Manchester United’s Class of ’92. Like a fine wine from a vintage year, except there have rarely been, if ever, years like this one in modern football. Kids, coming through their club’s academy together. Breaking into the first team together. And being part of your club’s greatest moments, together. This is the stuff of fairy tales and dreams, dreams you never want to wake up from.
But the fairytale, this fairytale, was real. It wasn’t a dream.
David Beckham, Paul Scholes, Nicky Butt and Gary Neville were kids dreaming of playing football, but not just for any club, for the great Manchester United. Beckham was always worried United would never find him down in London, but United did. Gary Neville didn’t have the same skill level as the others but out-worked them all. Paul Scholes and Nicky Butt were given chances within the first team and took them with fervor when called upon. They said if you were good enough you were old enough – and these youngsters were good enough.
From debuts on teams with names like Eric Cantona, Mark Hughes, Bryan Robson, Denis Irwin, Steve Bruce, Gary Pallister, and a host of others, these 1992 Academy graduates went on to make names for themselves at the Theatre of Dreams. Their bucket lists may have fewer things on them by playing for their dream club, but it was never easy. Only Scholes and Neville spent their entire careers with United, while Beckham left United for the Galacticos of Real Madrid and Nicky Butt went to Newcastle.
Paul Scholes was labeled the “best midfielder for the last 15-20 years,” by Spanish midfield great, Xavi Hernandez. He was such an asset to manager Alex Ferguson over the years that instead of promoting young Paul Pogba to a desperate and depleted United midfield in the 2011/12 season, he requested Scholes come out of retirement to help his ailing side. His post-retirement effect was so strong that United lost the title that season only on goal difference, but won title #20 the next season with Scholes in the squad.
Gary Neville always wore his heart and emotions on his sleeve. It couldn’t have been easy taking over the captain’s armband from United legend, Roy Keane, but Neville joined an elite list of players, including Bryan Robson, Steve Bruce, Eric Cantona, and Keane, to captain their team to the Premier League title. When Rio Ferdinand scored the winner against rivals Liverpool in the 2005 season, Neville’s badge grabbing, the fist-pumping celebration in front of the Liverpool fans earned him a fine from the FA and an improper conduct charge. That was Gary Neville.
David Beckham spent 10 years marauding up and down the United right-wing, swinging crosses into the box with pinpoint accuracy and scoring free kicks from almost every angle possible. His goal against Wimbledon, replayed over and over and over, from the half way line let the world know a new star had arrived. Beckham’s dream had always been to play at United and it had come true. He was a star off the pitch as much as he was one on the pitch and that sealed his fate with the ever practical, Alex Ferguson. With Beckham’s high profile lifestyle a frustration for Ferguson, Beckham fell out of favor with the manager and was sold to Real Madrid, but not before signing off his United career in the last match with his fifth Premier League title and a fantastic free kick at Everton.
Nicky Butt, who currently heads up Manchester United’s newly revamped Academy, spent his playing days at United in Ferguson’s midfield alongside the hard tackling, Roy Keane. Replacing Paul Ince in midfield, Butt became a regular fixture for United. He was a part of six Premier League titles during his time at United, including his most famous role as midfield general in the 1999 Champions League final. With Roy Keane out of the match, Butt played the entire match with the work rate of a steam locomotive. Butt’s finest individual season with United came in the 1997/98 season when he was named to the Premier League Team of the season.
The numbers are there: 2101 total appearances for the quartet, 57 trophies, and 273 goals between them show these boys, turned Manchester heroes, were one of a kind. 25 years on from the Class of ’92, these names still carry with it the awe of their accomplishments, both in coming through the Academy to the First Team, but also in passion and love for the club. Footballers come and footballers go, but there may never be another class like the class of ’92.