Nottingham Forest will be fighting against history when they come up against Manchester United in Wednesday night’s FA Youth Cup final.
They’re taking part in their first-ever final in the competition, while United are aiming to lift the trophy for a record 11th time.
Then there’s the Old Trafford atmosphere, too, with United fans set to outnumber Forest’s contingent 10 to one in a crowd that could exceed 65,000.
Warren Joyce, who worked at Manchester United for over a decade, returns to Old Trafford with Nottingham Forest’s under-18 team for the Youth Cup final on Wednesday night
Jesse Lingard (second left) and Paul Pogba (second right), pictured after United won the Youth Cup in 2011, were among the players Joyce helped bring through at Old Trafford
Joyce is now Nottingham Forest’s under-18 coach and is set to return to Old Trafford
But in Forest’s favour is the fact their coach knows Manchester United inside out.
Warren Joyce will put all sentimentality aside as his team look to cause an upset but a long association with the Manchester club can’t simply be brushed away.
The 57-year-old, who hails from Oldham, initially coached at United’s Belgian feeder club Royal Antwerp, taking particular care of the rising talents loaned there.
He returned to United in 2008, co-managing the reserve team alongside a certain Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
When the Norwegian left to manage Molde in December 2010, Joyce took sole charge and did the job for six years during which time the reserves became the under-23s and the era of legendary boss Sir Alex Ferguson came to a close.
Joyce co-managed the United reserve side with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer between 2008 and 2010
It was vital coaching experience for Solskjaer, who would later become United’s manager
During that time, Joyce was integral to the emergence of Paul Pogba and Jesse Lingard, members of the under-18 team that won United’s last Youth Cup in 2011. He watched Marcus Rashford’s progress closely.
Other players such as Danny Simpson, Danny Drinkwater, Ryan Shawcross and Fraizer Campbell from that time didn’t make it at United but went on to solid careers elsewhere.
Joyce on his United stars
In 2017, Sportsmail’s Matt Barlow interviewed Warren Joyce when he was in charge at Wigan Athletic. Here’s what he had to say back then about three famous names he helped bring through at Old Trafford.
‘He was an ordinary kid; in love with football and I’m sure he was in love with Manchester United. He wanted to work and improve and was desperate to be a footballer. I saw him on his first day back and he was the same kid who left, very much part of the group, laughing about the old times and the things we used to say.
‘Maybe there were times when I gave him some stick, they all have stupid things they want to do with their hair but it doesn’t change what’s in his heart or his make-up. As a footballer he can do everything: run, dribble, score, tackle, head, shoot pass long or short. He could do all that and wanted to get better.’
Pogba in action for United’s reserves during the Manchester Senior Cup final in 2012
‘Aged 11 you thought he was going to be a player just by the way he glided across the ground. A lot of work went into him in the academy. There were lads in the reserves who probably weren’t as good as him but we wanted him to get that feeling of scoring goals and practising his runs.
‘He did that in the youth team and then when he came on for the first team he burst through really quickly. You say to all those players they’ve got to be ready for that chance and grasp it — he certainly did that. Marcus is a good lad and a clever footballer. I don’t want him to prove to me he’s a good player, I know he is.’
Marcus Rashford plays for United’s under-18 side against Sunderland in October 2015
‘He’s had to keep grinding and working away. I’ve spent hours on the motorway up and down the country watching him when he was out on loan and making him believe.
‘Everybody thought he was a good player but Jesse was always behind everybody because he was smaller and weaker than the others. His attitude was fantastic. He kept working and I’m glad to see he is getting his rewards.’
Lingard (left) celebrates with Ravel Morrison after his goal in the 2011 Youth Cup final
Those who know Joyce’s coaching work speak highly of him, not least about his man management skills when it comes to young footballers at an impressionable age with plenty of temptations.
As Gary Neville told ESPN back in 2017: ‘Warren was excellent at man-managing individuals who were hovering and drifting between the age of 19 and 21.
‘They’d be going out on loan, they’d have a taste of the first team and the buzz of playing for the reserves will have worn off because they want to be playing in front of big crowds for a first team; they want a new contract.
‘It can be an uncertain time for a player but he motivated them mentally and physically.
‘He maximised the players’ talents, he’d push them like crazy; he’d do extra gym work and join in with the players as if to say: ‘We’re in this together.’
Joyce left United in November 2016 to become Wigan’s manager but achieved only six wins in 24 games and parted company with the Latics just four months in.
Coaching stints with Melbourne City in Australia and Salford City’s development squad followed before he joined Forest as under-18 coach at the start of this season.
Joyce took the manager’s job at Wigan Athletic but lasted only four months and won six games
The mood around this grand old club was hardly great in the early season, with Chris Hughton sacked as first-team manager following a dreadful start that left them bottom of the Championship.
But the appointment of Steve Cooper to succeed him has proved a masterstroke and Forest are a club transformed at all levels.
While Cooper is preparing his squad for a play-off semi-final against Sheffield United this week, Joyce is getting ready for a historic occasion.
Forest certainly won’t be fazed by United having seen off the pre-eminent team at this level in the past decade, Chelsea, in a dramatic semi-final last month.
Trailing to a Charlie Webster goal just after the hour mark, Forest equalised through Dale Taylor with just four minutes remaining at the City Ground.
But they didn’t rest on their laurels and two goals by Detlef Espana Osong after the 90-minute mark – Fergie time, if you like – left Chelsea stunned.
Forest’s Detlef Esapa Osong celebrates scoring Forest’s second goal in the win over Chelsea
FA YOUTH CUP FINAL
Man United vs Nottingham Forest
Wednesday May 11; Kick-off 7.30pm
Live on The FA Player and MUTV
‘These nights are great. But they are about experience and helping players mature. You put pressure on them to see who steps up to that next level,’ Joyce said after that win.
‘It was a positive, front-foot display from the youngest team in the tournament.’
In taking the game to opponents, Joyce’s youth team mirror what Cooper has done with the seniors and both preach about a rediscovered sense of mission and unity at the City Ground.
With Brennan Johnson, an academy graduate, shining in the Championship this season, Joyce has ready-made inspiration.
Just under 6,000 Forest fans will follow the team to Old Trafford for Wednesday night’s match and they’ll all hope to be back there in the Premier League next season for what would be a first visit since Boxing Day 1998.
‘The disparity between the money spent on players and wages [between Forest and United] is phenomenal,’ Joyce told the Manchester Evening News.
‘But I was at Manchester United for a long time and there were a lot of local lads who came through there who didn’t get paid a lot of money.
‘It matters how you conduct yourself, the way you are, the culture you’re involved in and the demands you put on yourself every day.
Joyce is drenched while giving an interview after United won the Under-21 league in 2013
‘We’re coming to one of the biggest clubs in the world, with their own fans on their own ground with everything loaded against us.
‘They’ve got a lot of international players, well-coached and well-drilled, but we’ve got to give the best version of ourselves.’
Joyce has visited Old Trafford to watch some of United’s games in the earlier rounds. That intel will come in handy as his Forest side try and make history on Wednesday night in surroundings very familiar to him.
Youth Cup final facts and stats
Jonny Brick has written a book chronicling the history of the FA Youth Cup complete with player recollections about the competition from the past 70 years.
From Kids to Champions, by Pitch Publishing, is released on May 16 and you can order it here. Jonny has provided Sportsmail with some facts and stats about Wednesday’s final:
- The last time United won the Youth Cup was in 2011, when they beat Sheffield United 6-3 on aggregate with a team which included Jesse Lingard, Paul Pogba and Sam Johnstone.
- United striker Alejandro Garnacho scored in the semi-final and imitated Cristiano Ronaldo with his celebration. He has since trained with Lionel Messi after being called up to the Argentina national team.
- Forest striker Detlef Esapa Osong scored twice in the semi-final against Chelsea, including a last-minute penalty to extend the lead to 3-1. Impressively, he chose not to dribble the ball to the corner flag to see the game out, winning the penalty in the process
- This is the second consecutive season that a Midlands club have reached the FA Youth Cup final. In 2021, an Aston Villa team containing Carney Chukwuemeka and striker Louie Barry defeated Liverpool 2-1.
- The last time a club reached the Youth Cup final for the first time was 2014. In a thrilling two-legged final, Fulham came up against the dominant side of the modern era and lost 7-6 to Chelsea. Patrick Roberts, who left Manchester City for Sunderland in January, was on the losing side, and this Monday he scored the winning goal which sent the Mackems to the League One play-off final.
- Since United’s Youth Cup win in 2011, Chelsea have won it six times (losing two finals) and Manchester City have won it once, having also lost four finals, three of those to Chelsea.