THE ULTIMATE ONE CLUB PROFESSIONALS
By SIR BOBBY CHARLTON
MAGICAL. It’s the word Sir Bobby Charlton repeatedly uses as he remembers the days when Paul Scholes and Gary Neville first emerged into a spotlight that was to be trained on them for almost two decades.
Legends don’t come any bigger at Manchester United than Sir Bobby and his praise is a gift that isn’t given easily. Having been a Busby Babe, Charlton has always taken a forensic interest in the young talent being developed at Old Trafford.
But even he wasn’t prepared for Sir Alex Ferguson’s famous Class of 92 that proved to be the foundation for an era of success that’s unlikely to be surpassed.
“At a club like Manchester United you often think ‘I wonder what’s in the future?’ We might be playing okay today but what about the longer term?” says Sir Bobby. “The odd young player used to come through and I was always interested to see what they were like.
“Alex would invite me to see the youngsters train and I would always ask the coaches what our chances were in the FA Youth Cup.
“One day they said ‘we have six certainties to be great figures in the game.’ What they were telling me was serious stuff but initially, I admit, I thought they were getting a bit carried away.
“So I went to the first match they played in the FA Youth Cup against Sunderland at Roker Park . I drove up to watch them and after 20 minutes we were 4-0 up.
“Nicky Butt was rampaging through midfield, David Beckham was passing the ball like he does, Paul Scholes had control of everything and Gary seemed to be the leader at full back- it was just magical to watch.
“I thought to myself ‘It’s right what they were telling me – they weren’t kidding’. I was genuinely excited and you could see then these lads were going to be special.
“Maybe a year passed and we played at Port Vale in the League Cup. Alex hadn’t really been noted for concentrating on young players at that stage, but he decided to play the young lads.
“The papers were saying he’d gone too far- but Scholes was superb, we won 3-1 and some of those lads were only 17.
“From then on, I watched every game they played because it was such a fantastic moment for the club. It was a purple patch, something magical was unfolding.”
Even Sir Bobby couldn’t have imagined the level of success Scholes and Neville helped generate. But when it happened it was no surprise.
“I never doubted for a moment that those two lads would achieve what they have done” he says. “They were winners, they loved winning as a team and they loved what they had to contribute individually too.
“Crucially as well, they never gave Alex or the club a moments trouble. They were the ultimate one club professionals. Gary is forging a career for Sky now and he’s very good too. And Paul returning as a player after retiring is just an incredible story.
“You shouldn’t have favourites I suppose but Paul was special. He had a natural ability that was breathtaking to see in a young boy and his peripheral vision was amazing.
“He would play 30 or 40 yard passes without even looking up and players didn’t have to break stride to collect the ball.
“My special Scholes moment was his goal at Bradford. He volleyed in a corner from the edge of the box. It was all planned and I can still hear the Bradford directors gasping as it flew in. He was magic.
“Gary was a bit different. Even at a young age he was inspirational. He was the captain, a leader, a talisman and you classed them both at the time as being as good as each other.
“Gary has been a real bonus for United because of his depth of feeling for the shirt but I am proud of all of them.
“Paul and Gary are irreplaceable and the highest compliment I can pay them is that their legacy is as good as any who have played for this club.”
SIR BOBBY CHARLTON WAS TALKING TO STEVE BATES