The rise of David Beckham through the Manchester United youth system was, in some ways, a curiosity. He was not one of the fiercely humble local lads that have come to symbolise the famous Class of 92 of which he was a member. He was a Londoner, a little bit flash even then with his sculpted hair, among the no-nonsense crew dominated by Nicky Butt and the Neville brothers.
In other environments, Beckham might have been considered an outsider but United’s youth set-up has always been cosmopolitan and inclusive.
Beckham was there with the Ulsterman Keith Gillespie and the young Welsh midfielder Robbie Savage. Being uprooted from his home in east London at the age of 14 and living in digs near the old training ground at The Cliff helped to forge Beckham.
His dad, Ted, was a hard taskmaster who was sparing with his praise and ready with his criticism. And living away from his parents at such an early age only seemed to harden Beckham’s resolve and steel. Even at that age, it was obvious that the kid had style and that he had substance, too.
He had a ferocious work ethic, a quality that never left him even when fame and fortune assailed him. He may not have been the most talented player that United’s academy has ever produced but he became one of its most illustrious.He was certainly its most well-travelled. Some of the Class of 92 felt no need to spread their wings but Beckham was not like that.
After winning everything at United, he spent time at Real Madrid, LA Galaxy, AC Milan and PSG. But everywhere he went, he was keen to stress that he remained, and always would remain, a United fan.
That is one of the reasons why he has become part of the Class of 92 brand, a brand almost unique in its genesis. It is a brand that plays on the mystique of the United academy and the importance to the club of its youth set-up. It is the same kind of mystique that surrounds the fact that the Lisbon Lions, the great Celtic side that won the 1967 European Cup, were all born within 30 miles of Glasgow. Beckham is part of something similar at United. He will always be part of a group of kids who grew together into the men who brought Manchester United their greatest glories.He was part of the second incarnation of the Babes, he was a symbol of United’s embrace of youth.
That is why, wherever he has travelled, he has always been welcomed back like a favourite son when he has returned to Old Trafford. He kept his promise never to join another English club, never to play against United in the Premier League, and the fans loved him for that.
However exotic he had become, however rarefied the circles in which he moved, his history as one of the greatest products of United’s youth system means that, for the fans, he will always be ‘one of us’.
This article is taken from ‘Made in Manchester‘ – a book about the greatest players to graduate from Manchester United’s academy. ALL profit goes to charity.
Made in Manchester is available for just £5. It includes 30 articles from the country's best football writers about graduates from the Manchester United academy. All profit goes to Trafford Macmillan so please support this fantastic cause.