Fergie's Fledglings were a group of football players recruited by Manchester United under the management of Sir Alex Ferguson (often nicknamed "Fergie") and trained by assistant coaches Brian Kidd and Eric Harrison, before eventually progressing to the first team during the 1990s.
The alliteration in the term is a clear homage to the Busby Babes, the famously youthful Manchester United team assembled by the club's former manager Sir Matt Busby and his assistant coach Jimmy Murphy during the 1950s.
The late 1980s Fledglings
The term "Fergie's Fledglings" was first coined by the media in the 1988–89 season to describe a group of young footballers who were introduced into the Manchester United first team by the manager Alex Ferguson. The group included players from the team which reached the final of the 1986 FA Youth Cup such as Lee Martin, Tony Gill and David Wilson, and other youth team players such as Russell Beardsmore, Mark Robins and Deiniol Graham as well as young players bought from other clubs such as Lee Sharpe (Torquay United) and Giuliano Maiorana (Histon).
There was some initial success for the Fledglings; in only his second start, Beardsmore inspired the team to a 3–1 win over rivals Liverpool, and an injury crisis saw Gill, Graham and Wilson drafted into the first team for an FA Cup third round replay against Queens Park Rangers in which both Gill and Graham scored.
However, serious injuries and loss of form meant that most of these players did not build on their initial success and the term "Fergie's Fledglings" had fallen out of use by the following season. Beardsmore and Robins made over 50 appearances each for Manchester United but were unable to hold down places in the first team. However, Robins did score a winning goal against Nottingham Forest in the Third Round of the 1990 FA Cup. That goal is popularly believed to have saved Ferguson's job at United, as they were struggling in the league at this stage and Ferguson had entered his fourth year as the club's manager having still yet to win a major trophy.
Of the original batch of Fledglings, only Martin and Sharpe made more than 100 appearances for Manchester United, making important contributions towards two of Ferguson's first trophies – the FA Cup in 1990 and the UEFA Cup Winners' Cup in 1991, although Robins was also involved in both of these successes. Martin scored the winning goal in the 1990 FA Cup final replay against Crystal Palace.
However, Sharpe was the only one of this group of players left at the club by the end of the 1993–94 season, and by the time he was sold to Leeds United in August 1996, he had played in three title-winning teams, two FA Cup-winning teams, and also won both a Cup Winners' Cup, a Football League Cup and three FA Community Shields, and he was voted PFA Young Player of the Year in 1991.
Mark Robins was the only member of the original batch of fledglings to enjoy any major success with other clubs. After being sold to Norwich City in 1992, he scored 15 goals as his new club finished third in the new FA Premier League, and also achieved promotion and a Football League Cup triumph with his next club Leicester City.
The 1990s Fledglings
A second wave of young players emerged at Manchester United in the early to mid-1990s. This group proved worthier than the previous generation in comparisons with the Busby Babes in terms of the success they achieved as relatively young footballers. Each one was developed by Manchester United from a very early age, some signing schoolboy forms with the club at the age of just 14. Many of these players were part of the Manchester United team that won the 1992 FA Youth Cup, including future United regulars David Beckham, Nicky Butt, Ryan Giggs and Gary Neville. Also generally considered in this group are players such as Paul Scholes, an FA Youth Cup finalist in 1993 and Phil Neville – Gary's younger brother – who was a substitute in the 1993 FA Youth Cup Final and captained the team to the 1995 FA Youth Cup. The six players have since been collectively referred to as the "Class of '92", a term popularised by the namesake 2013 documentary focusing on their careers with the club.
The term "Fergie's Fledglings" came back into common usage during the 1995–96 season, after Ferguson largely used this second group of youngsters coming through to replace a number of distinguished older players who had left the club. Following a 3–1 opening day away defeat to Aston Villa, pundit Alan Hansen commented on Match of the Day "You'll never win anything with kids". The young side, with an average age of just 24, then went on to overturn Newcastle United's 10-point Christmas lead to win the club's third league title in four years. This was followed up by a 1–0 win over Liverpool in the 1996 FA Cup Final to secure the Double. A period of great success followed, the most outstanding triumph being The Treble in 1999.
Many of the so-called "Class of '92" became regulars for both club and country during this time. David Beckham, Nicky Butt and Phil Neville moved on in 2003 (to Real Madrid), 2004 (to Newcastle United) and 2005 (to Everton) respectively, with Beckham also captaining England from 2000 to 2006. All three have since retired, with Butt returning to United as member of the coaching staff.
Gary Neville remained at United for the rest of his career and held the post of team captain following the departure of Roy Keane in 2005, before injuries considerably reduced his appearances, prompting his retirement in February 2011. Upon the announcement, Sir Alex Ferguson described Neville as "the greatest English right-back of his generation". Among defenders, only Bill Foulkes made more appearances for the club than Neville. Neville received a testimonial match in 2011, also attended by five other "Fergie Fledglings": Beckham, Giggs, Scholes, Butt, and Phil Neville.
Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes both played their entire Premier League careers for Manchester United. Scholes announced his retirement at the end of the 2010–11 season, remaining at the club as a youth coach, but made a return to playing duties in January 2012 after several United midfielders were brought down by injury before retiring again at the conclusion of the 2012–13 season. Giggs has now won more trophies than any other player in football history. Coming on as a substitute in the 2008 UEFA Champions League Final, he became the club's all-time appearance record holder, surpassing Sir Bobby Charlton, the longest-serving of the Busby Babes. After briefly serving as player-manager at the end of the 2013–14 season, Giggs went on to hold the post of assistant manager at the club, but left in the summer of 2016.
Beckham, Scholes, Butt and Gary Neville returned to play for Manchester United in a friendly match at the end of the 2018–19 season to mark the 20th anniversary of the Treble campaign in 1999. Beckham and Butt both scored as Manchester United won 5–0 at Old Trafford on 26 May 2019.
List of Fergie's Fledglings