Norwich City Academy head of football development Steve Weaver was full of praise for the FA Youth Cup, describing it as a tournament that every player remembers participating in.
The Canaries' Under-18s travel to St George’s Park to face Wolverhampton Wanderers in the third round of the tournament on Friday evening (7pm KO).
Speaking on the draw against Wolves, Weaver described it as one of the biggest games of the third round, saying he sees the odds going in either team’s favour on the night.
“It’s probably one of the better ties of the round, normally in the third round of the cup you get a couple of big teams playing each other. I think we’re one of the draws that everyone will look at and see as a good tie, we’ve got a history of developing players.
“Hopefully we’ve got a growing reputation for developing young players. There’ll be good players on the pitch and it’s a 50/50 game.”
The game is, of course, without fans, unlike last season when the fourth-round tie saw thousands of supporters get behind the young Canaries. Speaking on this, as well as the opportunity of playing at England national team’s training ground, Weaver said it’s a shame, but part of the norm this season.
“I think the game is being streamed live, but it’s a year on and very different to the Newcastle game and the Manchester United game with nearly 3500 people in. It’s going to be different at St George’s Park and have more of an U18s feel to it, although it is at night. It’s a pity, but it’s the times we live in.
“Most of them would’ve played there before, we play up there sometimes against Stoke, they rent it out. All the schoolboys would’ve been there over time, so it is something they’ve done before.
“It’s nice for the lads to play in stadiums, but as I say it’s a different year, a different problem with all the restrictions and it isn’t as easy to put games on at grounds at the moment. It is what it is, one thing is it’s a great facility, a good pitch.”
Last season’s 3-2 win over Newcastle in the third round saw young midfielder Josh Martin burst onto the scene, going on to make a name for himself in Daniel Farke’s first-team squad.
Asked about that example of the difference a year can make for past and future Under-18s, Weaver described the Youth Cup as an ‘unknown’, saying it’s hard to predict what will come of the games and they can only hope for a strong performance.
“I think the big one from last year was Josh Martin, he got a hat-trick against Newcastle coming off the back of a couple of good performances in the EFL Trophy, then it was a grand tie against Manchester United.
“It was a close game, but a penalty and a deflected free-kick was the game really. The Youth Cup, you never know what you’re going to get. I’m pretty sure that Wolves will be hoping that they’ll play well, and we’ll be the same.
“We get a lot of lads who play for the U23s and U18s that come together, so it’s a little bit of an unknown. You just hope that you perform well and it’s the one game of the season that you want to win.”
Finally, Weaver emphasised his admiration for the cup, saying every player remembers their time in such a significant tournament at a young age.
“You just remember your Youth Cup games, through generations all players tell you that they remember their Youth Cup, I remember mine and that was a long time ago! I think they just remember it, it’s a great experience.
“It’s the one time that you sort of do things slightly different, the U18s play under lights and that doesn’t happen a lot, you play at eleven o’clock on a Saturday. All the players that have won it over the years, it’s a big tournament, it’s like the FA Cup for the senior lads.
“It’s important for them and you don’t play in it often, you could play two games if it doesn’t go well for you. This club has got history of cup runs and doing well in the tournament, so it’s something we look forward to.”