Injury robbed Travis Binnion of his playing career, leaving the Sheffield United academy product unemployed and in debt at the age 21.
But those setbacks provided him with a drive to help future players, with the Manchester United coach now preparing to lead his side into the FA Youth Cup final against Nottingham Forest at a bouncing Old Trafford.
Appointed lead under-18s coach at the start of the season, the 35-year-old has overseen a memorable run to the Red Devils’ first final appearance since Paul Pogba, Jesse Lingard and Co won it in 2011.
Binnion was in the other dugout that night as part of Sheffield United’s youth coaching set-up, having come through their academy before injury struck.
“I was 18, just coming up to my 19th birthday, playing a game and just went to kick a ball,” he told the PA news agency.
“The midfielder I was playing against nicked it and I just felt a pain in my hip. I didn’t kick a ball again for 18 months.”
Binnion went under the knife three times before returning to action, going on to play for IFK Mariehamn in Finland before the issue reappeared.
“It went again so I found myself out of contract and in need of both hips operating on,” he said.
“I got a lot of help – help off the surgeon, help off my parents – but I just got to the point where it wasn’t right. I could function in day-to-day life but I found myself unemployed and in debt.
— Sheffield United (@SheffieldUnited) May 9, 2016
“Thankfully, the people at Sheffield United, like Ron Reid and Kevin Fogg, were brilliant with me. Scott Sellars was there as well and they welcomed me back with open arms.”
For many going from playing to hosting school parties and the like would stick in the craw, but Binnion knuckled down and John Pemberton took him under his wing after becoming the Blades’ academy manager.
It was a post he would eventually hold himself during his long association with Sheffield United, before leaving in 2019 and becoming Manchester United’s Under-16s coach.
“I want people to have the career that I didn’t have,” Binnion said. “My pitfalls, even without the injuries, and maybe how I didn’t develop my game to the optimum.
“Just things you learn along the way, good and bad from your coaches in formative years. You sort of collect all that and I know I’ve always had a good work ethic.
“I’ve been brought up the right way, so I always want to work hard and improve and put those qualities into the players in my care and the staff in my care.“
Binnion has a self-deprecating manner but freely admits he is a far better coach than he was a player.
The 35-year-old is enjoying working with United’s current crop of youngsters – many of whom he knew from his time working in his previous role – and will be proud to see them step out at Old Trafford in front of over 65,000 on Wednesday.
“I think we’ve got really good talent and they’ve got a really good way about them,” Binnion said.
— Manchester United (@ManUtd) April 27, 2022
“I think they’re the two things that define how far you’re going to go and we think we’ve got some players that can go a long way in the game and that’s the most exciting thing.
“That’s more exciting than the final because what these lads are doing it 30, 35 is more important than what they’re doing Wednesday.
“It’s a nice experience for them as a group to try and win something.
“Winning anything in life is really, really hard. To be in the mix is a fantastic achievement and then to get over the line will be an incredible achievement.“