When Manchester United’s youngsters won the 1992 FA Youth Cup few could foresee the domestic and international success that many of the group would experience in the decades to come. Nearly 20 years on and, remarkably, that side is still represented in United’s first team.
But it is to the current crop that eyes turn Wednesday night as the current under-18s take on West Ham United at Upton Park in the FA Youth Cup fourth round.
Following the age group’s 3-2 cup win over Portsmouth last week, the club’s sights are firmly set on just a third success in the competition since the ‘çlass of ’92’ triumphed with Nicky Butt, David Beckham, Gary Neville, Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs in the side.
Hopes are high in the group too, with more than one player already earmarked for accelerated development into the first team picture in the coming seasons.
“We have a decent team with one or two excellent players,” Sir Alex Ferguson told MUTV.
“I think we’re strong in the strikers department for example, where we have William Keane and John Cofie. Then we’ve got Paul Pogba and Ravel Morrison [in midfield]. We have a chance this year, we’re hopeful.”
Striker Cofie – formerly on Burnley’s books before a controversial move across Lancashire in 2007 – can boast 13 goals already this season. Meanwhile, Keane excelled during the UEFA Euro under-17 championships last summer, with a touch and maturity belying his youthful age.
Perhaps even greater feats are predicted of Pogba though, a French under-17 international whose has been frequently compared to Patrick Vieira. In reality, although there are physical similarities – each is of French-African parentage, tall and sometimes uncomfortably gangly – the youngster has a far greater range of attacking skills than the former Arsenal star could ever boast.
Then there is the silky Morrison, who seems to glide effortlessly across the pitch and is arguably the most naturally talented midfielder to come through United’s academy in the two decades since Giggs’ peers burst onto the scene. Comfortable wide or through the middle, Morrison made a much-anticipated first team début in this season’s Carling Cup.
Indeed, if the 18-year-old attacking midfielder fails to make it at United it will surely be a factor of the company the player keeps and not a deficiency in talent. Euphemistically described as ‘baggage’ by football insiders, stories of trouble with the police first surfaced with an alleged arrest in May 2009. Rumours of an upcoming court date on charges of witness intimidation refuse to go away.
Whatever Morrison’s fate, fans may never again witness five players make it out of United’s academy and into the first team from one peer group again. Yet, history says at least one player will make it out of a successful youth side and into the first team picture. It’s an assessment Ferguson concurs with.
“Kieran Richardson was in the team when we last won the Youth Cup, in 2003,” said Ferguson.
“Before then we won it with Phil Neville and John Curtis in 1995, and of course, with the 1992 team. Let’s hope we have a good run this year.”
While United lost in the 2007 final, success has been inconspicuous in recent season, especially for a club whose association with the FA Youth Cup came long before ’92. Indeed, the club remains the most successful in the competition’s history with nine wins, including five in succession from 1953.
But if anything the club has found youth level far less forgiving than the seniors in recent years. The 28 years between the club’s 1964 success and ’92 was a barren spell that the ongoing eight year hiatus threatens – if not to match – then to ape.
Wednesday’s opponents also have a rich history in the competition of course, having won the competition on three occasions including the 1999 side of Joe Cole and Michael Carrick.
Paul McGuiness’ side is in decent form though. Aside from United’s victory over Portsmouth in the third round, the academy side returned to league action after a month off with a thrilling 4-3 home victory over Wolverhampton Wanderers at Carrington on Saturday.
A similar result on Wednesday will go a long way towards Ferguson’s goal of success this season.
West Ham United v Manchester United, FA Youth Cup fourth round, Boleyn Ground, 7pm.