keen to make a song and dance about the up­com­ing 4,000th con­sec­u­tive match with an academy grad­u­ate in their match­day squad.

As­tana will be the 3,995th, with Ever­ton the 4k due date at Old Traf­ford on De­cem­ber 15.

Matej Ko­var, Max Tay­lor, Dis­hon Bernard, Te­den Mengi, Ethan Laird,

Largie Ra­mazani, Ethan Galbraith, Dy­lan Le­vitt, D’mani Mel­lor and Ar­nau Puig­mal – all in Kaza­khstan – have never made a first-team squad be­fore. All are guar­an­teed match­day roles.

Tay­lor is the head­line in­clu­sion, hav­ing un­der­gone che­mother­apy for tes­tic­u­lar cancer ear­lier this year. Tay­lor, 19, has ap­peared twice for the Un­der-23s this sea­son and his pos­si­ble par­tic­i­pa­tion in Kaza­khstan is as uplifting as the for­mer United young­ster Joe Thomp­son – di­ag­nosed with Hodgkin lym­phoma be­fore it re­turned – scor­ing the goal to keep Rochdale in League One last year. Sol­sk­jaer de­cided on an in­ex­pe­ri­enced squad some time ago and Tay­lor was told he would be trav­el­ling to Kaza­khstan last week. The As­tana Arena’s kalei­do­scopic haze that il­lu­mi­nated the win­try dark­ness on the drive from the air­port should en­rap­ture United’s young vis­i­tors. Galbraith, 18, has

With qual­i­fi­ca­tion al­ready se­cured, the theme of youth could work in Sol­sk­jaer’s favour

Sa­muel Luck­hurst

al­ready at­tained a se­nior North­ern Ire­land cap and Le­vitt, 19, has made the Wales bench on four oc­ca­sions al­ready.

Four United academy grad­u­ates – Jonny and Corry Evans, Craig Cath­cart and Paddy McNair – are es­tab­lished in the North­ern Ire­land XI and 12 play­ers who came through at United were listed in Euro 2016 squads.

Sol­sk­jaer has placed an em­pha­sis on youth through ex­ter­nal and in­ter­nal tal­ents and Green­wood has vin­di­cated the strat­egy. He al­ready has as many United goals as An­gel di Maria and Radamel Fal­cao.

All three scor­ers at Sh­effield United were academy grad­u­ates and not since Paul Sc­holes, David Beck­ham and Ryan Giggs ran riot against Nottingham For­est in 1996 have three United young­sters aged 22 or un­der struck in a league match.

The United academy is a con­ve­nient tool for Sol­sk­jaer too, as the 4,000th match ap­proaches with the spec­tre of Mauri­cio Po­chet­tino lurk­ing.

The for­mer Spurs boss has a no­table track record with young play­ers and had an un­sung role in Eng­land’s pas­sage to the World Cup semi-fi­nals last year. United’s is more es­teemed and sto­ried than Tottenham’s.

The As­tana squad evokes mem­o­ries of an­other Euro­pean away trip to Wolfs­burg 10 years ago. Oliver Gill, Cameron Ste­wart, Mag­nus Eikrem and Matty James were on the bench and Oliver Nor­wood trav­elled.

Sir Alex Fer­gu­son did not send any of the cal­low quar­tet on, for there was a lit­tle life left in old dog Michael Owen, who plun­dered a hat-trick.

Fer­gu­son’s use of Euro­pean dead rub­bers as a breed­ing ground for young­sters took in Galatasara­y ‘94 (David Beck­ham and Si­mon Davies), Mac­cabi

Haifa in 2002 (Kieran Richard­son and, er, Daniel Nardiello and Mads Timm) and ar­guably be­gan with Gary Neville’s ca­reer de­but against Tor­pedo Moscow in 1992.

More re­cently, Jose Mour­inho let Josh Har­rop have his day in the sun against Crys­tal Palace three days be­fore the Europa League fi­nal. Demetri Mitchell, Joel Pereira and Scott McTom­i­nay also made their full de­buts and Gomes be­came the fourth-youngest player in United his­tory.

The club pho­tog­ra­pher seized on the boy­ish buoy­ancy by as­sem­bling the 13 academy grad­u­ates in­volved for a class­room pic­ture dur­ing the lap of hon­our.

United, syn­ony­mous with youth for over half a cen­tury, con­tinue to cul­ti­vate their iden­tity around home­grown foot­ballers.

More teenagers are about to get their kicks.

James Gar­ner and D’Mani Mel­lor dur­ing United train­ing in As­tana

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