WHAT, you might ask, is a dyed-in-the-wool Bolton Wanderers supporter doing spending all his working hours – and many more besides – in the service of Manchester United?
Spend two or three hours in the company of Dave Bushell at United’s magnificent AON Training Complex at Carrington and even though you only scratch the surface you get an idea of the professionalism, the commitment and the passion of a man who has played a part – and he stresses it is only a part – in the development of players such as Danny Welbeck, Darren Fletcher, Jonny Evans, Kieran Richardson, Fraizer Campbell and Chris Eagles.
And just in case you’ve forgotten for a moment that this grey-haired 66-year-old who proudly wears the famous Manchester United badge on his black tracksuit is a genuine Wanderers fan, he repeats the name “Chris Eagles!”
“They’re all products of the Manchester United youth development programme,” he explains, “like so many others before them.”
It is a programme that is the envy of clubs worldwide – hardly surprising considering Carrington is the training headquarters of one of the most famous clubs on the planet.
Carrington... for more than a decade the site from where Sir Alex Ferguson masterminded United’s dominance of the Premier League, where he gathered around him a staff whose expertise was matched only by their love of the game and where he numbered Dave Bushell among the most valued contributors to United’s success story – a name-check in his best-selling autobiography being a treasured testimonial.
For Bushell – born in a Chorley New Road nursing home, raised in Bolton and a product of Canon Slade School – is head of education and welfare at the Manchester United Academy, something of a dream role for a qualified football coach who spent 25 years in the teaching profession.
It is a role he has held since the 1997-98 season when the academy system was revamped with Les Kershaw – one of the most respected figures in youth football development – became United’s Academy manager.
Bushell – who managed England Schoolboys for six years when he had the likes of Ryan Giggs, Andy Cole, Nicky Butt, Lee Clarke and Gary Flitcroft at his disposal – had previously been United’s youth development ofiicer – the role he says he always wanted. In fact it was the job he would have loved to have done at Bolton Wanderers, where he forged links with successive managers – from Jimmy Armfield and Ian Greaves through to Charlie Wright and Phil Neal – where only circumstances, timing and United’s approach stopped him.
“Basically, my job is to help with player recruitment, looking after the boys’ pastoral care, making sure they have the back-up of a good education, which I think is so important, and helping to sell the club (to young players and their families) in the right way,” he said.
“We have 27 houses where we place the boys who are living away from home in family accommodation and for the last 17 years we have had a partnership with Ashton-on-Mersey School, which is 10 minutes’ walk from the training complex and where they get a first-class education.”
That is the United way. Bushell is not a fan of football clubs running their own education establishments, since he believes strongly that football clubs should look after the coaching side of a player’s development and leave schools to look after their education.
Indeed, he goes as far as to regard Ashton-on-Mersey School as having played “a promiment part in the success of Manchester United over the last 17 years” and is proud of the fact that it was at his instigation – with the backing of Ferguson, Old Trafford secretary at the time Ken Merritt and the then chairman Martin Edwards – that United launched its partnership in 1997 for the princely sum of a £100,000, sponsorship that enabled the school to become a sports college.
Now United send their part-time and full-time academy players to Ashton-on-Mersey allowing them to dovetail their academic education with football coaching and where Welbeck, Evans, Fletcher, Eagles, below, and many more all came through the system.
They are not always successful and many Academy graduates fall by the wayside, although even the so-called “discards” leave Old Trafford having had a good grounding, thanks to the work of the youth development team under the direction of Academy chief Brian McClair and his staff.
“We try to put some backbone into a player,” Bushell reflects.
“They don’t all make it and, famously, Ravel Morrison (now at West Ham) was one the boss (Ferguson) let go.
“And we don’t always get the young players we go for because it’s all about money and even Manchester United can get gazumped. The former manager was a big believer in giving a young player only what he was worth – and no more.”
For all his commitment to the United cause, Bushell remains true to his Bolton roots and gets to watch Wanderers whenever he can.
He hired a private box at the Reebok to celebrate his 65th birthday and he talks passionately about his early days with Wanderers where he numbers Charlie Wright and George Mulhall among his mentors and where he scouted for his home-town club for many years, compiling reports and analyses on future opponents.
He was running the Bolton town team at the time while teaching here – first at Castle Hill School then at High Lawn where future Wanderer Jimmy Phillips was a pupil.
But it was a six-year stint teaching in Sussex and managing England Schoolboys that led to him forging his links with United.
He bumped into Ferguson in the team hotel the night before an England-Scotland schoolboy international and clearly made a lasting impression.
“That was the time I lost out on the youth development officer’s job at Bolton Wanderers,” he recalls.
“I couldn’t work full-time for Bolton while I was managing England Schoolboys.
“But that chance meeting with Sir Alex eventually led to me being asked to come on board at Manchester United – and it’s given me a fabulous life.
“They’ve always known I’m a Bolton fan though.
“I’ve never made any secret of that.”