Nicky Butt says he is developing players at the Manchester United academy capable of helping the first-team become title challengers within the next three years.

Butt, 45, returned to United as their head of academy four years ago and in the summer assumed the new role of head of first-team development, with Nick Cox now in charge of the academy.

The United Under-18s have reached the Youth Cup quarter-finals for the first time since 2012 and host Wigan Athletic on Friday night, with a potential semi-final away at Chelsea.

Mason Greenwood plundered a hat-trick against Chelsea in the U18s' Youth Cup third round tie last season and seven players who figured in that uplifting win have gone onto make their first-team debuts for United.

"I think you can judge me and the people who develop for the first-team in hopefully two or three years when we’re challenging for titles," Butt said. "If you’re challenging for titles and getting players in the first-team that’s when you know you’re doing an unbelievable job.

"We've got some great kids coming into the first-team now that are doing very well, but I think the peak of the mountain in my job is when Man United are where they should be - and will be again - and we’re still getting players into the first-team. That’s when you can say we’re doing a really, really good job.

"We’re doing a good job now. Forget the young ones, the Under-12s, U13s, U14s, they're always doing great. But me, [U18 coach] Neil Ryan and [U23 coach] Neil Wood and the support staff around that, when we’re getting players into the first-team and we’re winning titles and getting to the later stages of the Champions League, then we’re doing an unbelievable job.

"I didn't see myself doing what I’m doing now. To be honest, I didn't know what I wanted to do. I was just football, football, football. People are different. I was with Gary Neville this morning and he knows exactly what he’s going to be doing for the next 10 years, it’s obvious. I don’t. Scholesy doesn’t.

"When I was about 23 or 24 the manager had a pop at us for messing about in Manchester in the afternoon and wasting our time, and he said we may as well do our coaching badges.

"We all did it together - Roy Keane did it with us. Giggsy, Scholesy, Nev, Ole did it with us as well, actually. We did it in the afternoons and it was the best thing I did because it focused your mind on something that you could do eventually without taking your mind off your job."

Since Butt returned to United in February 2016, the academy has intensified its recruitment and 22 graduates have gone on to play for the first-team. Butt assisted Jose Mourinho for the May 2017 win over Crystal Palace and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer in the defeat to Astana in the Europa League three months ago; matches where nine rookies debuted.

Butt feels Jose Mourinho 'had bad press for young players', yet 'was great with the young lads and me, and interacting'. Mourinho integrated Scott McTominay into the first-team squad and gave Greenwood, Angel Gomes, and Tahith Chong first-team exposure.

The United U18 captain Teden Mengi was an unused substitute in United's Europa League defeat to Astana in November, while 17-year-old midfielder Hannibal Mejbri has already become a regular at U23 level following his £9.3million summer move from Monaco. Greenwood, Brandon Williams, and James Garner started against Chelsea in the Youth Cup triumph last term.

The United U18 team that ended Chelsea's Youth Cup monopoly
The United U18 team that ended Chelsea's Youth Cup monopoly

Butt's preference is to keep United's youngsters under the radar but concedes it is impossible with an acquisition like Mejbri. The location for the U19s' win over Club Brugge last week was changed on the day of the game yet the goals scored by Garner and Chong were still swiftly clipped and uploaded onto Twitter.

The majority of the United teenagers have a presence on social media but Butt is old school. "You don’t have to be on social media. I was sat next to Jesse [Lingard] a few months ago and did an interview over at the academy about the 4,000th game.

"They were talking about social media and I said to Jesse, 'You don’t have to be on it. You don’t have to be on social media – I’m not on social media'. He started laughing.

"The thing is, you don’t have to be on it. You don’t have to put yourself out there. You don’t have to read it. It’s harder for them if they’re on it. They’re constantly looking at bad things coming at them.

"When I was a young lad coming through, yeah you got attention. When you went to Manchester shopping or for a bite to eat or a drink you got hassle, but you could turn away from it and move out of the way. It’s more difficult for them [now], but in another 10 years something else will come along that will make it more difficult for the next ones.

Butt (fourth from left, front row) poses with United academy teammates in 1990
Butt (fourth from left, front row) poses with United academy teammates in 1990

"Before us, the likes of Mark Hughes and Norman Whiteside, I’m sure they had a lot of problems coming through at this club as well. No matter what era you come through or what social things you go through as a young person, it’s irrelevant to me, because if you’re playing for this club somewhere along the line you’re going to have to control what you listen to, what you don’t listen to, what you’re going to put yourself out there to do.

"I always remember when we were coming through and Sir Alex said, 'don’t be going to the opening of this film at the cinema - if you put yourself out there, you’re going to get attention'. Some people did it, they liked it, and embraced it.

"Same with social media now, if you embrace it and like it and it’s part of your life, then deal with it. If you don’t, then don’t do it."