Manchester United‘s Champions League clash with Young Boys on Wednesday may have been little more than a formality, with United already confirmed as group winners and Young Boys eliminated, but it did provide a special moment for some of the club’s young players.
With the score level at 1-1 and the clock just about to tick over into stoppage time, United’s interim manager Ralf Rangnick made a late double substitution to hand first-team debuts to a couple of 18-year-old midfielders.
Two more #MUAcademy players make their senior bows ✊🔴
— Manchester United (@ManUtd) December 8, 2021
Just to cap off the special evening for Savage, his father, former Wales international Robbie, was stationed up in the commentators’ gantry and called his son’s his first professional appearance live for UK broadcaster BT Sport.
Even before kick-off, Savage had been feeling emotional since learning that Rangnick had included academy graduate Charlie on the bench.
“I’m starting to tear up…”
“It is amazing what the boy has achieved.”
— Football on BT Sport (@btsportfootball) December 8, 2021
“I’m starting to tear up,” said Savage Sr., who came through the youth ranks at United before leaving without making a first-team appearance to build his Premier League career elsewhere.
“Charlie has achieved so much in his young life. He’s never been top of the group, he’s always had to meet targets. Every two years he was on the borderline — was he going to get kept on [or not]?
“He has done it on his own with his work ethic — I’ve not opened any doors for him.
“He’s one very lucky boy, but a lucky boy who’s worked extremely hard and got to where he’s got to with pure dedication, taking the right pathways, application and desire.”
The Savages had to wait for their special moment but, as the game entered its final throes, there was a commotion over in the dugout as Charlie prepared to enter the fray.
As his son made his way to the touchline, co-commentator Robbie was handed the mic and announced the change as his young son was subbed on in front of his very eyes.
— Robbie Savage (@RobbieSavage8) December 8, 2021
“Coming on for Manchester United, Charlie Savage for Juan Mata,” he beamed. “Wow, I never believed I’d say those words here. What a proud day for my boy.
“What a proud day for my boy. All the hard work. What a day for me, his mother, his nana, his grandparents and most importantly for Charlie Savage. I’m so proud of him. It’s an amazing moment for him.”
Robbie, 47, was part of the vaunted “Class of ’92” youth team, winning the 1992 FA Youth Cup alongside future Old Trafford stars David Beckham, Paul Scholes, Gary Neville and Nicky Butt before forging his reputation as a prickly, non-nonsense central midfielder at Leicester City, Birmingham City and Blackburn Rovers.
Having spent 14 years in the youth set-up at United, Savage’s son Charlie only signed his first professional contract back in April of this year. Just eight short months later, he was making his first-team debut for the club in front of 73,000 fans at Old Trafford on the Champions League stage.
Charlie mustered just five touches of the ball during his brief cameo against Young Boys, completing three passes in that time, but that was more than enough to make it a memorable night for him.
Delighted to have made my first team debut for @manchesterunited in the champions league. I would like to thank all the academy staff for their support over the last 14 years and the manager for putting his trust in me tonight ⚽️❤️ #mufc pic.twitter.com/ca5BuPT1KE
— Charlie Savage (@charliesavage84) December 8, 2021
It was notable that 11 members of United’s first-team squad for the Young Boys game came through the club’s youth system including their goal scorer on the night, Mason Greenwood.
Great night for the academy. Amazing to see so much young talent get a chance to shine. Congrats all. Debut in UCL, unreal @ManUtd ✨✨
— Marcus Rashford MBE (@MarcusRashford) December 8, 2021
Having tussled with Robbie on countless occasions during their post-playing media careers, Gary Lineker wished Charlie luck but couldn’t resist cracking a joke at his dad’s expense.
Lovely moment as Charlie Savage makes his @ManUtd debut with his dad in the commentary box. A proud moment for them both. If he’s got half of @RobbieSavage8‘s ability then he’ll be absolutely…hopeless. Just kidding, of course. Wish him well.
— Gary Lineker 💙 (@GaryLineker) December 8, 2021
At the other end of the scale, goalkeeper Tom Heaton also made his first-team debut for United — 19 years after he first joined the club.
“It felt great,” Heaton, who earned three England caps during his time away from United, told MUTV. You know, playing at Old Trafford in front of a capacity crowd, you know, it was always going to be a great feeling.
“Having come here as a visitor, I’ve always enjoyed it, but today, to wear the home shirt, my first competitive debut was obviously a brilliant moment. I loved every minute of it.”
So for a few players at the start of their careers, and some closer to the end of theirs, Wednesday night was more memorable than the record books can show.