Manchester United
Manchester United are launching a new alumni programme that will provide better opportunities for former academy players. Phil Noble/Reuters

Manchester United are renowned for having one of football's best academy set-ups with numerous players having gone on to have successful senior careers.

Now the club is doing its part to help those from its academy who were once released by the club and have not been able to reach their aspirations.

Stars such as Sir Bobby Charlton, David Beckham, Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes, Paul Pogba and Marcus Rashford are some of the players to have been successfully developed through Manchester United's academy. Alejandro Garnacho, Hannibal Mejbri and Kobbie Mainoo are among the youth stars to have recently broken into the club's first team set-up.

However, the reality is not every prospect in the Manchester United youth set-up goes on to have a successful career and make it as a first-team player on the big stage. This can lead to many academy players struggling to find themselves the older they grow as senior football may not be working out for them as hoped.

More awareness has been brought to the support which youth footballers should receive when released by football clubs after former Manchester City youth player, Jeremy Wisten, committed suicide in 2020 after previously being released by the club. Wisten's father claimed that Manchester City did not adequately support his son after he picked up a serious knee injury in 2018 and did not help sufficiently with finding him a new club.

To help its former released youth players, Manchester United have now put forward a new alumni programme which will allow these players to come to the club's Carrington training ground and partake in training sessions and workshops. Eventually, a wider variety of activities will be implemented as part of the scheme.

The objective of this alumni scheme is to ensure these former academy players remain fit and sharp, so they have better chances of signing for a club and earning a professional contract. Also, the programme will provide the alumni with potential avenues to go down if and when they retire from playing football.

The first meet-up for the new programme took place last week at Carrington, with it being more of a soft launch, after having been in development for 18 months and then fast-tracked earlier this year. The alumni scheme is expected to be fully rolled out in early 2024 and there are set to be up to four meetups each year for the alumni to attend.

Roughly 225 former youth players are set to be eligible for Manchester United's alumni scheme with the criteria being that they must have left the club in 2012, been registered at the club for at least five years and been at the club since the age of 15.

Among the group of ex-academy players attending the first alumni scheme meet-up was former captain of Manchester United's FA Youth Cup-winning team from 2011, Tom Thorpe. The defender starred alongside Pogba, Jesse Lingard, Sam Johnstone and Michael Keane in that FA Youth Cup success.

After being released by Manchester United in 2015, Thorpe played for numerous lower-division teams in England before going to play for the Indian side, ATK, in 2017. After leaving ATK in 2018, Thorpe remained without a club for five years due to battling depression.

The defender told BBC Sport how he felt during that period, saying: "I was at rock bottom. With depression, there is no light. There's nothing. It's a case of complete shutdown. Apart from my parents and, eventually, my girlfriend, no one knew."

Thorpe believes the alumni scheme Manchester United have set up will be a real positive for himself and others.

He stated: "It's good to be able to speak to people who have had similar experiences. It's difficult when you think about the amount of players who go through an academy, but if there is a way of touching base with someone who has left or who is perhaps struggling to find a club to ask how they're getting on, it's such a big thing."

Thorpe now plays for Northern Premier League side, Stalybridge Celtic, and recently suffered a serious knee injury whilst playing for them, so he was unable to train during the alumni meet. Other ex-Manchester United youth stars including Callum Gribbin, who is also recovering from a serious knee injury, and Ro-Shaun Williams were in attendance at the alumni meet-up.

Manchester United's Head of Academy, Nick Cox, touched on the necessity of young footballers being looked after. He said: "This isn't just about us helping the boys. It is about them helping each other. When you work with young people in football you have a great responsibility to continually look at the way you behave to make sure you are doing everything in your power to care for them appropriately."

Manchester United plan for the alumni scheme to be a network which the former academy players can always access whenever they are in need of any assistance. This is as the club looks to set a standard for what football clubs should be doing in looking out for their alumni and leading them on the right path after being released.