Sir Alex Ferguson is widely regarded as the greatest British manager to ever grace the game, but even the esteemed Scot sometimes got it wrong.
Across his trophy-strewn 27-year tenure with Manchester United, the 11-time Premier League Manager of the Season lifted a plethora of decorated titles and highly-coveted awards, earning himself a place in the pantheon of managerial greats.
During his reign in the North West, Ferguson was no stranger to developing and nurturing young talent, transforming Old Trafford into a hotbed of rising starlets, with the help of revered characters like Eric Harrison and Brian McClair.
It can therefore come as no surprise that Old Trafford aptly earned itself the moniker ‘The Theatre of Dreams’, as talented tyros believed they could fulfil childhood dreams under the tutelage of Ferguson – and they would not be wrong.
The former United coach cultivated some of the finest talent world football has ever seen, but at times he was over eager and dubbed aspiring fledglings to reach the very pinnacle. But, in hindsight, some of those predictions now seem a tad ridiculous.
With that considered, here are seven wonderkids Ferguson tipped for the top who never quite lived up to their potential.
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1. Ravel Morrison
Man Utd appearances: 3
Current club: Ostersunds
What Ferguson said: According to Rio Ferdinand, Ferguson once told him in a training session that Morrison was “the best kid you will ever see.”
One of modern football’s greatest enigmas, the curious case of Morrison has been well-documented and it’s a massive shame that Ferguson couldn’t quite place the mercurial marvel on the straight and narrow.
The Scot stated he was better than Wayne Rooney and Ryan Giggs during their formative teenage years, but Morrison just couldn’t flourish on the pitc.
He recently turned up at Ostersunds FK in Sweden, which at 26, is not where anyone could have predicted the Wythenshawe-born midfielder would end up.
Had Morrison continued to progress and hone his craft under the auspices of Ferguson then he would likely be playing Champions League football at iconic grounds such as the Juventus Stadium and not the Jamtkraft Arena.
2. Phil Jones
Man Utd appearances: 209
Current club: Man Utd
What Ferguson said: In 2013 Ferguson tipped Jones to become the greatest player in United’s history, saying (via ESPN): “Jones, arguably the way he is looking, could be our best ever player. I think Jones may be one of the best players we have ever had, no matter where we play him.”
Upon signing from Blackburn Rovers, the ever-versatile Jones was seen as a jack-of-all-trades, capable of slotting in anywhere across the backline, or even operating as an anchorman in front of the defence.
Such was his early promise that Ferguson even predicted that a then 21-year-old Jones would go on to etch his name in United folklore, surpassing the likes of George Best and Eric Cantona as United’s greatest ever player.
Well, it’s safe to say that Jones hasn’t quite been able to emulate his predecessors, in fact many United fans would probably be incensed if the name Jones was even whispered in the same breath as Denis Law or Bobby Charlton.
3. Nick Powell
Man Utd appearances: 9
Current club: Wigan Athletic
What Ferguson said: After producing a trademark Paul Scholes finish against Wigan in 2012, Ferguson backed Powell to ease the loss of Scholes at Man Utd, saying (via the Independent): “Nick Powell is going to be a really good player.
“He has a great temperament, is two-footed and quick. He is a good physical specimen and has terrific vision. We hope Powell fills Paul Scholes’ boots. For an 18-year-old boy it has been a terrific day.”
After leathering home that memorable strike right out of the top drawer against the Latics, it evoked fond memories for many United fans of those halcyon days with Scholes dictating play from the heart of midfield.
Unfortunately for Powell, this would prove to be the zenith of his United career. He failed to follow in the footsteps of Scholes and eventually fell down the pecking order before relocating to the team he devastated all those years ago: Wigan Athletic.
4. Federico Macheda
Man Utd appearances: 36
Current club: Panathinaikos
What Ferguson said: Ferguson had seen enough in training to beieve Macheda could be the next Cristiano Ronaldo, telling reporters (via Goal): “Macheda is top drawer, a hero in the making, just as Cristiano was. It is hard to believe he is just 17.
“We probably need to check his birth certificate because I reckon he is at least 28. He does not have the lightning reactions of Ronaldo but he is quick around the box and he has an eye for goal.”
After being snapped up by Lazio at the tender age of just 16, Macheda exploded onto the scene and immediately wowed Old Trafford with his clinical finishing, exceptional balance and vision.
The Italian is still remembered for his winning goal against Aston Villa in 2009, receiving the ball just inside the box, before pirouetting and curling a delectable effort in the dying embers.
Ferguson was in awe, but fortune has not particularly favoured Macheda, who hasn’t quite followed in the path of Ronaldo.
5. Darron Gibson
Man Utd appearances: 60
Current club: Wigan Athletic
What Ferguson said: Ferguson was desperate to find the next Scholes – and who can blame him – but this was another who didn’t quite live up to the billing. On Gibson, he said (via Goal) his goals were the kind they “used to get from Paul Scholes. He used to get me 12 to 14 goals from midfield all the time and we haven’t had a player like that in a while.”
The Scholes search continues. Gibson forged a reputation for his deadly long-range shooting, but that was perhaps the only attribute reminiscent of Scholes that the Republic of Ireland international possessed.
And it seems the DW Stadium is the end destination for wannabe Scholes midfielders, as Gibson joined Powell at Wigan in 2018, but neither have really channeled their inner Scholes even to this day, with the Latics languishing precariously outside the Championship relegation zone.
6. Tom Cleverley
Man Utd appearances: 79
Current club: Watford
What Ferguson said: Ferguson once described Cleverley (via the Guardian) as “probably the best midfield player in Britain, potentially.”
There was once a petition that gained nearly 20,000 signatures to ban Cleverley from the 2014 World Cup, with many aggrieved Roy Hodgson was reluctant drop the midfielder who, at the time, was enduring an appalling campaign during David Moyes’ maiden season at the helm.
So not quite “best midfield player in Britain”, but Cleverley has proven his critics partially wrong in recent seasons, proving a vital cog in Javi Gracia’s well-oiled machine when fit and available.
7. Davide Petrucci
Man Utd appearances: 0
Current club: Caykur Rizespor
What Ferguson said: Having been branded the next Francesco Totti in his native Italy, Ferguson said (via Talksport) “Petrucci is a very strong Roman boy. He has great potential and will do well.”
Not only did Petrucci not come close to mirroring Totti, but he also did not do well at United, leaving the club in 2014 after not making a single first-team appearance.
A friend of Macheda since the age of 10, Petrucci’s departure infuriated Roma fans who thought Man Utd had pulled off a real coup by signing the mesmeric playmaker.
Well, the Giallorossi certainly won’t have to worry about Petrucci coming back to haunt them, as his career has nosedived in recent times, and he now plies his trade in the Turkish Super Lig.