Manchester United's Top 10 Teenagers of All Time
When you think of Manchester United teenagers, you think of the Busby Babes and Fergie's Fledglings.
Unfortunately, the Munich air disaster leaves us wondering what the Busby Babes could have achieved.
Here's Alan Hansen's memorable criticism of Sir Alex Ferguson's youth policy during the 1995-96 season.
Fergie's Fledglings were an integral factor in Manchester United winning the double that season, and they won the UEFA Champions League three seasons later.
This article will only include Manchester United-produced players.
David Beckham may not have had Andrei Kanchelskis' flair, but he certainly made up for it with his control of the football.
A member of the much vaunted 1990s Fergie's Fledglings, Beckham had to bide his time with Preston North End.
Former teammate Ryan Kidd recounted the situation to Sky.com:
Back then, Paul Raynor was in charge of free-kicks and corners for Preston, so he wasn't impressed when our manager Gary Peters pushed him to one side in favour of this kid we'd never heard of.
Beckham, "that kid," would go on to become one of the greatest set-piece takers in football history.
Arthur Albiston made his debut for Manchester United as a 17-year-old and would go on to make 485 appearances over 14 years.
I only scored seven goals in my career, and two of them were against City. Generally speaking, I had a pretty good record in derby match and only lost a couple in about 14 or 15 meetings.
A prodigious schoolboy, David Pegg signed for Manchester United as a 14-year-old.
Three years later, he had already earmarked himself as a potential long-term successor to Tom Finney.
To give an insight on how good Pegg was rated, Real Madrid (the reigning European champions) were at sixes and sevens with the winger.
Here's Tom Clare's narration:
Later on that season, in March of 1957, in the semifinal first leg tie against Real Madrid at their magnificent Bernabeau Stadium, he played magnificently and gave the big Spanish full back Lesmes a real chasing.
So much so, that for the return leg at Old Trafford, Real Madrid used a very obscure competition rule and signed the best right full back in Spain, Becceril, for a period of 14 days, just so that he could counter the threat of Pegg’s strong running game.
Eleven months later, Pegg lost his life at the tender age of 22.
While his brother was lavished as a cricketing prodigy, as a teenager, Gary Neville already began seeing potential barriers to a professional footballing career.
He said in the the Daily Mail:
I still wonder why I was invited back every year, and it can only have been attitude. If training started at 5 p.m., I would be there at 4:15, passing against a wall. I knew I had to do that when I saw the skills of local lads like Paul Scholes and Nicky Butt at 13.
Then the out-of-town kids joined us, like David Beckham, Keith Gillespie and Robbie Savage. I was a central midfield player and I thought, I'm not as good as this lot, nowhere near. When I left school at 16, I made the conscious decision that I would cut myself off from all of my mates.
Neville sacrificed all the fun things teenagers would be up to in order to make it as a footballer.
It was worth the 602 games for Manchester United and 85 appearances for England.
You'd be forgiven if you assumed Pelé was the youngest ever footballer to play a FIFA World Cup game.
In fact, he held that record for 24 years, until a then 17-year-old Norman Whiteside appeared for Northern Ireland at the 1982 FIFA World Cup.
By the age of 20, Whiteside had already won two FA Cups.
Four years later, hampered by injuries and unwilling to be a role player, Whiteside exited Manchester United at just 24.
Mike Coffey, a Manchester United scout, was sold on a then short-statured 15-year-old, Paul Scholes, who had no pace or strength.
What he did have was a mind of a genius and magical feet.
Eric Harrison, the man behind Fergie's Fledglings, recalled Scholes' magical performances as a teenager to the Guardian:
That youth side played on a Saturday morning. We called it the Dream Team. It attracted a fair crowd, and their favourite was Scholes.
I've always pondered why someone as competitive as Scholes didn't come out of international retirement when given the chance by Fabio Capello.
Sure enough, Scholes regretted the decision.
Unsurprisingly, he could not turn down a decision to come out of retirement for Manchester United.
Sir Bobby Charlton
Joe Armstrong, Manchester United's chief scout, insisted that Manchester United had to sign a then 15-year-old Bobby Charlton.
A member of the Busby Babes, by fortune, Charlton survived the Munich air disaster.
Eight years later, Charlton was a Ballon d'Or winner.
Knighted for his achievements to football, Sir Alf Ramsey summed up Charlton, according to FIFA.com:
He was one of the greatest players I have seen—very much the linchpin of the 1966 team. Early in my management I knew I had to find a role suitable to Bobby's unique talents. He wasn't just a great goalscorer, with a blistering shot using either foot. Bobby was a player who could also do his share of hard work.
Duncan Edwards was the most tragic lost of the Munich air disaster.
I see him as the Salvador Sánchez of football.
Like Sánchez, the question wasn't whether Edwards would succeed, it was how dominant he would be.
By the age of 17, Edwards was already a regular in the Manchester United first team.
For decades, Sir Bobby Charlton has consistently reminded the world of Edwards' ability. He told The Telegraph:
Duncan Edwards has always been in my mind as the best player I ever played with or against.
Physically, he was enormous. He was strong and had a fantastic football brain. His ability was complete—right foot, left foot, long passing, short passing. He did everything instinctively.
Without question he would have played in the 1966 World Cup and been England captain.
The boxing world lost Sánchez at 23, and the footballing world lost Edwards at 21.
George Best was the antithesis of teetotalling Stanley Matthews.
Best lived a grandiose life, and it's remarkable how someone with an out-of-control alcoholic problem managed to play at such a high level.
Of course, Best eventually succumbed to the accumulative damage of alcohol.
Matthews was still playing for England at 42, whereas Best turned his back on Manchester United at 27.
Best combined excellently with Bobby Charlton and Denis Law—a triumvirate also known as the Holy Trinity.
In the space of five years, the Holy Trinity were all bestowed with the Ballon d'Or.
This exchange sums up Best:
Reporter Sue Mott, taking Best's mobile phone number: "God, do you realise half the women in the world would pay good money to get that number?"
Best: "Half the women in the world have got it."
If not for a persistent steward called Harold Wood going to the lengths of personally recommending a 14-year-old Ryan Giggs to Sir Alex Ferguson—the Welsh wizard would not have been a Manchester City legend.
One of the aspects that I had admired about Giggs was his personal stature.
So did Rob Hughes, writing in The New York Times in 2009:
Giggs and his wife, Stacey, have a daughter and a son, Liberty and Zach. You never see them in the spotlight, in part because you seldom see light on the private life of Giggs.
A recipe for longevity, perhaps.
What Giggs has allegedly done in his personal life is deplorable, but it will never change my opinion of him as a Manchester United legend.
Please also read a combined A.C Milan-Inter Milan All-Time Greatest XI.
Follow me @ http://twitter.com/allanjiangLIVE.