If it wasn’t for the heroics of West Ham United goalkeeper Luděk Mikloško in 1995, perhaps Manchester United’s class of 92 would never have gone on to be as famous or successful as they have been.
It was the last day of the season and all Sir Alex Ferguson’s side needed was one more goal to secure their third Premier League title in three years.
Andy Cole missed a guilt edged opportunity to secure the victory ensuring Blackburn Rovers were crowned as Champions – and with it, a very strong United squad which had won the two previous titles was broken up by a very brave manager under a lot of pressure.
Stalwarts of the side such as Mark Hughes, Paul Ince and Andrei Kanchelskis were not only sold, but not replaced by players of proven Premier League quality.
Cole had been brought to the club in January – but apart from that, where was the bite in central midfield or the pace on the wing going to come from with these key players on their way out of the club.
Had Ferguson lost his mind? Was this the end of United’s dominance? Not a chance.
An away day loss at Aston Villa on the opening day of the 1995/96 campaign lead to that famous Alan Hansen quote “You can’t win anything with kids” as United fielded the likes of Gary Neville, Nicky Butt, Paul Scholes, Phil Neville and David Beckham.
Backham got on the scoresheet with a fantastic strike giving the world an early preview of what he was all about – but the vultures were circling as overall, it looked like lambs to the slaughter as Villa won 3-1.
Following this defeat was an unconvincing home win over West Ham, but then a very huge turning point so early in the season, with a 2-1 away win at the Champions, Blackburn.
The campaign went on to be a success as United clinched the double – and whilst the kids played a huge role in this success, it certainly was not them alone who were responsible, despite what has been suggested over the years.
With Eric Cantona as linchpin; surrounded by the likes of Peter Schmeichel, Roy Keane, Steve Bruce, Gary Pallister and Denis Irwin – Manchester United had some extremely tough players and model professionals at their disposal.
A squad of leaders; each one captaining the side at some stage of their career.
The youth players were simply an extension of the seniors. They were the icing on the cake.
Everybody knows what success followed for these youngsters – and not since then has a group of academy players made such a drastic impact on the footballing world at any club across Europe – yet there might be an opportunity for the current crop of United youngsters to have a good go at it.
Manchester United is a club who invests in youth and gives young players a chance – but it is now so few and far between that a player can impose himself on the side that most expect those types of achievements will never be replicated.
Although the likes of Wes Brown, Darren Fletcher and John O’Shea have all had solid United careers – that simply isn’t enough.
Where is the next golden generation going to come from?
It could be argued that had Ferguson shown more faith in a certain Paul Pogba and Ravel Morrison that they could perhaps be regular starters under Louis Van Gaal – but we all know which paths they took, respectively.
As the season approaches, and exactly 20 years on since the class on 92 made a true statement that age is but a number, could United have a new batch ready to do it all over again?
With the likes of Tyler Blackett, Paddy McNair, Adnan Januzaj, Andreas Pereira and James Wilson; Manchester United possesses some extremely talented, young footballers who Louis Van Gaal has already given playing time to.
Not for a second is anybody suggesting Januzaj could be the new Giggs, or McNair the next Gary Neville – but should the Dutchman decide these guys have his trust and are worth a spot in the senior squad, what is stopping them taking full advantage?
There are many differences today to that of 1995, with the main one being that United had been exceptionally unlucky losing the title by a single point to Blackburn Rovers 1995, so were clearly more equipped to mount a serious challenge the following season whereas the current crop are a mile away from being close to the Chelsea side who won the title at ease.
Yet should Van Gaal be proactive in the transfer window and bring in the correct calibre of player, with the right amount of experience, in the right position – who’s to say that with the volume of games the club will have, that these youngsters won’t make an impact on the season ahead.
With Nani gone, Van Persie going, and perhaps a few more on their way – there will be spaces in the squad up for grabs.
Every footballer has to start somewhere, and despite a few appearances here and there – Beckham and Co. only excelled because of Sir Alex Ferguson’s belief that they were good enough from 1995 onward once Ince, Hughes and Kanchelskis were all shipped out.
In 2015, if Van Gaal believes the current crop of youngsters are good enough to surround his seniors, maybe they will deliver similar results.