Nicky Butt is excited by the talent coming through Manchester United’s youth system – but he will not rest until academy graduates are helping make the club perennial winners again.
A member of the Class of 92, the former midfielder is playing a key role in helping the current crop make that leap from the youth ranks to the senior side at Old Trafford.
Butt was promoted from head of academy to head of first-team development in the summer and has already overseen plenty of homegrown talent linking up with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side.
Yet that is not enough for the former England international, who knows the heights United should be scaling having been a key part of many of Sir Alex Ferguson’s successes.
“I think you can judge me and the people who develop for the first team in hopefully two or three years when we’re challenging for titles,” he told the PA news agency.
“If you’re challenging for titles and getting players in the first team, that’s when you know you’re doing an unbelievable job.
“We’ve got some great kids coming into the first team now that are doing very well.
“But I think the peak of the mountain in my job is when Man United are where they should be – and will be again – and we’re still getting players into the first team. That’s when you can say we’re doing a really, really good job.
“We’re doing a good job now. Forget the young ones, the U12s, U13s, U14s, they’re always doing great.
“But me, Neil Ryan (Under-18 coach) and Neil Wood (Under-23 coach) and the support staff around that, when we’re getting players into the first team and we’re winning titles and getting to the later stages of the Champions League, then we’re doing an unbelievable job.”
Ed Woodward underlined the academy’s importance to investors this week.
The executive vice-chairman also highlighted the young talent being brought in under the radar – the exception being Hannibal Mejbri, signed from Monaco aged 16 in the summer for a fee that could reach 10 million euros (£9.3million).
“It’s hard to get him under the radar when we’ve chased him for so long and he’s come from a big club for a big fee, so that’s impossible,” Butt said.
“But you want to get young people under the radar because, coming from a different country and getting the price tag in your head and coming to one of the biggest clubs in the world, there’s going to be so much pressure in the first place.
“I’ve got a 16-year-old kid who, I would hate that pressure on their shoulders, but they have that and it’d be foolish to put them out there too soon, because you don’t know what’s around the corner. They’re children.
“There is a long road to the first team and big bumps and some are going to do what Mason (Greenwood) or Marcus (Rashford) have done, some might go the Jesse (Lingard) way – going on loan five or six times and getting there.
“We’ve got some really good players that I believe will play for Man United. When, I don’t know. But they will play for Man United and, yeah, some of them have been brought through the ranks from seven, eight, nine or 10.”
Butt revealed Ferguson is to thank for his career in coaching.
“When I was about 23 or 24 the manager had a pop at us for messing about in Manchester in the afternoon and wasting our time, and he said we may as well do our coaching badges,” he said.
“We all did it together, Roy Keane did it with us as well, Giggsy, Scholesy, Nev, Ole did it with us as well actually.
“We did it in the afternoons and it was the best thing I did because it focused your mind on something that you could do eventually without taking your mind off your job.”
Butt says having Solskjaer at the United helm “makes it 10 times easier” on the youth development side and it would be no surprise to see him at Old Trafford on Friday night when the under-18s face Wigan in the FA Youth Cup quarter-finals.
“I think every game that the young boys get to play at Old Trafford is a big game for us,” Butt added.
“Obviously the Youth Cup is massive to the club, going back many, many years.
“We’ve not been this far for a while, but we’ve never really made that point to the kids.
“It’s just a game for them at Old Trafford that they are going to look forward to playing against a really good team and it’s time to shine, I think.”
:: Entry to Manchester United v Wigan in the FA Youth Cup on Friday at 7pm is free of charge via the turnstiles (no need for a ticket).