Gary Neville has revealed his devastation at the break up of Manchester United’s fabled Class of 92, admitting he remembers the Old Trafford departures of three of the famous group ‘like it was yesterday’.
Neville was one of a collection of youngsters to emerge from Manchester United‘s academy ranks to enjoy huge success in the 90s, winning a wealth of major silverware under Sir Alex Ferguson alongside Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes, David Beckham, Nicky Butt and his brother, Phil.
The six stars played central roles during a dominant period for the Old Trafford outfit, winning a succession of Premier League titles and proving hugely influential in the club’s famed treble-winning season of 1999.
Neville – alongside both Scholes and Giggs – played his entire career in United colours and is regarded as one of the Premier League’s great one-club men, though the former full-back has recalled his emotions at seeing three of the group depart for pastures new.
“Even now I feel a little bit emotional, because we’d been at United since we were young kids,” Neville told Sky Sports Off Script Podcast.
“I don’t remember a lot of my football matches, but I remember, David, Nicky, and Phil leaving like it was yesterday.”
Beckham was the first to leave the club amid growing tensions with United boss Ferguson, the former England captain’s ever-increasing celebrity status having placed a strain on their relationship.
Neville recalls pleading with Beckham to sign a new contract and to remain at Old Trafford, but believes the star’s Galactico move to join Real Madrid in 2003 proved to be in the best interests for both club and player.
“I remember David leaving,” said Neville. “He whispered to me on the pitch at the end of a game, and the newspapers lip-read it. I think his words were: ‘I think they want to sell me’.
“At the time, Real Madrid and Barcelona were in for him. I said to him: ‘Just sign a contract.’ I think he wanted to go and experience one of these teams, he always saw himself beyond Manchester.
“I thought that when he left it was probably for the best because the relationship was getting a bit fraught, just generally you could see it was coming to an end.
“To this day my view has been that it was good for both parties, David and the club. But at the time I was devastated because it felt like the gang were breaking up.”
Butt’s United career came to an end the following summer with a move to join Newcastle, the midfielder having grown frustrated by a lack of regular first-team football amid competition from the likes of Scholes and Roy Keane.
Neville admits the Gorton-born star’s departure was a ‘big disappointment’, but understands his former teammates reasons for seeking increased involvement whilst still at the peak of his powers.
“We were on tour in America with Nicky – we knew what we were all thinking all of the time – and Nicky had become a little bit more frustrated with his 25, 30 games a season, being in and out of the team,” Neville said.
“He wanted to go and play for Newcastle and be No1, not a No3 or No4. He left that tour, going back to England to sign for Newcastle.
“When you see your team-mates leaving you, you know they’ve gone, it’s extremely sad. Nicky leaving was a big disappointment, but you know it’s going to happen one day.”
Neville later saw brother Phil leave the club to join Everton in the summer of 2005, recalling a trip to Ferguson’s house to announce his intention to leave the club having grown frustrated with a peripheral role.
“Phil rang me up one Sunday and told me he’d made the decision to leave.
“I said: ‘It’s a big call, you’re playing for United and winning trophies,’ but he’d got to the same place as Nicky.
“After Phil rang me up, we actually went round to Sir Alex’s house that night, the first time we’d been round, and went and saw him, and I remember there being a few tears among the family.”