Craig Salmon talks to former Manchester United winger and member of the ’Class of 92 Ben Thornley
Regret? not really...deep disappoinment? Of course. Ben Thornley will always have a sense of what might have been when he looks back on his football career.
The former Manchester United winger seemingly had the world at his feet when he broke into the first-team at Old Trafford in 1994 at the age of just 19.
A member of the club’s famed Class of 1992, which included the now illuminary names of Paul Scholes, David Beckham, Ryan Giggs and Gary Neville , Thornley was widely regarded as the player with the most talent out of the lot.
But while many of his contempories at United went on to enjoy incredible careers at the highest level, Thornley’s huge potential would go unfulfilled.
A horror tackle by Blackburn Rovers’ Nicky Marker during a reserve team game shattered his knee and ultimately left his career in tatters.
Although he battled back to fitness, he could not reach the heights on the pitch which many people thought he was destined to do.
And while Scholes, Giggs, Beckham and Neville went to enjoy great United careers, Thornley was left to try to rebuild his at clubs such as Huddersfield Town, Aberdeen – even dropping into non-league – before retiring from the game in his late 20s.
Indeed there were times when the frustration of how his career had panned out resulted in him seeking solace in alcohol.
It is these experiences which he speaks candidly about in his autobiography ‘The Class of ‘92 Star Who Never Got to Graduate’.
While there will always be a look of envy at the careers his ‘mates’ enjoyed compared to his, there is not one ounce of jealousy – something which is very apparent in the book.
“I don’t think about what happened with regret any more,” said Thornley.
“There are other aspects of my life which i do look back on with regret post Manchester United.
“But what happened to me at Old Trafford was something that I had no control over.
“So I don’t have regrets about that.
“I’m obviously deeply disappointed that I never got the chance to perhaps fulfil my potential had the injury not have happened.
“But getting injured is an occupational hazard; when you’re playing professional sport there is always a small chance that may happen.
“I always look back on my time at United with extreme fondness – playing with a group of lads who I grew up with.
“They were not just great players, but were great to be around.
“We all got on so well off the pitch which probably helped us when we were on it, especially the success we had in the early days winning the FA Youth Cup.
“No matter what happened to me – and I say this all the time – those players that we all know about and went on to have fantastic careers, they were always going to have fantastic careers.”
Thornley was once referred to as the next George Best when he was growing up at United and he has a little giggle to himself when he hears people say that out of the Class of 92, he was the one with the most talent.
“Whether I like it or not, I never made it at Manchester United,” he said. “But I do know that I would have been given the same opportunity as everybody else in that Class of 92,” he said.
“There was always going to be a debate when we were growing up who was going to be the best player.
“To be honest, it didn’t make a slight bit of difference to us because we all just got on.
“But when I hear people I was the hottest prospect out of us, it makes me feel very humble and proud at the same time.
“When you think of the names which came through....when people compare me to someone like Giggsy; I just feel a little bit embarrassed.
“Just to be spoken about in the same breath as these players, it makes me extremely proud to think that I may have been as good as them at one point.”
If some observers may say Thornley was arguably the best, who does he give the nod prospect to out of the Class of 92?
“Scholesy for me was the pick of the bunch,” he said. “He was the most intelligent footballer that I had the privilege of playing with. A wonderful technician.
“But when you think of the Class of 92...Giggs, Beckham, Neville, Nicky Butt, Phil Neville...they all had attributes which propelled them to the top of the game.
“What Giggsy achieved in his career was phenomenal.
“Gary Neville, he just went out and got the job done.
“He got the job done on the pitch and now he’s getting the job done off the pitch. He just always wanted to be in the know.
“Then you have Becks – it’s not a bad concoction to have is it?
“Being an extremely good footballer, an extremely nice lad; married to a pop star and looks like a film star.
“He worked so hard at his game and I know he got criticism at times, but for me it was completely undeserved because of the way he approached every single game for all the clubs he played for and England as well.”