19 years ago decked out in their new all grey away kit Manchester United took to the field at Villa Park hoping to start the 1995/96 season with a win. At the end of the match they had been comprehensively beaten. A 3-1 defeat on the day was not the way Sir Alex Ferguson had wanted to bounce back from the disappointment of losing the title race to Blackburn Rovers and the F.A. Cup Final to Everton at the end of the previous season.
Flashback 19/08/95 Aston Villa 3-1 Manchester United
Off Season of Change
The summer of 1995 saw a lot change at Old Trafford. Big name players who had been part of the clubs historic success were sold. Mark Hughes ended his second spell at Old Trafford agreeing a £1.5 million move to Chelsea. Midfielder Paul Ince was sold to Italian club Inter Milan for £7.5 million after fractures had occurred in his relationship with Sir Alex Ferguson, Ferguson referring to Ince as “a big time Charlie”. The third major name to leave was pacey winger Andrei Kanchelskis. In a on off saga that lasted all summer Kanchelskis eventually joined Everton for £5 million. In addition to these departure talisman Eric Cantona would miss the first 8 games of the season completing his ban for attacking a Crystal Palace fan in January.
With no major signings joining the club the first team had a different feel to it when it was announced. Alongside experienced campaigners Schmeichel, Irwin, Sharpe McClair, Parker and Pallister, Ferguson had replaced the departed idols with products from United’s youth system. Gary Neville and Nicky Butt had already started to establish themselves as part of the first team squad both playing over 20 games in 1994/95 and Paul Scholes had been a frequent introduction from the bench. They were joined by Gary’s younger brother Phil in the starting 11 and David Beckham, Simon Davies and John O’Kane, who barely had 20 first team appearences between them, on the bench.
You Can’t Win Anything with Kids.
The first half was dominated by Aston Villa who took a commanding 3-0 lead into half time with goals from Ian Taylor, Mark Draper and a penalty from future United hero Dwight Yorke. United rallied in the second half with David Beckham and John O’Kane being introduced but even a 30 yard goal from Beckham was only a consolation as Villa won the game 3-1.
As the match was analysed on Match of the Day, BBC pundit Alan Hansen dismissed United’s title chances saying that even with the return to the side of Cantona, and the unavailable trio of Giggs Bruce and Cole, United didn’t have enough strength in depth and that “you can’t win anything with kids”.
Sir Alex Ferguson kept faith with his young stars and Scholes, Butt, Beckham and the Neville brothers all went on to become vital parts to the team that went on to win the Premier League and F.A. Cup double, each making over 30 appearances.
Having vindicated their manager’s faith in them this was just the beginning. The United team would be based on these young players who, along with the already established Ryan Giggs, were all members of the 1992 youth cup winning side. With these players as the basis United went on to win more League titles, F.A. Cups, League Cups and Champions Leagues.
This group of players proved the doubters wrong, however they were not the first group of young players to succeed at Old Trafford. Sir Matt Busby achieved success with the Busby Babes, and United have throughout their history continued to develop young talent. The emergence of such a strong group may well be a once-in-a-generation event but the overriding fact is that if you invest in developing young players you can win everything with kids.