It has been 11 years since Manchester United last won the FA Youth Cup.
Images of Paul Pogba, Ravel Morrison, and Jesse Lingard featuring in a star-studded side that defeated Sheffield United, captained by Harry Maguire, remain fresh in the memory of those who followed United at youth level.
More than a decade later, and United, the most successful team in the tournament’s history, are looking for their 11th title — something they will look to take one step closer towards on Thursday night.
United are at the quarter-final stage and host Leicester at Old Trafford, with the winners set to face either Wolves or Brighton in the semi-finals.
At the helm is manager Travis Binnion, who himself was just 24 the last time United were celebrating their last FA Youth Cup triumph. He wasn’t celebrating it, though.
Binnion was in the opposing dugout as assistant manager of Sheffield United when they were defeated by the young Reds 6-3 on aggregate, losing 4-1 in front of 23,000 at Old Trafford in the decisive second-leg.
“I’ve got good memories,” the former Sheffield United academy chief told MEN Sport. “Good memories of the first-leg, not so much of the second leg. We got battered at Old Trafford. You look at the United side had that day. It was fantastic.
“I was the assistant to John Pemberton. We had a very good run and then came up against a fantastic side. Some of the boys in that team are in the first team now. One was obviously with us at Sheffield United, who now captains the football club. We want our boys to go on and have the careers that those lads are having, and this is just another stepping stone to that.”
United booked their place in the quarter-final this year with their best performance in the competition so far when they defeated Everton 4-1 in the last 16.
The Merseysiders had taken the lead through Francis Okoronkwo but were soon pegged back when star striker Charlie McNeill fired an emphatic penalty into the Stretford End after Alejandro Garnacho had been fouled in the box.
Garnacho, 17, was one of three Spaniards who arrived at United two summers ago, along with full-backs Alvaro Fernandez and Marc Jurado.
It was Jurado, who swapped Barcelona for United back in 2020, who played a key role in the second goal, delivering a delightful cross into the box for Kobbie Mainoo to head into the net.
“I remember two weeks ago I was talking with the coach about this and I’m so happy to get this assist,” Jurado told the MEN after that win.
“Playing as a full-back, I love going forward and assisting and scoring goals as well if I can. At full-back, I think it’s good to attack and defend.”
Even if United don’t go any further in the youth competition this season, their latest batch of hopefuls will have gained priceless experience by playing three competitive matches at Old Trafford.
These surroundings tend to provide a major boost for youngsters, and for Jurado these opportunities were a key reason why he joined the club in the first-place.
He added: “I think here you have more opportunities to get into the first team and that’s why I came here, to play in the Premier League. I’m ready for everything.”
“I think Anthony [Elanga] for us is a great example. We have to see him and work hard to be there.”
Elanga is not the only relatable role model esta next batch of hopefuls have, with Charlie Savage, Zidane Iqbal, Shola Shoretire and Will Fish – all with first team appearances to Their name – in attendance to watch many of Their teammates U23s When United defeated Everton in the last round.
“I think it is great that those boys come and watch, but we have that contact everyday on the training ground, so you look at the Palace game last week,” Binnion said. “They are playing with those lads who have made senior debuts, training with them, traveling with them, so it is normal.
“I think it is more a reflection of those boys that they want to come and watch, rather than the interaction, because that is happening.”
United made it 3-1 after the break when Sam Mather finished following a goalmouth scramble and continued to push for another goal to put the tie beyond any doubt.
It was worth the wait.
As the match entered stoppage time, former Atletico Madrid hopeful Garnacho picked up the ball in his own half before embarking on a 70-yard run and calmly slotting beyond the keeper.
His burst of pace was so ferocious that the defender chasing him pulled up with a hamstring injury, a blow he was still nursing as Garnacho ripped his shirt off and copied Cristiano Ronaldo’s famous ‘Siuu!’ celebration in the far corner.
“He’s a very good player,” U18 captain Rhys Bennett said afterwards. “A very tricky winger and he’s our outlet sometimes. If we can’t get out, we can play it to him and he’s got very good feet and he gets out of tight situations, which helps us as a team as it gets us up the pitch and we can squeeze. It’s good for the backline, but yeah, he’s a top player.”
Those thoughts are echoed by manager Binnion: “I think it’s good for him [Garnacho] in terms of doing that at the end of the game because it shows his improving fitness levels and how he’s approaching training and approaching games better, and it’s just rewards for him that late on in the game to show that level of fitness. It validates everything he’s doing really.”
United might need to rely on similar moments of brilliance if they are to beat Leicester on Thursday night, and Captain Bennett, 18, knows his task will be to keep his players focused for the biggest game of their careers so far.
“I think that’s very important in football; not to get carried away. Leicester are a good side, we’ve got to take it step by step and not get complacent or carried away. We’ve got to do the job next round.”
One of those I Might need to keep focused on is the excitable Omari Forson, WHO made clear rather refreshingly His dream of lifting the trophy at the end of the season.
“It was a surreal moment playing at Old Trafford, it was just great to get out there. I think I played okay, I could’ve done better, but we’re through to the next round,” he said.
“It means everything. We’ve got the ability in attack and defense to win any game at any moment. The main objective is to win this tournament, that’s what we want to do.”
For manager Binnion, there can be no denying how symbolic it would be to lead United to victory in the FA Youth Cup, 11 years after they beat his former side in the final.
However, he insists the focus is solely on the game at hand rather than completing his own redemption arc.
He added: “It is not about me and managing the team, it is about these boys getting where they need to get to. In order for us to get to the semi-final we have to beat Leicester, we will not taking anything for granted.”
Sign up to our United newsletter so you never miss an update from Old Trafford this season.
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.