'You can't win anything with kids' was devastating

Wednesday 26 August 2020 14:58

Twenty-five years on, Phil Neville has admitted that Alan Hansen’s famous ‘You can’t win anything with kids’ quote had a devastating effect on him.

The Match of the Day pundit’s notorious comment came after United had been beaten 3-1 by Aston Villa on the opening day of the 1995/96 season, and a summer in which star players Mark Hughes, Paul Ince and Andrei Kanchelskis had been sold to make space for Neville and other emerging youth players.

The game at Villa Park was the first time both Neville brothers had started a first-team fixture and, in the latest episode of UTD Podcast, Phil revealed that the scrutiny that followed the defeat was crushing.
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“I went home that night, I watched it [Match of the Day]. I was devastated,” said the former defender. “It probably affected me, because you actually think: he’s probably got a point. The league’s never been won with kids.
“Hughes, Kanchelskis, Paul Ince… these were legends. These were players that had won league titles, won FA Cups. These were England internationals, Russian internationals. You think: maybe he’s got a point there. How are we going to win a league when there’s so many other good teams in the league? We’re unproven.”
United were under pressure at the time for multiple reasons. After two consecutive Premier League successes in 1992/93 and 1993/94, Alex Ferguson’s side had ceded the title to Blackburn Rovers in 1994/95, and were without key player Eric Cantona for the first months of the following season.

But the backing of Ferguson – and the determination to prove Liverpool legend Hansen wrong – soon kicked in for the Neville brothers and their fellow Academy colleagues David Beckham, Nicky Butt and Paul Scholes.

“The one thing that we had was the backing of the manager,” stressed Neville. “He trusted us. He believed in us. He stuck with us. That was probably worth everything. That then became our motivation: let’s prove Alan Hansen wrong!
“I’ve worked with Alan Hansen and people have a go at him, but probably, at the time, any pundit in the world would have said the same thing: ‘What’s happening here? These kids aren’t going to win the league.’ And that was part of our motivation.”

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And though Hughes, Ince and Kanchelskis had left – and Cantona was temporarily unavailable – the so-called Class of ’92 could still rely on a strong group of experienced senior pros to guide them along as the season progressed.
“The kids, we just got carried that first season,” explained Phil. “We had energy. There were some games we did well; some games we didn’t. People should always remember that: that those senior players at the time carried us that season. Because up until Christmas, we were so inconsistent.”
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The Nevilles ultimately had the last laugh, as United hauled in Kevin Keegan’s Newcastle to win the league by four points – propelled by Cantona, Peter Schmeichel and co. But Phil has learned, in the years since, that Hansen has no regrets about his critical remark.
“I went to the World Cup with him [Hansen] in 2014, and I love him, and he was like: ‘Best thing I ever did, that!’” laughed Neville. “Because, actually, it made him and put punditry on the TV map.
“He was the best pundit on TV. He was like [Jamie] Carragher and Gary [Neville] now. He was the main man on TV that everybody listened to. That was the only football show at the time, and he was the best pundit on the TV. He carried weight. That statement, I’ve got to say, even though it was our motivation, it made him even more famous! You think about iconic moments, that is an iconic moment in Premier League history.”