Alex Ferguson hailed Eric Harrison as one of the "greatest coaches of our time" after the former youth team boss and mentor to the much-vaunted Class of '92 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.
He was awarded an MBE for services to football just over 12 months ago.
“Eric’s contribution to football and not just at Manchester United was incredible,” said Ferguson.
“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.”
Appointed by then United manager Ron Atkinson in 1981 Harrison spent 27 years at the club — 17 in charge of the youth team — and oversaw the development of a number of other high-profile youngsters, including Mark Hughes, Norman Whiteside, Wes Brown, David Platt and Darren Fletcher.
His greatest success came under Ferguson with the Class of ‘92 players forming the backbone of United’s treble-winning side of 1999.
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.”
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.
“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.”
Phil Neville praised the massive influence’ Harrison had on him, 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.
“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.”
In a statement Manchester United 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.”