Ranked! Manchester United’s 15 best academy graduates of the last 25 years
5. Wes Brown
Had injuries not plagued Brown, he may well be even higher up in this list. At the beginning of his career, he lost out to Steven Gerrard for the PFA Young Player of the Year after being shortlisted. Alex Ferguson tipped him to go on to be better than Rio Ferdinand and Sol Campbell, later stating that Brown was the best natural English defender.
The 2007/08 season was the best of his career, as he played a vital role in helping United win the Premier League and Champions League. Brown played more games than anyone else in the squad and put in fantastic performances at right-back, filling in for the injured Gary Neville. It was his inch-perfect cross that allowed Cristiano Ronaldo to score United’s only goal in the triumphant Champions League final over Chelsea.
4. Gary Neville
Neville, more than any other player at United, was the embodiment of a fan on the pitch. He sacrificed his friends and a social life from a young age because he wanted to be a Manchester United player. He initially had his heart set on midfield, but couldn’t compete with the likes of Butt or Scholes, so moved to right-back.
Of course he had ability, but wherever this was lacking he made up for in his sheer desire to do well for the club. Watching him celebrate wins over Liverpool and Manchester City – notably after injury-time goals by Rio Ferdinand and Michael Owen – was like seeing how a fan would behave if they had the opportunity to be on the pitch.
The fact that only four people have played more games for United than him, added to his 85 caps for England, are testament to his talent and hard work.
3. David Beckham
Beckham’s career is like something from a film. After starting out with success at his boyhood team, he went on to play for the biggest teams in Spain, Italy, France and the USA.
His breakthrough in the 1995/96 season, alongside his team-mates from the youth team, was the start of something special at United. Beckham was integral to that.
He was blessed with talent, but also worked hard to get to where he did. He used to stay behind after training to perfect his free-kick technique, which allowed him to score so many important goals for club and country.
England fans terrorised him in the season following his sending off at World Cup ‘98 – but United's worshipped him to counteract it. He had a great individual season as United won the Treble, with that night at the Camp Nou the best moment of his career.
2. Paul Scholes
When it comes to football ability, Scholes is up there with the greatest. You don’t need to hear the quotes from Zidane, Ronaldinho or Thierry Henry to know that (although how highly rated he is by other world-class players goes some way to explaining his talent).
With his asthma and small stature, there were worries as a youngster whether he'd ever be able to make it at the top, but he answered any questions the coaches may have had about him.
Rio Ferdinand referred to Scholes as “Sat Nav”, given how accurate his passing was – he red-haired dynamo was able to spot a run and play perfect balls again and again. He had a decent shot on him to boot, and scored plenty of belters during his career.
It’s remarkable that someone as gifted as Scholes could be so humble and unassuming. He was a player who loved the game, but was never attracted to all the attention that came with it.
1. Ryan Giggs
In terms of pure excitement and anticipation whenever he received the ball, peak Giggs is up there with the best players to ever wear a Manchester United shirt.
Sir Alex Ferguson said he left defenders with “twisted blood”. He wasn't wrong: the pace at which the Welshman could run with the ball at his feet was a sight to behold; he’d drop one shoulder, then the other, before cutting inside or delivering a brilliant ball.
That sort of enjoyment can’t be reduced to numbers alone, but it’s worth noting that Giggs has more assists – 162 – than anyone who has played in the Premier League.
What was even more remarkable about his career was the way he was able to reinvent himself in later years, when he couldn’t rely on outrunning opponents anymore.
Watching him walk onto the pitch as manager at the end of the 2013/14 season was one of the most special moments fans inside Old Trafford have witnessed over the past few decades. A legend of the game, Giggs has over 200 more appearances than anyone else who has represented the club – and an astonishing 13 league titles.