By David Anderson, PA Sport

Busby Babe Wilf McGuinness believes the side which perished at Munich could have become the best in the world.

The former Manchester United manager grew up with many of those who died in the air crash 40 years ago and would have been on the flight himself had he not injured his knee days before.

United had won the league championship the previous two seasons prior to the disaster on February 6, 1958, and were closing in on the European Cup.

They had just drawn with Red Star Belgrade to book their place in the semi-finals and were returning home when the tragedy occurred.

Real Madrid were the kings of Europe then but McGuinness feels the Busby Babes were catching up on the Spaniards and would have overtaken them.

Real's was an ageing side while most of United's players were still in their early 20s.

"The best club side I have ever seen was the Real Madrid side of that time," said McGuinness.

"But this United team was catching them up, and because of their respective ages, would have overtaken them.

"There is no doubt that those lads would have continued to come through because they were so young.

"The oldest was the captain Roger Byrne, who was 28, and even he had another five years at least left in him.

"Nobody can say for definite what would have happened, but I feel they could have become the best team in the world."

McGuinness feels the current United side has a lot in common with the Babes in that several players, like David Beckham, Paul Scholes and Gary Neville, have come through the ranks together.

This is one of the great strengths of United and McGuinness believes Alex Ferguson's side can achieve the success that death denied the orignal Babes.

"The Babes are similar to today's side in that the present lads have come through together and that's how the Babes developed," he said.

"They now have the chance to become United's greatest ever team with so many of them coming through the ranks."

Roger Byrne, Eddie Colman, Duncan Edwards, Mark Jones, Tommy Taylor, David Pegg, Liam Whelan and Geoff Bent died in the crash and McGuinness remembers them as eight good friends and eight talented players.

"Roger Byrne was the captain and he was the father figure as he was older than the other players," he said.

"He commanded a lot of respect and was a bit of a disciplinarian. He was known for his pace and was an England player.

"Eddie Colman was a great mate of mine and he was a chirpy lad who was also a terrific player.

"He pushed the ball - never kicked it - and he jinked past players and was known for his swivel hips.

"Duncan Edwards was the youngest player to play for England and was only 21 when he died.

"He was an exceptional player and had great power. When he had the ball nobody could get it off him.

"He could do anything and when we lost the ball he was our best defender.

"He was a great all-round player and possibly the jewel of them all.

"Mark Jones smoked a pipe even though he was only 24 and he was something of a father figure as well.

"He was always on hand to make sure none of the younger players ever overdid it when we were out.

"Tommy Taylor was a great leader of the forward line and was one of the best centre-forwards ever.

"He was great in the air and could leap higher than anyone I have ever seen. He was a real star.

"David Pegg played for England on the left wing and was just 22 when he died.

"Liam Whelan - we called him Bill in the dressing room - was the dribbler and was something special.

"Geoff Bent was Roger Byrne's understudy and only travelled in case Roger was not fit, which was very unfortunate.

"He was a terrific left full-back and would have been a regular at any other club."

McGuinness has never forgotten his old friends and he feels the 40th anniversary of the disaster should not be an exclusively sad occasion.

"I remember the happy memories of the fun times we had together in the dressing room rather than dwell on the sadness," he said.

© PA Sporting Life

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