Promotional graphic for the Ben Thornley episode of UTD Podcast

UTD Podcast: Thornley treasures Best comparison

To be compared with George Best is an honour few footballers are lucky enough to experience. But it's even rarer to be likened to the great Northern Irishman by one of his Manchester United team-mates, a World Cup winner no less.

But one man privileged enough to receive such praise was former United winger Ben Thornley – a star of the Reds' famous 'Class of '92' youth team.
 
Local lad Thornley made just 14 appearances for the Reds' senior side in a career that was badly curtailed by the terrible injury he suffered in April 1994.
 
But his talent was so rich that United and England legend Nobby Stiles – one of only two Englishmen to win both the World Cup and the European Cup – was compelled to describe Thornley as the closest thing he'd seen to Best.
Nobby Stiles, George Best and Bobby Charlton
Nobby was part of the great United team featuring Best (centre) and Bobby Charlton (right).
In the new episode of UTD Podcast, Thornley explained how he came to learn of the flattering story.
 
“That only actually came out when I was doing the autobiography [Tackled: The Class of '92 Star Who Never Got to Graduate],”
he revealed.
 
“It was a friend of mine whose father was sitting on a table with Nobby Stiles and Sir Matt Busby at a pub in Sale called The Brook.
 
“He was quite a regular eating with these guys, and on this particular occasion Nobby Stiles was there with Sir Matt and a couple of other dignitaries from Manchester United. And my friend’s dad happened to be on the same table.”
Thornley's family friend overheard Stiles extolling the youngster's virtues, and Ben believes it owed something to his performance in the 1991 Milk Cup – a competition in Northern Ireland won by a United team also featuring David Beckham and Gary Neville.
 
“I scored a goal in the Milk Cup, in one of the group games against Hearts, who we actually went on to beat in the final,”
continued the 45-year-old.

“I picked up the ball inside my own half and beat five or six players and slotted the ball home. Maybe it was that goal which had stuck in Nobby’s mind.
Manchester United's youth team celebrate winning the 1992 FA Youth Cup final.
Thornley (back row, far left) celebrates after winning the 1992 FA Youth Cup final.
Thornley is quick to play down the comparisons, and is frank about his injury-affected career.
 
“If I’d have heard that quote back then in the day, then I probably would feel extremely embarrassed, because obviously it [my career] never got anywhere close to being that [comparable with Best's achievements].

“There are so many people who would say, 'He would have done this, and he would have done that'. The bottom line is that I didn’t,”
he admits.
Ben Thornley on the ball for Manchester United's youth team against Everton
Ben takes on Everton during his youth-team days.
Nevertheless, the winger concedes that moment in the pub in Sale is one he will continue to cherish.

“Coming from Nobby Stiles, who won the European Cup, he was a World Cup-winner... that, for me, is something that I will treasure and I will take with me for a long time. To be likened to someone like George Best is brilliant.

“Obviously he [Stiles] would have seen him [George Best] first hand. I mean George Best, I never obviously got the privilege of seeing him live, but his balance, and his trickery and his footwork, he was superb. So, even for me to be likened to him for one occasion is something that I will treasure.”


The new episode of UTD Podcast, featuring Ben Thornley, is available on Deezer and other podcast providers this Monday evening. To find previous editions, plus video clips from the recording sessions, head to www.manutd.com/podcast.

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