More than 25 years ago an up and coming Scottish manager, who had achieved the unthinkable by tearing apart the Old Firm domination in Scotland, was appointed Manchester United’s manager to wake United up from its slumber and get the club a League title that it had failed to garner since 1967 under Sir Matt Busby. The expectations surrounding the arrival of the young Scot were immense, for he was going to bring United back to its glory pedestal, but even the most ardent of ‘mancs’ would not have forseen the impact Sir Alex was going to have on the club and its functioning winning 12 domestic league titles and in the process overshadowing the bitter rivals Liverpool.
Today, quarter of a century later, time that has seen analog watches being replaced by digital stopwatches for training drills, from the times of unnamed shirts turned to an era of proper merchandising at the club, from a mid table club to the forefront of the battles for European trophies, Sir Alex has seen it all and been through it, being the only constant in numerous transitions that the club has gone through over the years, still putting out one top bunch of players after another for United each passing year. The colour of his hair may have changed but the hunger and passion for more has’nt, today he stands synonymous with the club itself, its greatest protagonist.
And in this pre-season, with no notable transfers to look forward, I have decided to honour my fancy to try and name the best XI to have played during Fergie’s time at the club, an attempt to get to the best of the best to have played and strutted their stuff under the guidance of Sir Alex. And while we’re at it, no it wasnt an easy job, your loyalty for players would have been torn more times than the number of times Scousers would have said “This is our year” in the past 20 years. So, the Fergie XI, here it goes:
Goalkeeper- Peter Schmeichel
Most European clubs today are insured against unforseen calamities, but Fergie had an insurance cover years ago against calamities on the pitch, it went by the name of Peter Schmeichel, the biggest and the baddest insurance that you can ever have to prevent people from fluttering the back of your net. Just his nasty frame could send chills down your spine but his gravity and physics defying reflex saves would nail him down as one of the best goalkeeper in football history.
Right Back- Gary Neville
Gary Neville- he came from Manchester, he played for Manchester’s club and he would always loves his Manchester club. He was a fan who made it to the first team of HIS team. Never afraid to insinuate the rivals and would never hide his enthusiasm for United. A Right back par excellence, he would run up and down the pitch at a stretch for 90 minutes without tiring, put his foot into tackles and scoop some lovely crosses that we still adore and always will. A no brainer really to have him in here, given how Neviller had made the RB spot his own for the best part of Fergie’s time at United.
Centre Halves- Gary Pallister and Steve Bruce
Gary Pallister was one of the best defenders in United history, and while men came and men went, United never really found someone like him until Rio Ferdinand grew into his own. Not the paciest, but his reading of the game and body strength would outdo any deficiencies he may have had. Presenting to you the ‘Earl Gary of Pallister’.
Alongside, Pally would be his long time partner, Steve Bruce, the other half of the ‘Dolly and Daisy’ duo. A monster in the air and strong in his tackles, Bruce was the epitomy of agression and never backed out even if it meant that he had to take one on the body. And then to count up all the goals that he scored, some absolutely crucial, despite being a centre half is the cherry on the cake. And its only fair that the industrious pair line up at the back together.
A special mention to- Jaap Stam
While the duo mentioned above would make it due to their duo arguably being the best ever for United, it would not be appopropriate I didnt mention Stam here. A physical specimen like no other, he could dominate the best of centre forwards and tear them to shreds, the Dutch monster was a colossus in United’s defence and key to United winning the 1999 Champions League.
Left Back- Denis Irwin
Regarded by Sir Alex as his greatest ever ‘pound for pound’ signing, the Irishman was part of a rock solid United defense through the nineties and was the only United player to have traversed the complete journey from winning the 1991 Cup Winners Cup to the 1999 Champions League final.
Centre Midfield- Paul Scholes
The Ginger Prince of United, a young boy who made it through the United youth ranks and made it all the way through, he may not have talked a lot off the pitch but what he did on the pitch mesmerized an entire generation of fans. Described by his contemporaries as the best midfielder of his generation, Scholes with his characteristic long range and defense splitting passes has for long entertained the Old Trafford faithful. Quite simply, over the last decade and a half, no United team would be complete without Scholes in it and thus, Ginger walks into this one as well.
Centre Midfield- Bryan Robson
Loyalty, selflessness, passion, leadership– words that would describe Man Utd’s original ‘Captain Marvel’ Bryan Robson. 13 years of loyal service to the club that he loved and one of the players who stuck with United despite the bland years in the 80’s rather than moving to another continental club. Years of service and hard work finally culminated when he finally won a league medal in 1993 and there might not be a man who deserved it more. And his United love was such that he managed to catch United matches even during his recent cancer treatment. When its about Man Utd, its about this man who carried the team on his own during the beginning of the Fergie years, the Captain, Leader, Legend- Bryan Robson, the favourite United player of an entire generation of fans.
Alternatively, Roy Keane
There would not be a tougher decision that you’d make than to choose between Robson and his successor at United Roy Keane. If Robbo was United’s Captain Marvel, Keano was United’s Captain Fantastic and no one would ever forget that cold night in Turin and how Keano managed to pull United through to the Champions League final of 1999 even though he would himself miss it. His will to stand up for his teammates and the ‘eye for an eye’ attitude might have raised controversies, but raised him to the seat of being called one of United’s all time best.
Right Wing- Cristiano Ronaldo
Brought in as an 18 year old ‘one trick pony’ who wished to model himself on the lines of his idol Luis Figo, Sir Alex turned from a boy prodigy to unagruably one of the best in the world, so much so that by the time he left, he was already starting to overshadow his idol. A bit of showboating aside, he was the primary protagonist during his years at United and the face of United’s upswing that thwarted any attempts from Roman’s Chelsea to have continual domination in the league.
Left Wing- Ryan Giggs
Manchester United’s longest serving player currently and the record holder for most appearances in the Red of United. He just doesn’t walk into this side, he tears into it. And just to see how Giggsey does it, refer to the video below:
Second Striker- Eric Cantona
In the history of Manchester United, there are very few men who have had such an immediate impact on the club as the one Eric Cantona had. An absolute icon at the club, and despite a poor disciplinary record during his playing days, ‘King Cantona’ as he’s proudly called will be remembered for his moments of magic on the pitch, so much so that the fans keep chanting his name to this day. Certainly, he was ‘More than just a player‘.
“Till the last minute of this life,I will have this club in my heart”
– Eric Cantona (on his love for United)
Target Man– Ruud van Nistelrooy
‘Fox in the box’, thats how they describe him. He could head them in, he’d score with his left, with his right, score with the outside of the boot or with the inside, he would scoop it over the goalie and he would mighty well volley them in. There is no predator in the box quite like him, might never be again, but that 18 yard box at Old Trafford would forever be called the ‘van Nistelrooy territory’. Van the Man may not have won all the titles that he deserved with United, but the magnificence in his finishing is still cherished by all. Its only fair that he spearheads the attack of this team.
And beyond these men, there are quite a few others who would have to have a mention at this point, for it was hard to have not included them in the first 11 itself.
Edwin van der Sar
The Dutchman shored up a United defence that for long had been punctured to a leaky cauldron by opposition attackers after Schmeichel’s departure, and if only it had not been for the Great Dane, VDS would have been the goalkeeper of choice.
Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic
The two have formed a great partnership in their own right and would really challenge Bruce-Pallister and for good reasons too. The former being a good reader of the game and quick on his toes to sweep away any threats to the defence and the latter being a beast, strong in the tackle and indomitable aerially.
Another of the Fergie’s fledglings that broke through the first team setup during the early 90’s, Becks is still fondly remembered for the hollywood crosses and set-pieces, but is beaten to the right midfield/wing position by Ronaldo who shouldered United through the transition years and fight off the oil backed Chelsea, not by much though.
One of the earliest Fergie signings, he was signed for a then record £850k. ‘Choccy’ as he’s popularly known was going to have an incredible career at United having been a mainstay in the team, early on as a forward and then as a central midfield player after Cantona’s arrival. Despite him not making this team, he is one of United’s absolute best.
The Welsh wizard had two spells at United, the second sparked the beginning of United’s domination in England as Fergie’s men rendered Liverpool a spent force. Alongside McClair, he formed a potent partnership to lead a United renaissance.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer
Some players are greats but not legends, some others are legends despite not being the best. ’20legend’ is every bit a legend at United and if not for the injuries would have been one of the most feared strikers there ever were. His knack of scoring goals at crucial junctures for United have already made him a cult hero with the fans and if there ever was a need for the above mentioned ‘Fergie XI’ to have a super sub, it’ll be him, the 20Legend.