Phil Neville with Eric Harrison.

'I'll be forever indebted to Eric Harrison'

Thursday 14 February 2019 09:30

He was probably the man who made us.

If you take away the influence of your father, he was probably our second father. He was the one who took us from the age of 14 and delivered us to the first team, ready.

I think it’s disrespectful to talk just about the Class of ’92 because his biggest achievement was also those other players he brought through with equal ability that prepared them for life, not just Manchester United.

Like Sir Alex Ferguson said, this man didn’t just produce five footballers – if you look at Mark Hughes, Norman Whiteside, Wes Brown… there are hundreds of footballers that he produced, not just at Manchester United but for the rest of the football community, for soccer schools as well as the Welsh national team.

He’s probably one of the most special coaches this country has ever produced.

Eric didn’t prepare you for a life in football, he prepared you to succeed in life, with the values instilled in us. He had an unbelievable work ethic, the toughness of his attitude, the attention to detail in that he would not let you get away with absolutely anything. On and off the pitch, the way you spoke to the canteen ladies and the kit man, the way you dressed, your timekeeping… they were values that stood us in good stead for all our lives.

He taught us the value of hard work – he got us in early in the morning, he had us working three sessions a day, he pushed us and worked on our character. He didn’t just train us as football people. Over the last 24 hours, since we heard the news that he passed away, we’ve been speaking to all the players and all the youth-team players that we played with, and he had a massive, massive effect on everybody’s lives, not just the five Class of ’92 lads.

Gary spoke about teaching us to never give up – well, he never gave up on us. There were times when you were struggling, from 16 to 18, when you’d just left school, life was tough at times as a professional footballer but he never gave up on us. My abiding memory of Eric was probably when I’d left Man United and had joined Everton.

We had a game against Arsenal, which we had won 3-1 at Goodison Park, and I came off the pitch to find a text from Eric saying: ‘I need to speak to you on Monday morning.’ You know when your old headmaster speaks to you, you still think: ‘Oh no, what have I done?’ So, on the Monday morning, he rang me and got straight into how I had been in a one-on-one with Thierry Henry and I had turned my back on him.

This was something he used to work on with me every single day from 16-18 about not turning my back as a defender and to keep your eye on the ball, and he’d noticed, during this game, that I’d turned my back on Thierry Henry and he had managed to get a shot away. Even when I was 31, he’d never given up on me and he was always there for me.  

He was a truly remarkable man and I personally owe him everything. I’m a manager now, and the standards that I try to give my players are the standards that he taught me. I’ll be forever indebted to him. 

Phil was speaking to BBC Radio 5 Live.