The fresh faced and future star studded United youth team of 1992 may now almost seem like a distant memory to many United fans, but it was these players who provided the nucleus of Sir Alex Ferguson’s squad for many years to come.
After breaking into the first team ahead of his other class of 92’ graduates, Ryan Giggs had already made himself an established first team player by the time many of the youngsters were given their real big break in the team.
It was the beginning of the 95/96 season before many of United’s young prodigies were really given their chance, losing 3-1 on the opening day of the season, on a dismal day for the club at Villa Park (and notably, the last time we’ve lost at that ground!). Despite the curse of the new grey away strip the team had been sporting, Alan Hansen used all his expertise in order to advise Sir Alex, with his infamous quip, “You’ll never win anything with kids.”
Following the shaky start to the season, United’s so-called “kids” went to prove Hansen and all their other sceptics wrong, with Gary Neville, Nicky Butt, David Beckham and Paul Scholes in particular playing a key role in order to secure the club their second League and FA Cup double winning season in three years, under the guidance of Eric Cantona who returned from his ban part way through the season.
Fergie and his kids on this occasion had the last laugh, and it was these youngsters who formed the backbone of the club’s famous Treble winning team just four seasons later.
But introducing youth is not something which stopped there for Sir Alex. Over the years as well documented, United have been renowned worldwide for their superiority in developing the best youth talent, with a success rate likely to blow any other Premiership team out of the water.
Sir Alex has always to some degree managed to find the perfect blend of youth and experience, with the 92’ class having the likes of Mark Hughes, Eric Cantona, Steve Bruce, Bryan Robson and the like to look up to, the current crop of youngsters are able to find their feet under the careful guidance of such seasoned veterans as Paul Scholes, Gary Neville, Ryan Giggs and Edwin van der Sar.
Despite the large amounts of money banded about in the modern area, ever since the arrivals of the likes of Abramovich, The Glazers, Hicks and Gillet and Co. it seems that a strong youth set-up plays more than a key role in the deciding of the Premiership. Over the last two seasons, Liverpool in particular have flexed their spending muscles in trying to purchase the Championship, but to no avail.
However, the problem with these teams is, they cannot for any amount of money buy the amounts of heart and desire that comes with a young, home-grown talent, raring to burst onto the scene, waiting in the wings for a chance. The kind of desire and tenacity not seen at the other members of the ‘Big Four’ since the promotion of John Terry, Steven Gerrard and Mr Liverpool himself, Jamie Carragher to their respective first teams. Players such as Darren Fletcher, not always first choice for Sir Alex, and not always a fan favourite, is starting to win over the Old Trafford faithful, with his performances in the big games, in which he will be undoubtedly one of the first names considered for the United teamsheet.
To use Liverpool as an example again, Rafa Benitez has excelled himself this season with his many outspoken comments concerning United, much to his humiliation, Rafa appears to have neglected much of his clubs youth. Despite the occasional use of new youngsters such as David N’Gog, Rafa has decided to neglect many of the youth side that defeated our own side in the FA Youth Cup final merely two years ago, preferring to spend (wisely) £19million on Robbie Keane and £7million on Andrea Dossena.
United’s youth scouting system is one which, for the benefit of the club, has now spread to accommodate not just the crop of England’s talents, but now the World’s, boasting special talents from the likes of England, Northern Ireland, Republic of Ireland, Brazil, Serbia, Italy, Norway and Germany amongst others.
Although young players can be a gamble, and not all of them work out, what they do give to a squad is strength in depth. So far this season, United have used more players than any other team in the Premiership, fielding 29 players so far. The likes of Rafael and Jonny Evans and in particular have been revelations this season, proving not only that they can hold their own at the highest level, but also make a decent push for a first team place. With other youngsters knocking at the door, such as Danny Welbeck, Darren Gibson and Rodrigo Possebon and next season seeing the return of Fraizer Campbell, the arrival of Serbia’s Adam Ljajic as well as the likes of Fabio, Federico Macheda and Davide Petrucci certain to feature more since being selected for the Champions League squad, the future of the club certainly appears to be in good hands for many years to come!
Following on from Failsworth Devil’s article, this piece came from lifelong red Stuart Davis.