***In this series of blogs, OptaJoke member Carl McQueen goes ‘back to the future’ and utilising his selection of vintage Premier League Merlin Sticker Books, he’ll ‘preview’ a team’s chances for that forthcoming season…therefore written as if the season had only just begun, rather than looking back with hindsight and saying what a great/awful team it was…***
Blog originally dated August 20th 1995
After watching last night’s Match of the Day, many journalists in the Sunday papers this morning echo Alan Hansen’s comments that “you can’t win anything with kids”, and unfortunately after their 3-1 defeat at Aston Villa yesterday afternoon, you have to say he may be right with Alex Ferguson and his young guns this season.
Manchester United are in a period of transition – the likes of Paul Ince, Bryan Robson, Andrei Kanchelskis and Mark Hughes are no longer at the club, and instead youth must transpire to bring the success that those fine gentleman brought the team at the start of the Premier League era. After losing out to Blackburn last season, they knew players would depart but after being heavily rumoured with Dutchman Marc Overmars and his fellow countryman – the talented 19-year-old midfielder Clarence Seedorf – in the summer after Ajax won the Champions League, Fergie has turned to English-born talent to stem the tide as Seedorf headed to David Platt’s former side Sampdoria and Overmars stayed in Holland.
Reigning champions Blackburn may have lost manager Kenny Dalglish, but in his place stand a steady partnership of Ray Harford and his assistant Derek Fazackerley. An opening day 1-0 win against QPR may have already set the tone for things to come for them. But fear not United fans, there are some reasons to be cheerful. Eric Cantona is set to return from his 8-month kung-fu kick suspension on the 1st of October…intriguingly on the day when you’re due to take on Liverpool of all teams. Expect an electric reception for the return of the King.
And then there’s the youth. Fergie’s Fledglings. These aren’t just a bunch of nobodies however, these players have won the FA Youth Cup and the Under 17 European Championships with England. Although that may not speak for much when they come up against Rotor Volgograd in the UEFA Cup in a few weeks, domestically they’ll be aware of the physicality of the Premier League and the pace of which it runs.
But with youth running through the heart of the team, here’s just a few of the players who one day may evolve into household names like recent young protégés such as Ryan Giggs and Lee Sharpe have become…
Born in Bury, Gary is a true Manchester lad, and is the older brother of his fellow team mate Philip – at 20 years old he has already picked up some first-team experience at his preferred position of right-back and will have learnt well from the likes of Paul Parker and Denis Irwin. He’s often keen to get forward into attacking positions and is rumoured to have an eye for goal. Certainly has potential to break into the England senior squad in the next few years if he’s able to get ahead of the likes of Arsenal’s Lee Dixon in the pecking order.
Born in Leytonstone, this East London boy moved up north after taking part in one of the Bobby Charlton Soccer Schools. He’s already appeared in the Champions League, appearing as a sub last season against Galatasary in their 4-0 victory, and then headed to Preston North End for some first-team experience at the end of last term. Beckham grabbed the consolation goal in United’s 3-1 defeat against Aston Villa yesterday and will be hoping that’ll be a platform to stay in the starting XI, especially after Kanchelskis’ departure. A talented crosser of the ball, he’s also somewhat of a deadball specialist, with an excellent bending free-kick at his disposal. He’s also been rumoured to have been seen going out with Louise Nurding who recently left the girl band Eternal.
The oldest out of this group, he’s already been highlighted as a future team captain! An attacking midfielder who’s not afraid to put the odd tackle in while defending, despite an excellent disciplinary record at youth level, this ginger-haired whippet has already committed his future to the club for years to come – something which Fergie will be pleased to hear. With Euro ’96 less than a year away, if he can nail down his first-team place he could be in with an outside chance of making the squad after recent long-term injuries to the likes of Paul Gascoigne and Darren Anderton.
The youngest of group, having just turned 19, he was voted United’s Young Player of the Year last season after being discovered by Ferguson himself. Cooke will be hoping to transfer that potential into trophies. Despite the team’s opening day defeat, Cooke didn’t play a part in it, so will be hoping that could mean his chance in midfield could come sooner rather than later, starting this coming week at home to West Ham United.
So there are just 4 players for you to watch out for then. Even looking at their bench and in their reserve team, they have talented British individuals such as Nicky Butt, Philip Neville, Chris Casper, Ben Thornley, Kevin Pilkington, John O’Kane, Patrick McGibbon and Simon Davies…
Elsewhere in the league, threats come from the likes of Nottingham Forest – 3rd place last season, and growing back in stature to their standards of 15 years ago – the signing of Italian Andrea Silenzi may be a risk from manager Frank Clark but buying Kevin Campbell from Arsenal could be an excellent bit of work. Newcastle United look tasty under the guidance of Kevin Keegan, with experienced heads such as Peter Beardsley and Les Ferdinand and never count out Roy Evans’ Liverpool.
But can Man United build, and perhaps even improve, on second place last time out? Well if Fergie manages to get the potential from this team that he believes exists then they have every chance, but you fear they may fall just short in the latter part of the season when the pressure gets to these young players. He does have the experienced shoulders of Peter Schmeichel, Steve Bruce, Gary Pallister and Denis Irwin to rely on at the back however, but going forward they may be placing too much hope on the return of Eric Cantona and how he’ll link up with the ever impressive Andy Cole and Ryan Giggs. An early season encounter away at Blackburn on the 28th August may go some way to deciding the route of the title at such an early stage, especially after United’s defeat to Villa. Although if Fergie does manage the difficult task of taking the trophy back to Old Trafford and then maintains these players to ensure they develop and grow in strength, who knows, he may even get knighted by the end of the century!!
***Of course, in reality, United won the league – Neville, Beckham & Scholes became household names and Cooke now plays in Azerbaijan…and Fergie was knighted in 1999***