Man United are making adjustments to their U21 set-up by adding Tom Huddlestone in a player-coach role.
Now in the twilight of his career, the 35-year-old is progressing into coaching. As he is unattached, the Red Devils have moved to bring Huddlestone into the coaching staff in a very specific role.
Tom Huddlestone set to join Man United
The Athletic first reported the offer that Man United made to Tom Huddlestone. Rather than helping with the first team, the midfielder will share his experience and knowledge with the U21 side. Like a number of other English top-flight clubs, Man United’s U21s play in the Premier League 2, so Huddlestone can still enjoy an elite level of play.
Specifically, Huddlestone will be a player-coach who provides advice to the youngsters whilst playing alongside them. This also acclimatises the youth team to receiving on-pitch instructions from more experienced teammates.
Furthermore, his presence on the pitch in-game should help instil discipline and make sure the team plays to the manager’s style.
But do not expect Tom Huddlestone to be playing every week. According to Metro, the midfielder will feature in less than five matches across 22/23. Instead, he will focus on the upkeep of high standards in training.
A tried and tested formula
This is not the first time that United will have a player-coach in their U21 side. Previously, Paul McShane worked in this role, but United promoted him to a Professional Development Phase coach. The former Hull man was apparently invaluable to the U21s, helping with the young stars’ development.
As a result of McShane’s success, academy head Nick Cox wants to replicate this impact with Tom Huddlestone.
United are also not the only club that use this innovative style of coaching structure. Bitter rivals Liverpool have a similar setup in their academy, with former midfielder Jay Spearing. After leaving Tranmere, the former Blackpool player re-joined his childhood club.
In a slight adjustment to United’s player-coach role, Spearing actually integrates with the U18 squad as well as the U21s. He can pass on his knowledge in training whilst playing alongside them in select matches.
Meanwhile, the midfielder may also fill in for U21 matches in senior fixtures, such as for the EFL Trophy.
Despite the apparent success of the role, not many Premier League sides utilise academy player-coaches. Whether other sides decide to employ this inventive coaching approach remains to be seen.