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Manchester United U18 team undergoes revamp with summer arrivals

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When Nicky Butt took over as Manchester United's academy chief 18 months ago, he made his plans very clear.

"We want to attract the best players we can and bring them into what we feel is already a great set-up," he said in his first interview.

The aim of his job is to get young players through the academy and into the first-team. It's a path he knows well after graduating from the youth ranks himself to make 387 first-team appearances and play for England.

Butt was part of the team that won the FA Youth Cup in 1992 alongside Gary Neville, David Beckham and Ryan Giggs -- the same players who formed the core of the team that won the Champions League in 1999.

"As someone who learned his trade in the United youth set-up, it's a huge honour to be given the chance to lead the academy and instil its values and attitudes to create future generations of Manchester United players," he said of his appointment back in February 2016.

Butt ended last season on the bench alongside Jose Mourinho. He was invited into the dressing room by the manager to make the young players feel more comfortable and watched a first-team including Joel Pereira, Demetri Mitchell, Scott McTominay, Axel Tuanzebe and Josh Harrop line up for a 2-0 win over Crystal Palace. Angel Gomes, 16, also became United's youngest debutant in more than half a century in the same game.

The job had been vacant for a year before Butt took over. Brian McClair left to join the Scottish FA in February 2015, leaving club secretary John Alexander and John Murtagh to pick up the slack. Butt inherited a youth set up facing accusations it was failing to provide players of the right standard -- the talk on junior pitches across Manchester was that City was the place to send promising players rather than Carrington.

It did not help that, at one point, Robin van Persie, Darren Fletcher and Phil Neville all had children training at City's new £200 million training ground on the Etihad Campus. But Butt has sought to redress the balance.

David Harrison has been hired as head of academy recruitment, with Lyndon Tomlinson as his assistant, while Ronnie Cusack has been taken on as an academy scout. All three had previously worked at City.

Kieran McKenna arrived from Tottenham in September to coach the Under-18s while Ricky Sbragia is expected to be the new permanent manager of the U23s.

In the background, a fresh wave of new academy signings have arrived, headed by winger Tahith Chong from Feyenoord and forward Joshua Bohui from Brentford last year. They have been followed this summer by Northern Ireland U17s captain Ethan Galbraith, French youth international Aliou Badara Traore and Belgian striker Largie Ramazani. There is also interest in Vancouver Whitecaps winger Alphonso Davies.

North America is a region United are hoping to expand their scouting network in as they search for the best young players in the world. The academy has been given a shot in the arm by the emergence of Marcus Rashford and Jesse Lingard, but Harrop's departure to search for regular football at Preston this summer is a reminder of how tough a job Butt faces.

Harrop, 21, starred for the U23s last season and scored a fine goal on his senior debut against Palace. Out of contract at the end of the season, the club were quick to offer him a new one. But he rejected it to drop down into the Championship, and it was telling that in his first interview with Preston he mentioned playing time as they key factor in his decision. It was something Mourinho and Butt could not promise.

The announcement of the squad to tour the United States this summer will be the next indicator of which players Mourinho and Butt think have a chance of making the grade. Tuanzebe is almost certain to be included after making four Premier League appearances at the end of last season.

"Axel going in and doing so well in such a tough environment can only help the ones coming through below," U18s coach Kieran McKenna told the club website. "Credit to Axel, everyone is delighted for him in that one inspires the younger boys through his application and good attitude, which Axel has in abundance.

"He can go on to achieve good things and it also shows people, young players, if they have the right mentality, if there are opportunities to put them in, they can be trusted to go and do a good job."

Galbraith, Ramazani and Traore are the latest to sign up for the challenge.