Any Manchester United fan over the age of 25 is bound to have fond memories of the man who was an ever present in the team which brought the first League title back to Old Trafford since 1967 in the inaugural 1992-93 Premier League campaign. Brian McClair appeared in all 42 matches, hitting the net nine times in that drought breaking season.
The man who became affectionally known as ‘Choccy’ to his many fans went on to collect a haul of 4 Premier League, 3 FA Cup, 5 Charity Shield, a League Cup and a European Cup Winners Cup winning medals in his eleven seasons as a red.
Even those thousands who were only able to watch the Scotsman on television from afar got to know what made him tick through his Choccy’s Diary published in the official Manchester United Magazine which turned him into a cult figure. They got to know the obvious fact for example that his nickname came about because of his name rhyming perfectly with that of a chocolate éclair. That Diary gave an intimate insight into the typical lifestyle led by a Manchester United footballer off the park.
McClair left Old Trafford to get his coaching experience 12 months after 44,000 attended his testimonial against previous club Celtic in April 1997. His time away was spent cutting his coaching teeth at Motherwell and Blackburn before Choccy came back to Old Trafford in 2001 for the start of a career as part of the coaching staff.
Coming back to work with the kids at United has been a highly enjoyable experience with McClair admitting that working with today’s youngsters is the next best thing to actually playing. “This is the closest thing I’ve found to playing” he insists “nothing really comes close to it but this is as good as it gets as far as I’m concerned, the next best thing.”
When asked when the next batch of Beckhams, Scholes’ or Giggs’ are coming, McClair had some scathing comments to make a couple of years ago. He has no doubt that had the current academy system been in place in the late 1980s United would not have signed Beckham who grew up in Essex. Nor does he believe that they would have signed the Nevilles either as the brothers would have been snapped up by Bury at an early age and a prohibitive price put upon them.
Scholes he continues, would have been at Oldham Athletic’s academy, Giggs would not have had the chance to leave Manchester City for the club he supported and United may or may not have got Nicky Butt. “If you look at the parallel for education, parents are free to choose whatever school they want their kids to go to whether they have to pay for it or move to a certain area.” McClair argues “You can’t in football. If they move at all, and their child goes from one academy to another area, they have to show they are moving for non football reasons. That will take a lot of time to clarify and the kids and parents are penalised by that.”
McClair clearly remembers the time in 1995 when Ferguson made a very similar decision to the one he has taken this summer. “The first team was world class but we weren’t competing at the level they are now” he recalls “maybe United didn’t have that wealth so the manager looked at the young players and said ‘Let them have a go’. There was an opportunity and sometimes you only get one chance. That summer Andrei Kanchelskis left, Paul Ince left, Mark Hughes left and Paul Parker was dithering over a new contract. He dithered and suddenly Gary Neville had taken his place in the United and England team. How good were those boys? Nobody knew, we had played with them in the reserves, they certainly looked good enough and they took their opportunity.”
Could history be repeating itself 15 years later? If for no other reason than the sake of being absolutely fair, the observation has to be made that the Glaziers were not around to blame for Ferguson’s decision in those days.
Does the Football Academy system need to be updated?