Old Trafford assistant manager Mike Phelan believes the fresh crop of Manchester United stars are making their presence felt.
It is nearly 20 years ago now that Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes, David Beckham, Nicky Butt and Gary Neville emerged as the ‘Class of 92’.
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They were so good it forced Sir Alex Ferguson to sell big-name stars to make way for them.
Indeed, the departure of Paul Ince, Mark Hughes and Andrei Kanchelskis seemed so extreme there were even polls run wondering whether United’s illustrious manager should be sacked.
The folly of that particular call has long since been exposed and, remarkably, all five are still playing; three of them at Old Trafford.
If Darron Gibson, Danny Welbeck and Federico Macheda enjoy even a third of the success Giggs has enjoyed, they could count themselves very fortunate indeed.
For now, the future is Tuesday night’s Champions League trip to Wolfsburg, with Ferguson’s assistant Phelan quietly confident the current young guns, fresh from booking a Carling Cup semi-final with Manchester City, can secure top spot in Group B by collecting the single point required.
“To get a crop to compare to the 1992 group would be difficult,” said Phelan. “That was an exceptional group of young players.
“This next crop are fewer in number but they still have the capability to play for this football club.
“We are a progressive club and we do give young players an opportunity.
“There is no reason why they shouldn’t break through and hold certain positions within the team.
“But obviously they still have players in front for them who they need to dislodge. That is the competitive element we will always retain at this club.”
Of the present group, Gibson is the one for whom the clock is ticking loudest.
Still in their teens, Welbeck and Macheda – who signed a four-year contract extension earlier this week – have time on their side to iron out the obvious flaws that exists in their games.
For Gibson, the time is coming where he must either carve out a place for himself within Ferguson’s long-term plans or move on.
Two more excellent goals against Tottenham in midweek confirmed his ability to strike a ball from outside the area.]
But there are still question marks over Gibson’s all-round contribution. And with Scholes, Darren Fletcher, Michael Carrick and Anderson already in front of him, more is required to make his own presence felt.
“We know he can score, now he just needs to carry on doing that,” said Phelan.
“But that is up to Darron. It is very important that he keeps maturing and keeps training hard with the group of players he’s training with.”
The next month could be crucial in Gibson’s career.
In addition to this week’s Wolfsburg encounter, Ferguson has the two Carling Cup meetings with City to plan for, plus an FA Cup tie against either Leeds or Kettering and a potential fourth-round game if the Red Devils progress.
After that, the pressure games – plus the resumption of conflict on the Champions League front – return, when Ferguson is less likely to trust youngsters if he feels they will make mistakes.
Phelan at least, is optimistic on the Derry-born player’s behalf.
“Darren’s opportunities are the same as those for any other young player,” said Phelan.
“He has been here a while and he has also been out on loan.
“He is obviously a determined guy who wants to progress.
“He wants to be a regular for the Republic of Ireland as he does at Manchester United, so he still has a lot of things to achieve.
“But he can do that here because the potential is there.”