Aberdeen’s youth coaching chief says the Dons youngsters showed they had the technical ability to compete with the best academy talent in Britain.
The Reds’ 2006 age group travelled to Manchester United’s Carrington last weekend to take on the Premier League giant’s 2005s over several games.
Dons head of academy coaching Gavin Levey thinks, despite several challenges – not least their rivals being a year older – the boys were a “credit” to Aberdeen.
He said: “It went really well. It was a really good opportunity to test ourselves against what’s still classed as being the best performing academy in Britain, in terms of having the most players playing over the four English leagues.
“There’s a link in terms of what Sir Alex (Ferguson) did here before moving there.”
United fan Levey, who grew up near Carrington, organised the trip through friendships with some of the Red Devils coaching staff and added: “We ended up playing their 2005s – the year older – with a few 2006s thrown in there.
“There was a size difference. It wouldn’t normally happen – to play United is one thing, but to play the age group above was another.
“But we have a really good relationship with the staff there and they came to us and said: ‘We are older, but here’s the team-sheet. If it’s going to be too one-sided we’ll mix the teams.’
“We wanted to give it a go, did really well in the first games and they got the better of us later on.”
The Dons kids, including two players from the 2007 age group, recorded a win and a draw over four seven-a-side games on Saturday – even after a pre-dawn start.
Levey said: “They were all one-hour matches, so we’ve given a right good account of ourselves.
“We were more than delighted, considering we’d met at Aberdeen Airport at 5am on Saturday.
“We’d had breakfast at the Man United training ground and kicked off at 11 o’clock.
“The draw and win were in the first hour of football against them.
“We were lively, considering the early start we had. It was all played in a really good atmosphere.
“The coaches were very complimentary both ways. But in the afternoon we ran out of a bit of steam.
“On the day after, 11 v 11, we were 1-1 at 65 minutes and ended up losing the game 5-1. To be fair, it probably did reflect the performance.
“They were ahead of us – which you would expect.”
Levey reckons trips like the United one give the Dons youngsters confirmation of their own talent, as well as an understanding of the next level in their development.
He said: “Technically it shows our kids we can compete with a club like Man United, especially in smaller-sided games. But I still think the majority of our players will need to do more to catch up.
“Their (the United players) movement on and off the ball is a notch up from where we are.
“That’s the whole reason we do these trips.
“If we’re playing teams and their first team has Champions League status, it’s important for us to recognise the level above.
“As staff we need to see that as well as the players.
“If you recognise the level above you, you strive to be better than you are.
“Taking ourselves out of our comfort zone is vital in our players’ development.
“Our 2006s were winning every game quite comfortably last year, so it’s quite important.”
While the boys were hard at work on Sunday, their parents – who also made the trip – also got a glimpse of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s first team, who were at Carrington to recover from their 3-0 league win over Fulham.
Levey, who brought two Dons shirts signed by United loanee James Wilson to thank their hosts, is excited by the potential for Aberdeen to repay the favour to the Red Devils and other academies when the new training ground at Kingsford is operational later in the year.
He said: “Carrington’s all on one site, like our training ground will be as well.
“We’ve got so many clubs we want to repay the favour to. We also want to host a big tournament, which we have plans for.
“These are all things Kingsford allows us to do.
“At the moment we can’t invite these teams up and look after them properly.”
The Manchester trip also marked ex-Don Stuart Duff’s youth coaching debut, as well as Steven Sweeney’s farewell to the academy, although he remains with the Aberdeen FC Community Trust.