The ‘new George Best’, forgotten forwards from the Class of ’92, a Premier League title winner… and a maverick Australian! Can YOU name the unrecognisable stars who started at Man United before making it elsewhere?
- These stars couldn’t quite crack the Manchester United first-team long term
- But they have all since made their careers elsewhere within football
- Sportsmail takes a look at how previous Old Trafford youngsters have changed
Only 11 players can start a match for Manchester United in any given weekend so competition for a place in arguably the world’s most famous football club are understandably highly competitive.
Some would say to even make an appearance for the Red Devils is a huge life achievement on its own, regardless of where a career progresses from there.
Most young players never achieve their dream of being professional footballers, even fewer get to do so at Old Trafford and even fewer see off the huge competition for places, which since the formation of the Premier League in 1992 has gone global and includes the very best stars seen in the game.
But that doesn’t mean being unable to breakthrough at United is the end of a journey, it’s simply an opportunity for talent to flourish elsewhere.
Here Sportsmail looks at five United graduates who after leaving the club found fortune elsewhere – and now look unrecognisable from being the fresh faced youngsters given their break..
Not all of the legendary Manchester United Class of ’92 made the first-team at the club
This former United star was compared to George Best coming through the club’s ranks, but he would later find more joy playing for Newcastle United (right)
The comparison was inevitable, a young Northern Irish winger making his way through the ranks was always going to be compared to the legendary George Best.
But this former United academy graduate had a huge task to try and break into squad in that he had to first displace the highly skilled fan favourite Andrei Kanchelskis on the right wing.
That man of course is Keith Gillespie.
Gillespie was part of the Class of ’92 that won the FA Youth Cup and that also put him in direct competition with David Beckham. Yet despite this he would still make 14 appearances in total, scoring on his debut in an FA Cup tie against Bury in 1993.
He would go on to make a respectable nine Premier League appearances in the 1994-95 season where he scored against Newcastle United.
But he was sold to the Magpies at the start of 1995 as a £1million makeweight for a deal that saw Andy Cole travel in the other direction for a then British record of £7million.
Ferguson tried to sign this Northern Irishman back once Kanchelskis departed in the summer of 1995, but he instead went on to become a key player as part of Kevin Keegan’s Entertainers that narrowly missed out on the Premier League title in 1996.
Now sporting a beard, Gillespie has been promoting awareness over mental health issues
He then enjoyed spells at Blackburn, winning the League Cup in 2002, before featuring for Leicester City and Sheffield United in the top flight and winning 86 caps for his country.
Despite enjoying a career where he played over 500 games, he struggled off the pitch with gambling issues.
He has since writing a book, How Not to Be a Football Millionaire, on his plight and has supported the charity ‘Gambling with Lives’ that lobbies for tighter gambling regulations and offers support for those affected by gambling.
In 2020, seven years after his retirement Gillespie returned to the pitch at the age of 45 to play for FC Mindwell in Northern Ireland to raise awareness over mental health issues.
This former United star poses with David Beckham for a club fashion shoot in the early 1990s
One of the most exciting players to come through the Manchester United ranks. This former attacker had a highly promising career ahead of him following his debut for Manchester United late in the 1993-94 season, with David Beckham among those who spoke highly of his skill.
It seemed as if Ben Thorney would follow the same path at Becks into United stardom.
But the right-footed left winger had two problems. One was the almost impossible task of displacing the already established key man Ryan Giggs, the second was a near-career ending injury.
In April 1994 he suffered a knee ligament injury after being hacked down in a reserve game against Blackburn Rovers that kept him out for a year and severely stunted his development.
Ben Thorney (left) is now back at Manchester United as part of their in-house media team after his playing career at Old Trafford was ruined by injury
Although he would make 14 appearances under Ferguson he was released after the 1997-98 campaign, but he managed to salvage a career as a professional with three years at Huddersfield Town in the second tier and a season at Aberdeen in the Scottish top flight.
His career though wound down from there with short spells lower down the English football pyramid at Blackpool and Bury before dropping into non-League in 2004.
Thornley retired from playing in 2010 but he has since returned to Old Trafford where he is now part of the in-house media team as a commentator.
One member of the class of 92′ couldn’t quite break into the Manchester United first team before joining City
This player’s youth career at Manchester United came shortly after the Class of ’92, in fact he netted the crucial spot kick to win the FA Youth Cup in 1995.
Nonetheless his talent was impressive enough to see him feature in the famous photo of the young United players including Beckham, Giggs, Paul Scholes, Nicky Butt, Gary Neville and Phil Neville linked arm on shoulder who would all go on to achieve major success with the club.
It never quite happened though for Terry Cooke, who despite assisting Giggs on his Premier League debut in 1995 against Bolton and scoring his first goal a month later at York, only played eight games for the club and never again after a League Cup tie at Leicester City in 1996.
Playing in a similar position to Beckham didn’t help, and eventually he joined local rivals Manchester City – impressing on loan to help them secure promotion back to the English second tier in 1999.
Cooke though put in a starring performance playing against Beckham later in his career
As a coach Cooke is now passing on his knowledge of youth football to the kids of America
City then paid £600,000 to make the transfer permanent but he was soon out on loan again once the club made its way back to the Premier League, joining numerous clubs without much joy before short spells at Grimsby then Sheffield Wednesday led to a dramatic change of scenery.
Aged 29 he moved to the United States to play for Colorado Rapids for the next four years, making over 100 MLS appearances. In 2008, he even went head-to-head with Beckham again and stealing the show as captain with a goal and two assists in a 4-0 win.
After leaving the Rapids in 2009 he played in Australia for two years before ending his playing career.
Cooke has since returned to USA where he is now a highly respected director of coaching at Denver kickers, a huge organisation that runs 54 separate youth and adult amateur teams.
After a spell at Man United, this goalkeeper became a Premier League star at Aston Villa
There was something about United’s scouting system in the late 1980s and early 1990s that gave them the ability to pick star after star.
Their goalkeeper for the 1990s looked set during this period, although we are not talking about the signing of Peter Schmeichel here.
Instead it’s the one of Mark Bosnich, who was born in Liverpool… albeit the one in New South Wales, Australia.
But United didn’t have to find him Down Under to sign him. Bosnich moved to England in 1989 and soon was soon picked up by the club before making his debut against Wimbledon in the top flight near the end of the 1989-90 season.
However, an expiry of his student visa forced him to return to Australia in 1991 after three appearances. He had impressed though and was soon back in England a year later when he joined Aston Villa, where he established himself as one of the Premier League’s best goalkeepers through much of the decade, as well as becoming the Socceroos’ No 1.
Bosnich rejoined United later in his career and had a colourful life off the pitch where he dated British model Sophie Anderton
Bosnich (right) is now back in Australia where he has become a football pundit
Once Schmeichel left United in 1999, Bosnich returned to Old Trafford on a free transfer to replace him but despite helping the club win the Premier League he soon fell out of favour under Sir Alex Ferguson after just one season – with the United boss later calling him a ‘terrible professional’.
Bosnich enjoyed to party off the pitch and even dated British model Sophie Anderton. But despite signing for Chelsea in 2001, he never regained a starting role and he was sacked two years later following a positive test for cocaine.
The Australian though has since rebuilt his life, and is now a widely respected football pundit back in his native Australia.
Can you name the man in the middle alongside with Roy Keane (left) and Nicky Butt?
After coming through the youth system at United, this former midfielder made his debut in a League Cup tie in 1999 against Aston Villa, but it wasn’t until the next season where the emerging midfielder enjoyed more playing time, making 22 appearances in total and scoring two goals to help the club win the Premier League title for the third consecutive years.
But Luke Chadwick’s first-team chances dried up soon and he soon dropped into the second tier where he would play for West Ham United, Stoke City and Norwich City.
It was in League One with Milton Keynes Dons where he would find a football home though. After joining the third tier club in 2008 he played nearly 250 games over the next six seasons before ending his career with Cambridge United in League Two after two years.
With over 500 games and 50 goals under his belt it was a respectable professional career, especially having since admitted to the mental turmoil he suffered in his early years at United.
Chadwick was ridiculed on BBC’s sports quiz show ‘They Think It’s All Over’ over his physical appearance while playing for Manchester United, with the show’s presenter Nick Hancock admitting his regret in 2020 after telling BBC Breakfast that he was ‘appalled’ and felt ‘a great deal of responsibility and shame’.
Chadwick though enjoyed his best football playing years at MK Dons in League One
The sharply dressed Chadwick looks unrecognisable today compared to his Old Trafford days
‘I wouldn’t want to go out. I was always looking at people,’ Chadwick told the BBC.
‘People knew who I was because I played for Manchester United and I always assumed they’d be saying horrible things.
‘Being a quiet, nervous boy anyway, it sort of intensified that and maybe stunted my growth as a person.’
Chadwick though has tackled much of his personal issues and today is a director of The Football Fun Factory which enables kids across the UK of all abilities to have access to the game and provide positive experiences.
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