Man Utd youth coach assesses club’s “exciting” kids and his own rise ahead of cup final


Manchester United’s U18s are preparing for Wednesday’s FA Youth Cup final against Nottingham Forest – and Justin Cochrane is a key player behind their success

Justin Cochrane started his coaching career while a teenage player at QPR when he placed an advert in his local paper for juniors to teach.

It didn’t make big news but the former Antigua and Barbuda international has been working his way up the coaching ladder helping youngsters ever since. His dedication behind the scenes has seen Cochrane earn a big reputation within the game at Spurs and England previously.

Now he will step out into the limelight as part of Manchester United ’s coaching staff overseeing their FA Youth Cup final bid alongside Travis Binnion. Described in June 2020 by England manager Gareth Southgate as “a top coach” in the making, Cochrane’s diligent work within the FA saw him almost appointed England U21 boss last summer.

Justin Cochrane in action at Man Utd


Manchester United via Getty Images)

Lee Carsley got the post ahead of him but Cochrane was soon offered another opportunity to become United’s head of player development and coaching in their academy. It marked a return to club life for Cochrane who coached Spurs’ kids at U12, U14, U16 and then U23 level before moving into the FA set-up.

Cochrane still draws upon some of the skills he learned as a 17-year-old apprentice at QPR when he started an U10s team in his local area of Edmonton, north London. Cochrane, who has a Pro Licence and a BA in leadership and management, said: “I started coaching 23 years ago at 17 in my local area with kids.

“The kids I coached are now 34-36. I have done a lot of hours and spent a lot of time coaching. Each time I just try to help other people fulfil their potential and that is what I have done this year. I am trying to help the players maximise their potential to see where they can get to and to keep pushing them. Whether you are coaching 10-year-olds or 18-19 year-olds, there are similar traits that you use and a similar set of skills.”

Alejandro Garnacho is one of Manchester United’s U18s key players and has already made his Premier League debut

Cochrane, 40, enjoyed a respectable lower league career as a defensive midfielder with the likes of Crewe, Rotherham and Yeovil after making just a single appearance for QPR. But his coaching career is set to hit the heights and he works across both United’s U23s and U18s after quitting the FA. Cochrane reflected: “It was a difficult decision.

“I was in the running for the England U21s role and I turned down some League jobs as a manager and as an assistant and first team coach. At some stage I would like to be a manager. I had some offers but once I spoke to Nick Cox (head of United’s academy) and Darren Fletcher (technical director) about joining this iconic football club, who have a history of developing youth, it felt aligned and felt right.

“It was the chance to continue to learn and work at a high level with high level people and players. It has been enjoyable and been good. It has felt like a seamless transition. I knew the idea of how Manchester United want to play and their ideas on youth development fell fully in line with how I see football played. They want to play attacking football on the front foot, with expressive, talented young players to entertain the fans , which is how I like football to be played.”

Wednesday’s FA Youth Cup at Old Trafford against Nottingham Forest represents a chance for silverware for the hosts but Cochrane knows success cannot be determined by just one result. He reflected: “There are lots of people who have won the FA Youth Cup who are not actually playing anymore.

“It is never about one game in development. The primary role of the academy is to service the first team. Ultimate fulfilment comes from seeing players do really well and have careers and you get a text message saying ‘thank you’ or a shirt from a player you have helped.”

A crowd of over 60,000 is expected at Old Trafford to see United’s U18s take on Nottingham Forest. United’s legendary ‘Class of 96’ famously won the competition in 1992 to help launch the careers of David Beckham and Co. While the Busby Babes were also five-time consecutive winners in the 1950s.

Manchester United’s Cristiano Ronaldo hands his hat-trick ball to team-mate Alejandro Garnacho following their recent win over Norwich



Cochrane is sure incoming Dutch coach Erik ten Hag, who helped Ajax produce a successful young side, will be taking a keen interest. Cochrane said: “This is a big moment, you can’t replicate this many supporters in the stadium for a youth game. It is an opportunity to create some memories the players will never forget.

“We have exciting players and that is what the Manchester United supporters will see when they come to the game. We have got lots of good young players and I think Man United supporters should be pretty pleased with what is to come over the next few years.

“Hopefully these players who play will also impress the incoming manager or at least make the manager aware of some of their names. That is the challenge. This is a big occasion in the players’ careers. This will help them create memories and hopefully the performance will alert the people upstairs , the new manager and put them in this frame.”

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