By 90Min
April 10, 2018

Manchester United have taken a novel approach to keep their academy players grounded by displaying a picture of Lionel Messi cleaning his own boots after a game for Argentina in 2014, six months after he played in the World Cup final and a year before his fifth Ballon d'Or.

Young footballers at top clubs are seen by many to be too privileged in the modern era, earning vast sums of money while still teenagers and occasionally losing perspective, humility, drive and motivation.

Staying humble is crucial, and a behind the scenes report from The Times at United's academy has revealed the existence of the picture of Messi on the wall.

It was taken after an international friendly between Argentina and Croatia at West Ham's old Upton Park stadium in November 2014. The Barcelona superstar is sat there with a boot in one hand and a towel in the other, cleaning it himself rather than having someone else do it for him.

While other clubs, notably Chelsea, have been criticised for increasingly using academies for profit and not actually promoting successful youth players to first team duty, United academy boss Nicky Butt insists developing players for the senior squad is the priority.

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"For us, it's about getting players into the first team. The demand from the owners and the board is, 'You've got to get players in the first team.' We're doing that," he told the newspaper.

"Jose Mourinho has this tag that he doesn't give kids a chance but, if those kids are good enough, he's going to because it's beneficial to him. It is a pat on the back for the academy staff that people like Scott [McTominay] and Marcus [Rashford] are going up there and we're not seeing them again."

BEN STANSALL/GettyImages

Since Mourinho arrived at the club, he has continued United's historic run of naming at least one homegrown player in every matchday squad since 1937, surpassing 80 years in October.

But it all starts with the teaching players the right attitude and keeping them grounded.

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