Football fans of a certain age can remember Alan Hansen on Match of the Day in August 1995 saying the line ‘you don’t win anything with kids’. This was said in criticism to Sir Alex Ferguson after playing a young team at Aston Villa and losing the match 3-1.
Paul Ince, Andrei Kanchelskis and Mark Hughes were among the big names players to leave Manchester United that summer and many onlookers, including Hansen, questioned the policy of the manager.
Little did we know at the time just what Ferguson had up his sleeve. A group of young players came through to the first team and lifted the club to the greatest heights of English and European football. Trying to select the best products of the Man United youth set-up is tough but the most decorated is Ryan Giggs.
Despite representing Wales at international level, Giggs was raised in Manchester from the age of six. He started his career at Manchester City before joining the Red Devils at the age of 14, making his debut in 1991. Giggs went on to play for 23 years in the colours of Manchester United, winning every major trophy at club level including the Premier League, Champions League, FA Cup and FIFA Club World Cup, becoming the most decorated player in the club’s history.
Giggs holds the record for the highest number of appearances for Manchester United, a record which most certainly will never be broken.
Just one year younger than Giggs, Paul Scholes was born in Salford and grew up in the borough of Rochdale. Another player with his roots in the north, Scholes joins a great line of England international footballers born and raised in the north of the country.
An unassuming man off the pitch, Scholes came alive when he walked onto the turf and scored some of the greatest goals in the history of Manchester United. The volley direct from a corner at Bradford City and the long range strike in the Champions League to defeat Barcelona are two fabulous goals which come to mind.
Not all the famous products of the Manchester youth set-up had their roots in their north. David Beckham is a great example and the former Real Madrid star was born in London. Beckham played his youth football for clubs in London but his parents were big Manchester United fans and he signed for the club in 1991 as a trainee.
Becks was known for his accuracy at dead ball situations and his ability to cross the ball. The England international set-up countless goals for his teammates and scored the dramatic late goal for England to send them through to the 2002 World Cup against Greece.
During his time at United, he struck up a great partnership on the right side of the team with full-back, Gary Neville.
Neville was another of the top products of the Man United youth set-up to come from the local area. The right-back was born in Bury, Greater Manchester and signed for Manchester United as soon as he left school in 1991. Neville was not the most spectacular player to watch from the Manchester United youth academy but he was extremely consistent. Not only was Neville a very good defender, he could get into the attacking third and deliver good crosses for team mates to score goals.
Only Ryan Giggs, Bobby Charlton, Paul Scholes and Bill Foulkes have played more games for Manchester United than Gary Neville.
Gary’s brother, Phil Neville, also came through the Man United youth set-up and represented the club for over ten years. Phil played in several positions during his time at Old Trafford, making him a hugely valuable member of the squad between 1994 and 2005 before he left to play for Everton.
There are many other modern day players who have come through the Man United youth set-up including Nicky Butt, Wes Brown, Darren Fletcher and Marcus Rashford.
However, if we go back to the 1950’s, there are several northern players who came through the system as part of the famous Busby Babes. Bobby Charlton and Bill Foulkes are two of the greatest to emerge during the time and each player represented the club for close to 20 years.
Charlton was famed for the devasting power in his long range shooting and accuracy in his passing while Foulkes took over the captaincy of the team following the Munch air disaster. Both players coped with a great deal of sadness and loss following the disaster but led Manchester United through the toughest era of their history with distinction and success.