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'One of the greatest' - Ferguson hails Manchester United Class of 92 coach Eric Harrison, who died aged 81

Eric Harrison with the Class of 92 in 2001. Credit: PA

Tributes have been paid to one of the "greatest coaches of our time," after former Manchester United Class of 92 coach Eric Harrison died at the age of 81.

Harrison, responsible for forging the fledgling careers of David Beckham, Ryan Giggs, Nicky Butt, Paul Scholes and Gary and Phil Neville among others, was diagnosed with dementia four years ago.

Sir Alex Ferguson led tributes to his former youth team boss and player mentor, describing his contribution to football as "incredible".

He added: "He was able to impart that education to the young which made him one of the greatest coaches of our time."

Sir Alex Ferguson said he was lucky to have Eric Harrison on his coaching staff. Credit: PA

First appointed by then United manager Ron Atkinson in 1981, Harrison was awarded an MBE for services to football just over 12 months ago.

During his time at the club, he also mentored a number of other high-profile youngsters, including Mark Hughes, Norman Whiteside, Wes Brown, David Platt and Darren Fletcher.

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.

Paul Scholes, a member of the historic team, said in a press conference in his new managerial role at Oldham AFC, that Harrison taught him "how to play football in the Manchester United way".

He added: "Eric was special, it's a really sad day and all our thoughts are with his family."

In a statement, the club said: "Manchester United is extremely saddened to report that our former youth coach Eric Harrison passed away on Wednesday. He was 81.

"Everyone at Manchester United sends their deepest condolences to Eric's family and friends at this sad and difficult time."

Former England captain Beckham paid his personal tribute to Harrison, posting on Instagram:."He was always watching and always with us every time we played, I can still hear him telling me NO MORE HOLLYWOOD PASSES.

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"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.

"We won't forget the life lessons he gave us."

Gary Neville wrote on Twitter: "We've lost our mentor, our coach and the man who made us.

"He taught us how to play, how to never give up, how important it was to win your individual battles and what we needed to do to play for Manchester United Football Club. Eric we owe you everything."

Phil Neville praised the "massive influence" Harrison had on him and all the young players at United, telling BBC Radio Five Live: "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. 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."

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"If you wanted a teacher who gave you the right path forward he was that man. I was really lucky as I got to know that," said Ferguson when the award was announced.

"Obviously the Class of 92 was the climax of his coaching career but all the young players who came through looked at his contribution.

"He was able to impart knowledge to them about the best way to be a footballer."

Commenting on Harrison's impact as a coach, Ferguson said Thursday: "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 added: "He was a teacher, he gave these players a path, a choice and he only did that through his own hard work and sacrifice."