Manager Sir Alex Ferguson has copped plenty of flak from some quarters for giving his trio of veterans a further 12 month contract to remain at Old Trafford. Ryan Giggs, Gary Neville and Paul Scholes all came through the Manchester United youth system under the watchful eyes of then youth team coach Eric Harrison but the man who had so much decisive input into their development firmly believes that all three fully deserve to have their careers extended.
In a recent interview with the Manchester Evening News, Harrison was emphatic that “There’s no chance they have been given new contracts out of sentiment. I have known Sir Alex a long time and he doesn’t work that way. In top, top flight professional football you cannot work on sentiment. He has never been like that”
“Sir Alex has rewarded them for the part they can play in helping him and the team in the future not for what they have done in the past” he continued “On the field they are extremely important players still and off the field they can help enormously. They are a great inspiration to the younger players. I have seen how younger players respond to them and how they help them”
Harrison recalls “I was in an England dressing room once and Tottenham’s David Bentley was telling me how he wanted to be like David Beckham on the pitch but he was also saying how Becks helped him off the field. Despite the fact Bentley had taken David’s place in the England team at the time, he was still offering him little bits of advice on the training ground”
“That was great to hear” he remembers “and it is the same with his ex United team mates, they all understand the role of senior players. It is not all about the 90 minutes the fans see on the pitch. I cannot understand any United fan who doesn’t believe Giggs, Neville and Scholes should have been kept on”
The former youth team mentor has no doubt as to what keeps these veterans going “Talent is one thing but determination and dedication are the two extra watchwords that make the big difference” added Harrison. “Unless you have dedication and determination then you will never have a career like those three guys. If any of them had been lacking in one of those departments then they wouldn’t be still up where they are now. They were a very easy group to coach as a youth team”
“There were no slackers” he remembers “It wasn’t just the three who are still at United but it was Nicky Butt, Beckham, Phil Neville, Keith Gillespie and Robbie Savage for example. They all put in the hours. The whole object in life was to play in Manchester United’s first team and it drove them all on”
“Every single day it wasn’t so much a battle to be top dog but they wanted to let me and the manager know that they were going places” he said “It was a competitive atmosphere. There was no chance that you could drop your input and still think you could make it. If ever you thought you’d made it then you would be history at United. It wasn’t a fear factor. They didn’t come in every day scared to death but they knew the demands and responded”
“That environment built into them this attitude that has kept them going well into their 30s. I have seen some very, very talented players elsewhere who were naturally gifted but because they didn’t have the dedication and determination to match they wasted their careers and finished earlier than they should have done” Harrison said with a hint of sorrow.
“That’s criminal. I cannot believe how stupid they would be to do that. Relying on your God given talent alone is not enough at the very top of football. The work ethic and dedication is the whole ethos of Manchester United and why those players are still performing now at the age they are”
“I went over to see David Beckham in Milan and he says AC are exactly the same as United and is why a player like Paolo Maldini didn’t retire until he was in his 40s. “The training routines are fashioned around keeping the players going. It is no coincidence that so many of that United Class of ’92 are still playing now past their mid 30s.”
If anyone doubts the validity of what Harrison says they only need to remember the unsuccessful efforts that England manager Fabio Capello went to last month when he did everything in his power to convince the 35 year old Scholes to come out of international retirement and help England’s World Cup cause in South Africa.
Will the three veterans prove Ferguson’s faith in them next season?