|By Kenneth Tan
Spending the last six years in charge of the Manchester United Youth Academy, Brian McClair has a fairly reasonable level of experience of coaching youngsters to say the least.
Therefore it was a surprise that the former club legend mentioned that he himself had trouble identifying the talents of tomorrow.
"You don’t know who's going to make it eventually," he told Goal.com Singapore.
"One of the biggest mysteries about youth football is that one day you think this certain individual is the best player, another day you wonder about what you saw!
"The most important thing for a young player is courage, a player that always wants the ball no matter what happens around him.
"Day to day, we try to identify talents from the team as the season goes on until they reach the age of 21 to 23 then they try in the first team. However for whatever reason, circumstances always surprise you. The way we work is that we try to be patient and give them opportunities to get to the final point which is the first team.
"That's the key for the gaffer (Sir Alex Ferguson) too, he has done that all the time and this will continue to do that long after he goes too."
The 49-year-old took the chance to pay tribute to the continuity and the brave youth policy which arguably formed the foundation for the club's never-ending success.
"It's always important at Manchester United that players come through the academy after six to seven years, we always expect that, it's our DNA," he added.
"We emphasise on enjoying the game while understanding the club's philosophy. The people in here work very hard to keep this consistency. The manager is there for the past 26 years, the rest of the staff have also been working in youth development for a long time.
"Everyone has a wealth of experience and understand the club's philosophy, that results in the revolution of the team today because everyone is so well taken care of."
McClair also urged the young and budding Singapore players to continue their education while playing the game, adding: "There has been statistical analysis from our FA that a number of players are going out of the game at 19, it's difficult for them at that age."
"When I was a young lad and going into a full-time career at Celtic, I always told myself I should do some studies and thankfully I did it."
Reverting the topic to his side's upcoming clash against Sporting Lisbon on Friday evening, there was a small matter of licking their wounds from a recent blow.
The majority of the travelling squad was involved in a crushing FA Youth Cup first-round defeat to Burnley last Friday at Old Trafford, but McClair was keen to brush off any suggestions of team morale being affected.
"This is a completely new challenge for the lads; different time zone and different climate," he said, looking unconcerned.
"We are pleased with how we have performed so far this season and I'm looking forward to see how we adapt with the humid weather."