It is a statement that has gone down in football folklore and one which no doubt still haunts former BBC pundit Alan Hansen, 24 years after he responded to Manchester United’s 3-1 defeat at Aston Villa by insisting, “You can’t win anything with kids”.

Sir Alex Ferguson played six players aged 20 or under, including Paul Scholes, Gary Neville, Phil Neville, Nicky Butt and David Beckham ultimately helped United secure the double that season. Like Fergie back in the day, Forest Green boss Mark Cooper is pinning his flag on the exuberance of youth.

Rovers are certainly baby-faced if their opening three games are anything to go by. Cooper’s fledglings boasted an average starting eleven age of just 24.2 years and with it the most minutes given to players 23 and under throughout the English Football League and they went even younger at Charlton Athletic on Tuesday night, including 16-year-old academy starlet Vaughn Covil.  

Take a deeper look at the squad and you’ll find 15 players aged 23 or under and two millennials, including Taylor Allen,19, who recently belied his tender years to manfully step off the bench to rifle in a sumptuous winner against Oldham in the season-opener.

Cooper’s penchant for nurturing youth is well documented. Two seasons ago Reece Brown’s promising career looked in freefall after his exit from Birmingham City, but the Rovers boss got him back on track and with it a summer move to Championship outfit Huddersfield Town. Ethan Pinnock followed before him with Cooper finding the rough diamond at Dulwich Hamlet before a switch to Barnsley and more recently Championship side Brentford.

“Our philosophy is to bring in younger players and improve them and we have a good reputation with young players,” said Cooper.

“The age thing doesn’t really mean anything and if we think they are ready we will play them, but by the same token they have got to keep producing, we’re not going to play them just because they are young, they’ve got to produce.

“I like working with any good players it doesn’t matter what age they are. We’ve decided to go this way and I think it can only make us stronger going forward.”

Whilst the training ground may resemble a kindergarten, a glance around the Stanley Park training ground and you’ll spot wily old campaigner Matt Mills, the former Reading, Middlesbrough and Nottingham Forest centre-back who has brought a splash of wizened maturity to the team.

Cooper said: “We brought Matt Mills in for a reason, to give Farrend Rawson and Nathan McGinley that learning block where he can show them and give them all his knowledge. So, by bringing him in it might make them 20 per cent a better player.”

And Mills is relishing the opportunity to help cajole the youngsters after Cooper handed him a coaching opportunity.

He said: “I know the way the manager wants to play so I was comfortable to pick up his ideas quickly. In terms of the coaching bits that I've done the lads have been brilliant with me, they've listened so if I can pass on some knowledge across then it will be a good thing for individual players and for the team."