DAVID Beckham will become the most celebrated former fledgling to fly Sir Alex Ferguson’s nest if his transfer from Manchester United goes ahead.
Ferguson’s decade of domination at Old Trafford has been built on a crop of players nurtured at United in the early 1990s. Under the guidance of former youth-team coach Eric Harrison, United’s "Class of ‘92" won the FA Youth Cup with Beckham, Ryan Giggs Paul Scholes, Nicky Butt and brothers Gary and Phil Neville in their ranks.
The six have become senior internationals and brought United the most sustained period of success in their history. Between them they have started 1,795 games for the club and played leading roles in six league title campaigns, the Champions League success of 1999 and two FA Cup wins.
While contemporaries such as Robbie Savage, Keith Gillespie and David Johnson moved on to less successful clubs, the golden boys have stuck together - until now.
United announced on Tuesday they were ready to accept a bid for Beckham, the England captain, from Barcelona. Beckham said he was disappointed by the United statement but has raised the possibility he could leave the English champions.
Giggs, recently linked with a move to Inter Milan but now seemingly set to outlast Beckham in Manchester, was the first to make his senior breakthrough and was already involved with the first team when he played in the Youth Cup triumph.
The Welsh winger, 29, played a leading role alongside the old school of Bryan Robson, Mark Hughes, Paul Ince and Steve Bruce when Ferguson delivered the club’s first championship in 26 years in 1993.
By the mid-90s the rest of the youngsters were beginning to make their mark and Beckham, now 28, confirmed his arrival on the opening day of the 1995/96 season with a goal from inside his own half at Wimbledon.
His performances have made him an Old Trafford favourite, while his celebrity lifestyle and marriage to former Spice Girl Victoria Adams have ensured superstar status. In that way he has left the others behind.
But Beckham, Giggs, Butt, Scholes and the Nevilles have remained a strong element in the United masterplan, fostering the never-say-die spirit that drove the club to the Premiership title last season.
Despite the goals of Ruud van Nistelrooy and the presence of Roy Keane, Ferguson made no secret of his belief that United’s homegrown talent were crucial in reeling in Arsenal during the final weeks of the season.
Ferguson’s European ambitions remain unfulfilled despite winning the Champions League in 1999, and will now take a fresh look at what it takes to be top dog in Europe. Beckham no longer appears to fit in.
How badly the survivors miss him remains to be seen but signs are that another United generation is ready to take over.
Defender John O’Shea has made it through the youth-team ranks and looks a superb prospect while the manager also has high hopes for Darren Fletcher, the young midfielder who has been capped by Scotland at under-21 level.