‘You can’t regret it’: Former Manchester United player Jose Mourinho chose to replace Paul Pogba for one night

It would be very easy for a promising youngster to feel angry about being released by Manchester United, especially after receiving the devastating news about Zoom.

Instead, Ethan Hamilton is credited with seeing the end of their nine-year association as the perfect opportunity to launch the next chapter in his promising career, which now sees him as a key figure for Accrington Stanley.

Hamilton, 23, first came to United as a 12-year-old when he was spotted playing for Edinburgh’s prestigious Hutchinson Vale club, the same club where compatriot Darren Fletcher began his own youth career.

Despite being born in Edinburgh, Hamilton grew up a huge Celtic fan, idolizing the goalscoring talents of Henrik Larsson before appreciating the skills of midfield masters Shunsuke Nakamura and Scott Brown.

At the time, Hamilton was attracting a lot of interest, but he only had eyes for United, effectively becoming a youth team player as he spent four years traveling to the club during school holidays before beginning his scholarship at the club when he was 16.

“I originally moved into the digs to start with, and then my grandmother moved in with me for the first year,” Hamilton told MEN Sport of those early years at United. “So my mom moved out after that.

The Manchester United U18 team in November 2015 (Back row L to R: Jimmy Dunne, Zach Dearnley, Oliver Byrne, Ro-Shaun Williams, Marcus Rashford, Ethan Hamilton. Front row L to R: Tyrell Warren, Callum Gribbin, Callum Whelan, Tyler Reid, Tosin Kehinde)

“You look at someone like Dave Bushell, they’re good role models. They make you feel very welcome. People who were amazing when you were younger and you couldn’t see anything else, all you wanted to do was be there and train.” It was brilliant.”

The Scottish midfielder continued to impress at youth level as he continued his steady development, quickly becoming a key figure at Under-18 level.

For good reason, Hamilton drew plenty of comparisons to United hero Fletcher for his tireless work in midfield and the similar route that led him to the club.

“We talked when I moved to United. He would say hello to my family and stuff. He always made sure I was okay and having fun. There were times when my grandparents and uncle were in the canteen and he’d sit and chat with them, which was very nice and very generous.”

At a time when he least suspected it, Hamilton would be rewarded for his hard work and effort.

It was Friday 16 February 2018 and the Scotland youth international was in action for United Under-23s as they took on rivals Chelsea in Premier League 2 at Leigh Sports Village.

In the 4-0 loss, Hamilton started in midfield alongside Devonte Redmond, Angel Gomes and Tahtih Chong. United would be relegated from the division at the end of the season.

Little did he know that 20 hours later, Hamilton would be on the bench for José Mourinho’s senior team as Paul Pogba’s replacement for the trip to face Huddersfield in the fifth round of the FA Cup.

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“It happened that fast. I imagine if it had been the night before, I wouldn’t have been able to sleep, but it happened so fast it was pretty amazing the way it all happened.”

“It was surreal, just brilliant. It was the first time I really saw my name on the back of the jersey. It’s something I’m really proud of, being around those players. It was a great experience, even seeing what the players were doing. players at the highest level. It was brilliant.”

Romelu Lukaku’s brace, including an excellent assist from Alexis Sánchez, sent United through to the quarter-finals and despite not making it onto the pitch, Hamilton remained firmly on Mourinho’s radar.

“I think it’s a beautiful moment for him,” Mourinho said of the teenager’s call-up. “I’d rather have him and I’m pretty sure he’s happy to be here.”

The youngster was rewarded with a new two-year deal at the end of the season when he finished second to Demetri Mitchell in the race for the Denzil Haroun Player of the Year award.

“I know it’s a cliché, but I really need to push myself and train hard,” he said after signing the new contract.

“You never know who is watching a training session, so my motto is to show people what you can do and try to impress the coaches and the coach every day.”

It wouldn’t be long before he had another chance.

United were planning an unusual pre-season tour of the United States to coincide with the World Cup in Russia, which meant most of their older stars would not be in action.

Instead, a host of academy graduates flew in to strengthen Mourinho’s team, and Hamilton was one of those lucky enough to be selected for the trip of a lifetime.

“It was an incredible experience. I’ve been very lucky to be at Manchester United. You go all over the world and represent the club. It’s a brilliant experience. You’re very lucky with the places you’ve been to play.”

The summer tour is infamously remembered as the beginning of the end for Mourinho at Manchester, taking place amid transfer frustrations and player disrepute.

However, Hamilton says he never had any problems with the Portuguese manager.

Jose Mourinho and Ethan Hamilton during a first team training session

“I think it was brilliant. The tour was obviously an opportunity for a closer relationship with the management and the players to see what they do. If you’re in the youth and under-23 team, you would go and train a weird session, maybe a week, but during that it was brilliant.

“The main thing is how people are as a person, and they were really welcoming and treated you like a senior player. It was always good. They always talked to the younger players and talked about some of the games if you went and trained.” with the elders. It was always good to talk to Jose.”

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Hamilton only appeared once for United that pre-season, replacing Juan Mata in the dying moments of a 1-1 draw with AC Milan in California.

The match went straight to penalties and, with the score tied 6-6, the United youngster saw his penalty saved by Pepe Reina. It may have only been a friendly match, but he wanted the ground to swallow him up.

However, he would soon be redeemed. José Mauri’s effort was unsuccessful and United won the penalty shootout 9–8 after 13 kicks apiece.

After getting a taste of first-team football with his FA Cup call-up and pre-season tour, Hamilton was keen to make his permanent transition to the senior game.

He continued as a star at reserve level and training regularly with the first team, meaning there was plenty of interest in him for a move, but none made as much sense as joining local team Rochdale in the January window.

“You get to a point where you’ve played for the Under-23s for two and a half years and going out on loan is brilliant. It gives you a taste of real football, playing for three points. I was very lucky to go to Rochdale with Keith Hill I also knew Ollie Rathbone from United so that made the transition a lot easier, it was a really nice time.

“It was something that I enjoyed a lot. I really loved it, playing for three points meant something. There is no better feeling than when you win a game. It was something that I was excited to do. (The pressure) is not something that would bother me; it was just nice and there were a lot of good people. It was a really cool experience.”

Hamilton enjoyed a successful spell at Rochdale, where he scored four goals in 14 appearances from midfield, further amplifying interest in his signing late in the campaign.

This time Southend won the race, although they only spent half the season at Roots Hall before being recalled by United and then joining Bolton for the rest of the season before the global pandemic brought things to a halt.

Bolton were unbeaten in their last three matches before the season was curtailed, but would eventually be relegated to League Two after the final league standings were determined on points per game.

Ethan Hamilton was released by Manchester United two years ago

Then in June came the news that United would release him.

“It was a Zoom call, it was obviously Covid at the time.” It was via a Zoom call, which otherwise would have been in person. At the time, it was hard to accept, but it was a brilliant upbringing. I worked with some great people, and it’s still something I remember very fondly. It’s everything you expected as a kid.”

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Given the circumstances of the pandemic, Hamilton, along with the other released players, were given the option to return to Carrington for pre-season in order to stay fit before the next stage of their careers.

Despite his relegation, Hamilton would quickly find a new club, with Darren Ferguson eager to bring the former United youngster to Peterborough.

“He’s a good size, a lovely footballer, left footed, and I think he’ll fit in really well,” he said. “We asked about his loan earlier, but something happened at Manchester United and it didn’t materialize, so it’s great to do it now.”

Now he is free and I think he will be a good signing for us.”

Hamilton added: “I’m really looking forward to it. When I spoke to the manager, he just reaffirmed what I was thinking, that this is the right place for me to develop.”

“Peterborough play great football – I knew that anyway, and playing against them last season proved that even more.”

It would prove to be a match made in heaven as Hamilton quickly established himself at his new club, becoming a regular impact substitute when Posh were promoted to the Championship.

A year after being part of a team that was relegated from League One, he was now celebrating escaping to the other end, but it wouldn’t last long.

At the start of the current campaign, Ferguson felt that Hamilton was over the top and his focus was on survivability. The tenacious midfielder would only appear twice from the bench in the first five games.

“He’s a great lad who always gave his all, but I didn’t see the improvement I wanted to see this season, so I made the decision to let him go,” admitted the coach.

Once again, Hamilton did not complain.

Instead of feeling angry, he saw it as a new opportunity, signing for Accrington in his bid for regular football.

“Coming to Accrington was an opportunity to play. The manager, John Coleman, his staff and the rest of the backroom staff are all really good people. It’s just brilliant. It’s a great organization at Stanley and it’s going in a positive direction. It’s been great “.

Hamilton’s continued success in the Football League is further proof that leaving United need not define his career, and it is a credit to his mindset that he used his release as a clean slate.

Accrington Stanley’s Ethan Hamilton celebrates after scoring against Charlton

So what does the future hold? Return to United? Playing for the Celtic boyhood club? Or even team up with good friend McTominay in Scotland?

Unsurprisingly, the humble Hamilton is not swayed by the moment.

“I’m just concentrating on the here and now. You’re training with great coaches every day and they’re helping me get better.”

“If you work hard and give your all to football to progress, to give your best in games, you can’t regret anything. That’s my approach day by day, week by week.”


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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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