Phil Neville has paid a heartfelt tribute to his “second father” after the death of Eric Harrison, the former youth team coach of Manchester United’s Class of 92.
Harrison, 81, who helped forge the fledgling careers of Neville and his brother Gary, David Beckham, Ryan Giggs, Nicky Butt and Paul Scholes, was diagnosed with dementia four years ago.
His greatest success came under Sir Alex Ferguson with the Class of 92 players forming the backbone of United’s treble-winning side of 1999.
“He was the man that probably made us… he was our second father, the one that took us from the age of 14 and delivered us to the first team ready,” Phil Neville told BBC Radio Five Live.
“I think it’s probably disrespectful just to talk about the class of 92 because his biggest achievement was all those other players he brought through with equal ability that prepared them for life, not just at Manchester United.
“I think when you talk about Eric Harrison, he didn’t prepare you for a life in football, he prepared you to actually succeed in life and the values he instilled into us… an unbelievable work ethic, the toughness of his attitude, the attention to detail.
“He would not let you get away with absolutely anything, on and off the pitch. The way you spoke to the canteen ladies, the kit man, the way you dressed, your timekeeping, they were values that stood us in good stead for all our lives.”
Neville said his abiding memory of Harrison came after the defender had left Old Trafford and was playing for Everton, who enjoyed a 3-1 win over Arsenal at Goodison Park.
“He rang me and all he got into me was that I was in a one-one-one with Thierry Henry and I turned my back and it was something he used to work on with me every single day,” Neville added. “Even when I was 31, he never gave up on me and is a truly remarkable man.
“I personally owe him everything. I’m a manager now and the standards I try to give my players are the standards he taught me. I’ll be forever endebted to him.
“Some of these young players coming through now, I would have absolutely loved for Eric to grab hold of some of these young players nowadays and just put them through what we had to be put through because it was special.
“I don’t get sad when things like this happen, I just feel absolutely blessed and lucky that I was touched by someone that had an unbelievable effect on my life.”
In a statement released on Thursday, Ferguson paid tribute to his long-serving member of staff.
“Eric’s contribution to football and not just at Manchester United was incredible,” he said.
“When I came as manager I was lucky enough to have Eric on the staff as head of youth development, so I got to see the work he did and not just with the Class of 92 but with all the young players.
“He built character and determination in those young players and prepared them for the future. He was a teacher, he gave these players a path, a choice and he only did that through his own hard work and sacrifice.
“He was able to impart that education to the young which made him one of the greatest coaches of our time. On a personal level Eric had a wicked, dry sense of humour and was straight-talking and I admired that in him.”
Former England captain Beckham also paid tribute to Harrison.
“He was always watching and always with us every time we played, I can still hear him telling me NO MORE HOLLYWOOD PASSES,” he wrote on Instagram.
“I can still see him as we played on The Cliff training ground looking down on us either with a proud smile or a loud bang of his fist on the window knowing any minute he would be on his way down to probably advise me in the most polite way to stop playing those passes.
“More importantly he made us understand how to work hard and respect each other and not just on the pitch. We won’t forget the life lessons he gave us. Eric we love you and owe you everything. Gary, Phil, Ryan, Paul, Nicky and David.”
Former Manchester United trainee Robbie Savage wrote on social media: “Such sad news to hear of Eric Harrison’s passing- Eric was a massive part of my education,not only in football but life in general-hard work, desire ,commitment and respect.
“He built character and determination in all of us, he was a great coach and a great man I’ll never forget the letter he wrote to me after my release from United, a letter I have to this day, saying that he believed in me and don’t give up, Eric along with my family was the reason I didn’t and to this day I will always be so thankful to Eric.”