Sir Alex Ferguson is arguably the greatest manager football has ever seen.
The legendary Scot was in charge of Manchester United from 1986 to 2013 and has won more trophies than any other manager in the history of the sport (38). Among those were 13 Premier League titles, five FA Cups and two Champions League triumphs.
No-one can compare.
But that’s not to say that Ferguson was faultless. Even he would admit he made countless mistakes during his 27 years at United.
After all, he did sign the likes of Bebe, Kleberson and Eric Djemba-Djemba.
We’ve all been guilty of rating players far too highly only for them to disappoint us and Ferguson did just that in 2001.
Twenty years ago, United had just won the Premier League for a third consecutive season. And the manager thought he had another crop of youngsters coming through who had the potential to match the famous ‘Class of ’92.’
During an interview, he name-dropped seven youngsters who he clearly believed had the talent to have a career at the biggest club in England.
Who were they and what happened to them?
“We’ve got some terrific prospects at Old Trafford,” he told the official club website at the time.
“Darren Fletcher, who we hope will get over his broken leg, is good. Michael Stewart and Luke Chadwick are doing very well, and John O’Shea’s doing well too. There’s a young left back called Paul Tierney who’s doing well, as is Danny Pugh.
“But there’s a young boy who has started now, he’s 16, called Kieran Richardson. He’s going to be a fantastic player.”
Fergie got this one right. Fletcher is probably one of the most underrated players in the club’s history as he made almost 350 appearances over 13 seasons winning five league titles and the Champions League. He recently became the technical director at Man Utd and has played a role in coaching the youth sides at the club.
Stewart only managed eight appearances in the Premier League for Man Utd before being sent out on loan to Nottingham Forest and then Hearts. In the summer of 2004, Ferguson allowed him to leave on a free transfer where he returned to his native Scotland with Hibernian and then Hearts again. A move to Genclerbirligi in Turkey followed but an injury prevented him from making any appearances. He finished his career with nine games at Charlton 2010–11 season. He did briefly work as a pundit for BBC Scotland but was suspended from appearing on football coverage in February 2020 following comments he made about Rangers media officer Jim Traynor.
Chadwick did manage 38 first-team appearances for United but many of them came in cup competitions. Permanent spells at West Ham, Stoke, Norwich and Milton Keynes followed. He then joined his home town club Cambridge United before finishing his career at Isthmian League Division One North side Soham Town Rangers. He now works as a coach in the Cambridge United academy. He has recently opened up on the abuse he suffered over his appearance whilst breaking through at Old Trafford.
Perhaps the most successful player in this list of seven. O’Shea played almost 400 times for the club, winning 14 trophies. He also earned 118 caps for the Republic of Ireland. His versatility was invaluable to Ferguson – even playing in goal against Tottenham once. And who can forget THAT nutmeg on Luis Figo? After leaving United, he spent seven seasons at Sunderland and retired after his last season at Reading. He’s now the first-team coach for the Royals.
Tierney actually won the Jimmy Murphy young player of the year award in 2002 as he looked to fulfil his potential. However, he failed to prove Ferguson right and didn’t make a first-team appearance for the club. Spells at Livingston and Blackpool followed before finishing his career with a month-long stint at Conference National club Altrincham.
Not many players make their Champions League debut in the Champions League but Pugh did just that during the 2002/03 season. However, he only made a further six appearances for the club. He left for Leeds in a deal that saw Alan Smith join the Red Devils. Then came spells at Preston and Stoke – where he returned to the Premier League. He returned to Leeds before going on a tour of the Football League with Coventry, Bury, Blackpool and Port Vale – where he’s a player-coach at the age of 37. He did have spells as caretaker-manager in January 2019 and January 2021 but has since returned as coach.
Ferguson reserved his highest praise for Richardson.
“There’s a young boy who has started now, he’s 16, called Kieran Richardson. He’s going to be a fantastic player.”
Was Richardson a “fantastic” player?
Well, Richardson never really established himself as a first-team regular despite playing 81 times. He remained in the Premier League with Sunderland and then Fulham and Aston Villa. He finished his career in the Championship with Cardiff during the 2016/17 campaign. He did also earn eight England caps, scoring two goals.