Sir Alex Ferguson's Reign at Manchester United: 25 Magical Years Recapitulated
Ron Atkinson was sacked as manager of Manchester United on November 6, 1986 after an abysmal showing in the league.
A League cup exit at the hands of Southampton was all that was needed for Atkinson to get the boot.
Ferguson has accomplished what no other manager has; he has kept United at the pinnacle despite being in transition between players, staff and board.
Time and again, from Eric Cantona to Nemanja Vidic, he has made astute dealings which has allowed him to form a blend of youth and experience who have, despite the harshest circumstances, claimed glory.
This slideshow pays homage to this great persona, recounting the 25 years he has been in charge of Manchester United.
25. 1986-87 Season: Ron Atkinson Sacked, Sir Alex Instated
After Ron Atkinson was sacked and Alex Ferguson was brought in, the disciplinary requirements at United went up; this had been a trademark of Fergie's rule at Aberdeen and also at United for years to come.
He had been worried that many of his key players such as Norman Whiteside, Paul McGrath and Bryan Robson were drinking too much, and was also depressed by the level of fitness among his men.
Although, his first game in charge of United saw them defeated by underdogs Oxford United, United enjoyed a good run of games thereafter and finished at 11; they had originally been second from bottom before Ferguson took over.
24. 1987-88 Season: Sir Alex's First Full Season
The 1987-88 season marked Alex Ferguson’s first full season in charge of Manchester United.
And Ferguson looked to bolster his attack.
He made several major signings which included Viv Anderson, Brian McClair and Jim Leighton.
The most notable signing by him was, of course, that of Steve Bruce.
Steve Bruce, often heralded as the greatest player never to have played for England, was signed after three attempts, as the first two attempts had been rejected. Finally on the 18th of December, Bruce arrived to Manchester United from Norwich City for £900,000.
However, there were also some disappointments in the transfer frontier.
Ferguson's offer to sign Mick Harford from Luton town was met with disappointment, as the player decided to remain at Luton after being offered a four-year contract.
Furthermore, hopes of signing Terry Butcher, the Rangers and England defender, were also dashed as Graeme Souness, then Rangers manager, offered Butcher a lucrative contract.
Nonetheless, from a lowly 11th place last year, Ferguson guided Manchester United to a solid second place.
United also enjoyed a successful run in the FA cup making it to the fifth round when they were knocked out by Arsenal.
Brain McClair, the club’s leading goalscorer, missed a penalty late in the game which would have taken the game to replay.
23. 1988-89 Season: Building Up for the Future
The 1988-89 season saw the return of United legend Mark Hughes.
Hughes, who had left Old Trafford in 1986, was persuaded to come back to United, after brief spells at Barcelona and Bayern München.
He was brought back to Manchester United for a club record fee of £1.8 million. In spectacular fashion, Hughes would win the PFA Player of the Year.
However, United got off to a miserable start, as they went nine games without a win. But, they played impressively in the mid-season and cemented their position in the top three.
A disappointing run, thereafter, dragged Manchester United to the 11th place.
Nevertheless, Fergueson was determined to turn his side into title contenders and started to build up for the future.
He gave debuts to 17-year-old winger Lee Sharpe and 19-year-old striker Mark Robins in the 2-0 home win over West Ham United.
He also brought in 21-year-old midfielder Paul Dalton from non-league Brandon United and 22-year-old winger Giuliano Maiorana from non-league Histon.
22. 1989-90 Season: A Potential Sacking
The 1989-90 season was both an abysmal and triumphant season for Alex Ferguson.
Ferguson had begun building up the team and was desperate to bring in a major trophy. He brought in Mike Phelan signs from Norwich City for £750,000 and Neil Webb from Nottingham Forest for £1.5million.
He also brought in Middlesbrough defender Gary Pallister for a club record fee of £2.3million–also a national record for a defender and the second highest fee to be paid by an English club.
Paul Ince, the 21-year-old West Ham United midfielder, was also signed by him for £1.7million.
But, by 9 September, United had lost three league games in a row, and by Christmas unrest was growing among the fans. The first Manchester Derby in three years saw United lose to crosstown rivals Manchester City by five goals to one at Maine Road.
Having spent so much, and yielded none, Ferguson seemed to be on the verge of dismissal.
A banner was unveiled at Old Trafford saying: "Three years of excuses and it's still crap ... ta-ra Fergie"
The season brought their lowest league finish since their relegation from the First Division 15 years earlier, as they finished 13th in the league.
However, a win over Nottingham Forest at the City Ground on 7 January 1990 in the third round of the FA Cup is believed to have saved Fergie's managerial career.
On 12 May 1990, Manchester United faced Crystal Palace at Wembley in the FA Cup final. With the scores level at full time, the game went to extra time during which Ian Wright put Palace ahead. It looked like Manchester United hopes for any silverware, just like Fergie's tenure at United, was over.
However, with seven minutes remaining, Mark Hughes equalised to force a replay. United won the replay and won their first major trophy for five years, and their first since the appointment of Alex Ferguson as the manager.
21. 1990-1991: European Success
Having won the FA cup, Ferguson's first major trophy at United, he guided the team to European success in the 1990-91 season.
United defeated Barcelona in the final of the European Cup Winners' Cup by two goals to win at Rotterdam; it was United's first European trophy in 23 years.
Mark Hughes, who had scored both the goals in the final, was also voted as the PFA player of the year. Similarly, another of Ferguson's gems, Lee Sharpe was voted PFA Young Player of the Season.
United also reached the League Cup final for the second time, but suffered a shock defeat to Sheffield Wednesday, the team managed by Ron Atkinson, whom Ferguson had ousted in 1986.
The season also saw the debut of Ryan Giggs, who would go on to break Sir Bobby Charlton's record of 756 appearances for the club, in a 2-0 defeat by Everton.
In the league, United looked to be strong title contenders, but inconsistent form saw them finish an unsatisfying sixth place.
The season also marked an ugly scene at Old Trafford for Alex Ferguson, as all 11 of his men and ten of Arsenal's players got involved in a brawl that led to a one point deduction for United and a two point deduction for Arsenal.
Nevertheless, the 1990-91 was a hugely successful season, as United won two major trophies back to back.
20. 1991-92 Season: First Ever League Cup
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The 1991-92 season saw Alex Ferguson make a host of key signings.
New signings included legendary goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel and right-back Paul Parker.
1991-92 also marked the season when the prodigious, youth talent, Ryan Giggs burst into the footballing scene.
Notably, Giggs won the PFA Young Player of the Season, while another of Ferguson's men, Gary Pallister won the PFA player of the year.
The season looked to be of great success for Alex Ferguson and his men, as United defeated Nottingham Forest at Wembley to clinch their first ever League Cup with a 1-0 win, ensuring that United took home major honors for three years in a row.
However, disappointment followed when United, who having led for the majority of the season, lost the league to Leeds United.
19. 1992-93 Season: League Success at Last
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In a season where Ryan Giggs yet again won the PFA Young Player of the Year award for the second year in succession, it also saw Manchester United win the inaugural Premier League title.
The title ended their 26 year drought without an English title.
After a shortage of goals in the second half of the previous season had cost United the league title, Alex Ferguson had realized the importance of a quality striker.
The biggest name he had been looking to bring in was Alan Shearer.
Shearer had established himself as a phenomenal talent at Southampton, and Ferguson's hope of signing him was kindled when Ian Branfoot, then manager of Southampton, announced that Shearer was up for sale given the right price.
Nevertheless, Ferguson was able to sign a precocious French Player by the name of Eric Cantona from Leeds United.
Cantona's arrival gave United a huge boost, and he served as the catalyst for United's triumph.
In one of the most exciting games of the season, United fought back from being three goals down to clinch a draw, moving them five points behind leaders Norwich City and two points behind second place Blackburn; Brian McClair scored twice while Cantona scored once.
The season also saw the debuts of two of United key figures in David Beckham and Gary Neville.
By end of May, rumors were circulating that Alex Ferguson was in the lookout for stalwart Roy Keane.
18. 1993-94 Season: Roy Keane Arrives
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On 22 July, Republic of Ireland and Notingham Forest midfielder, Roy Keane completed his move to Manchester United for an English record fee of £3.75million.
With Keane in mdifield and Cantona in front, United led the Premier League table from the fourth game onwards, and ended up winning the league by eight points over nearest rivals Blackburn Rovers.
Alex Ferguson also guided United to the FA Cup thereby being only the forth club to win a double in the 20th century.
United could have won a historic treble had they not lost 3-1 against Aston Villa in the League Cup final.
On a sadder note, the season also marked the tragic death of one of United's heroes, Sir Matt Busby, who passed away at the age of 84.
Everton fans displayed an exemplary behavior during the minutes of silence observed for Sir Matt Busby during the Everton and Manchester United game that kicked off 48 hours after Busby's death.
17. 1994-95 Season: Kung-Fu Cantona
The season was a disappointment in all forms, as United failed to win any silverware this season.
United lost the title on the very last day of the season. Although Blackburn Rovers had lost to Liverpool, Ferguson's men could only salvage a draw against West Ham United.
The misery compounded as United also lost out on the FA Cup, losing the final against Everton.
Meanwhile, in the European stage, they bowed out early in the Champions League.
However, the highlight, or the "lowlight" of the season was Eric Cantona's disturbing behavior in a match against Crystal Palace.
As a result of racial abuse from Crystal Palace fan, Matthew Simmons, Cantona launched a Kung-Fu kick at the hapless supporter and was subsequently banned for eight months.
In a press conference shortly thereafter, Cantona uttered what is perhaps his most famous quotation: "When the seagulls follow the trawler, it's because they think sardines will be thrown into the sea. Thank you very much."
To add insult to injury, Paul Ince was lured away by Inter Milan. Eric Cantona was also being lured, but Ferguson managed to persuade him to stay with United.
Ferguson also sold off Mark Hughes and Andrei Kanchelskis much to the dismay of everyone. Therefore, he was heavily criticized in the summer of 1995 by the United faithful.
16. 1995-96 Season: Kevin Keegan Rant
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Eric Cantona returned from his suspension at the beginning of October and guided his team to a historic double; United won the FA Cup and the Premier League.
Often times, United won a string of games by 1-0, with Cantona being the lone goal scorer.
Cantona finished the season as the club's top goalscorer, with 19 goals in all competitions, and also won the FWA Player of the Year award.
Ferguson's team became the first team to accomplish the feat of winning the double twice.
This feat was even more remarkable given the fact that he had sold off many seasoned veterans like Paul Ince, Mark Hughes and Andrei Kanchelskis and had not signed anyone.
15. 1996-97 Season: The Baby Faced Assassin's Arrival
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Alex Ferguson managed to make a new signing, in that of Ole Gunnar Solskjær who seemingly lighted up the entire Premier League with his arrival.
The baby-faced assassin scored 19 goals in all competitions, making him the club's top goal scorer.
The same year, another of Fergie's fledglings, David Beckham clinched the PFA Young Player of the Year Award.
Ferguson guided United to another title, this time with 75 points.
United also reached the European Cup (UEFA Champions League) semi-finals, bowing out to eventual winners Borussia Dortmund, after losing both legs 1–0.
However, the season included a bitter blow for Alex Ferguson, as Eric Cantona announced a shock retirement.
31-year-old Teddy Sheringham was signed as a replacement for the departed Cantona.
14. 1997-98 Season: A Total Collapse
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The 1997-98 season saw Manchester United achieving an unassailable lead of 11 points in the Premiership; they had managed to gain 22 points out of a possible 33 over the winter.
However, a slow collapse started.
Arsenal sealed a 1–0 win against Wimbledon to close the gap on United and set up a frantic contest between the top two.
Ferguson hinted that a win over Arsenal would effectively clinch the title; however, after more than an hour of deadlock, Arsenal managed to win after Marc Overmars latched onto a Nicholas Anelka header to put the ball on the back of the net.
Arsenal were six points behind with three games at hand.
On Good Friday, Liverpool frustrated the league leaders with a draw, and another draw at Newcastle meant that Arsenal were at the top of the table.
And by the time United faced off for their final home game of the season, Arsenal won against Everton, completing a run of nine straight league victories to bring the title to North London.
Arsene Wenger went on to win the FA Cup, thereby completing an impossible double and setting up a rivalry that would last for years to come.
13. 1998-99 Season: And Solskjær Has Won It
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The 1998–99 season was the most successful in the history of Manchester United.
By the end of the season, Alex Ferguson had inspired the Red Devils to a historic treble, the Premier League, FA Cup and UEFA Champions League. It was the first time that an English club had ever achieved this feat.
However, it was not easy.
The Champions League witnessed a series of comebacks by Manchester United.
Roy Keane, after obtaining a yellow card which would bar him from the final, put in a captain's performance ensuring that United overcame the two goal deficit incurred.
Goals from Keane, Dwight Yorke and Cole meant United were headed to the Camp Nou for final.
The 1999 Champions League final gave way to dramatic finish with Manchester United coming back in injury time to defeat Bayern Munich who had led the game the whole night through.
12. 1999-00: Goal-Keeping Nightmares
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With the departure of Peter Schmeichel, Sir Alex had been looking for a quality replacement.
Mark Bosnich, who had been the reserve keeper form 1989 to 1991, returned to the club as Schmeichel's successor but never came close to the Great Dane.
Italian Massimo Taibi was signed by Sir Alex to provide some competition for Bosnich. However, some high profile mistakes from the Italian meant that he packed himself and went back after only five games.
Fabian Barthez, after having caught the eyes of all of Europe's top clubs after a phenomenal World Cup in 1998 and an equally impressive Euro, was signed by Sir Alex Ferguson for £7.8 million in 2000.
At United, Barthez was united with French teammate Laurent Blanc.
A quite brilliant season from Barthez saw him making quite noteworthy saves, and he ensured that United successfully defend their crown.
Manchester United won the title for a record sixth time in eight seasons.
11. 2000-01 Season: Sheringham Shines
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The 2000-01 season was another highly successful season for Alex Ferguson. He led United to their third successive premier league title, a record breaking seventh time since 1993.
Newer signings Fabien Barthez and Teddy Sheringham both excelled, with the latter winning, both the highly coveted, PFA and FWA player of the year.
However, United were less successful in cup competitions.
They were knocked out in the fourth round of both the League Cup and the FA Cup. In the Champions League, they only managed to proceed to the quarterfinals.
Sir Alex was, nonetheless, able to make an astute signing in the Dutch striker Ruud van Nistelrooy; but, this prompted Teddy Sheringham to leave for Tottenham on a free transfer.
10. 2001-02 Season: Retirement?
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Before the season had started, Sir Alex had announced plans to retire, and United had already started seeking successors.
However, a dismal run of form from November to early December meant that United struggled all season long and ended the season on quite a low note.
In the aforementioned time frame, United suffered five defeats in seven league games. This included three defeats in a row against Arsenal, Chelsea and West Ham United in December.
United finished 10 points shy of winner Arsenal, and seven points behind second place Liverpool.
Disappointment followed in the Champions League as well. After putting in an impressive performance throughout the tournament, they bowed out to Bayer Leverkusen on away goals.
The wretched form of Manchester United coupled with his failure to win the Champions League in his home town of Glasgow could have caused Fergie to go back on his decision.
On a positive note, Ruud van Nistelrooy, whom Sir Alex had brought in for £19 million, had a splendid season, winning the PFA Player of the Year Award.
But, £28.1 million national record signing Juan Sebastian Veron failed on all fronts.
9. 2002-03 Season: New Contract
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After finishing in their lowest position since the inception of the Premier League, Sir Alex Ferguson decided to put off his retirement and signed a new three year contract.
He brought in Rio Ferdinand at a record transfer fee for a defender to bolster his defence.
Yet, results were hard to come by, and as autumn rolled by, United were in 10th place; they lost to Bolton Wanderers, Leeds United in September and to Manchester City in November.
However, an emphatic win over Newcastle in which van Nistelrooy scored a hat-trick, started a run of wins, most notably against Liverpool and Arsenal.
Consecutive losses to Blackburn and Middlesbrough meant the title was slipping away from them.
On 15 February 2003, after an FA Cup fifth-round defeat at the hands of Arsenal, Sir Alex's changing-room rage had spilled over, and David Beckham came out of the tunnel with stitches in his eyes.
Nonetheless, United regrouped and showed great resilience and did not lose a single match after New Years. They closed down an 8-point gap against Arsenal from March and claimed the Premier League title.
8. 2003-04 Season: The Invincibles
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They did manage to win the FA Cup, but star defender Rio Ferdinand was banned for eight months for missing a drugs test.
Furthermore, most of his signings, with the exception of Cristiano Ronaldo, flopped.
And their arch-nemesis, Arsenal, went the entire season unbeaten and clinched the Premier League title. Chelsea came in second.
On the European front, a last minute goal from Porto ended their hopes of another Champions League glory.
The season would also mark Sir Alex severing ties with the BBC, after company aired a controversial documentary entitled "Father and Son", which portrayed his son, Jason Ferguson as someone who exploited his father's influence and position in the transfer market to suit his own ends.
7. 2004-05 Season: Trophy-Less
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The 2004-05 season was a dismal season by United’s standards.
Sir Alex brought in Wayne Rooney to perhaps end Arsenal’s run and give them the competitive edge over Chelsea.
Although Rooney did win the PFA Player of the Year Award, United finished a lowly third in the table behind runners-up Arsenal and champions Chelsea.
Milan ended their Champions Leagues hopes, while Chelsea knocked them out of the League Cup.
Their last chance at silverware was the FA Cup. However, it was not to be, as Paul Scholes missed his penalty in the shoot-out against Arsenal handing the latter the trophy.
6. 2005-06 Season: Shock Exit
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The 2005-06 season was also a disappointment for Sir Alex Ferguson, as he only managed to guide United to a League Cup, but failed disastrously in other competitions.
Perhaps United’s biggest blow was being knocked out of the Champions League in the group stages, their first time since the 1993-94 season. United finished dead last behind Villarreal, Benfica and Lille.
In their six games in the Champions League, United managed to score only three times and win once.
Disappointing news followed since the inception of the new season, as Roy Keane left United for his boyhood club, Celtic.
Keane's outburst of MUTV about certain players after the 4-1 defeat at Middlesborough might have been the catalyst for his exit; two weeks after the outburst Keane leaves.
Sir Alex has always been a strict disciplinarian and such behavior was quickly reprimanded by him.
Chelsea also began their meteoric rise under Jose Mourinho and won the Premier League.
United’s defeat to Chelsea by three goals to nil at Stamford Bridge plunged all hopes of United claiming the Premier League title.
5. 2006-07 Season: Return to Form
After three years without the Premier League title, United finally laid hands to one in the 2006-07 season.
They finished atop, six points over Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea.
Sir Alex’s men were dominant in the season, with eight players earning spots in the PFA Team of the Year, while Cristiano Ronaldo picked up eight individual awards for himself.
Sir Alex also won the Manager of the Season.
However, United did concede the FA Cup to Chelsea, and despite reaching the semi-finals of the Champions League, AC Milan knocked them out again.
Having won 3-2 at Old Trafford, United crumbled at the San Siro losing by three goals to nil to Milan.
4. 2007-08 Season: Champions League Success
The 2007-08 season was a hugely successful one for Sir Alex Ferguson and Manchester United.
They won the title on the last day, defeating Wigan Athletic by two goals to nil. Chelsea drew at Bolton Wanderers meaning that United laid hands on the trophy by a two point margin.
Manchester United also proceeded to the Champions League final after a hard fought clash with Barcelona. Only Chelsea remained between them and the coveted prize.
United started the final in dominating fashion, and they took the lead in the 26th minute through a Cristiano Ronaldo header.
However, Chelsea equalized before the end of the first half, as Frank Lampard scored.
In the second half, an altercation between John Terry and Carlos Tevez ensued, and Didier Drogba got involved. Drogba slapped United’s defender Nemanja Vidic and was bluntly sent-off.
Despite the one man advantage, United failed to capitalize and the game went to penalties. Shockingly, Cristaino Ronaldo missed, and it was down to Chelsea captain John Terry to give Chelsea their first ever Champions League honours.
But, John Terry slipped and struck his shot to the post.
Ryan Giggs scored the seventh penalty in sudden death, while Nicholas Anelka missed and gave Sir Alex Ferguson his second Champions League trophy.
3. 2008-09 Season: United Join the Kops at the Porch
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Sir Alex guided Manchester United to their third consecutive Premier League titles after seeing off a goalless draw at the Emirates on 16 May 2009.
This made Sir Alex Ferguson’s team the first ever team to win three consecutive top-flight titles on two separate occasions.
Sir Alex also aimed to retain the Champions League trophy as the team proceeded to the finals after knocking-out Inter, Porto and Arsenal.
Their rivals this time were Barcelona, whom they had knocked out of the semi-finals in 2008.
However, Barcelona outclassed and outperformed Manchester United, completely dominating the game from start to finish.
Sir Alex also let Cristiano Ronaldo to join Real Madrid, but pocketed a cool £80 million.
2. 2009-10 Season: Bayern’s Vengeance
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The season did not go as expected for United, who had garnered hopes of gaining their 19th title and going ahead of Liverpool.
Chelsea beat them to the title by a single point.
The team did win the League Cup, thereby becoming the first team since Nottingham Forest in 1990 to successfully defend the League Cup.
However, it was in the Champions League that Sir Alex faced the biggest disappointment. Having topped the group and beaten AC Milan in emphatic fashion, United faced Bayern Munich.
In the second leg, United scored three goals in the first half making a Bayern Munich comeback almost implausible.
Nevertheless, Bayern Munich came back, with Arjen Robben volleying Bayern’s second goal home and taking Bayern to the semi-finals (and eventually finals) on away goals rule.
1. 2010-11 Season: 19
19 December, 2010 signified the date when Sir Alex Ferguson became the longest serving manager in Manchester United’s history, overtaking Sir Matt Busby’s record of 24 years, 1 month and 13 days in charge of the club.
The year was hugely successful for Sir Alex Ferguson as he led United to their 19th title, and effectively knocked Liverpool off their perch.
They were also quite successful in the Champions League having made their way to the finals.
But, they faced Barcelona yet again, who were in the peak of their form. Manchester United were outclassed again by the same team that had given them a thrashing two year back.
2011-12 Season: Sir Alex Ferguson Stand
On 5 November, 2011 the Old Trafford North Stand was officially renamed the Sir Alex Ferguson Stand in honour of his 25 years as manager of Manchester United.
However, as seasons go, this has been quite a disappointing season thus far.
Although, they are in a good standings now in the league, they have already bowed out of all competitions.
They lost unceremoniously to Basel and were knocked out of the Champions League group stages.
Furthermore, this season has laid witness to a 6-1 humbling at the hands of Manchester City who have performed brilliantly throughout the season.
We’ll have to wait and see how the season pans out, but don’t be surprised if the title goes to City or even Tottenham.
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After being on the verge of dismissal in December 1989, Sir Alex Ferguson has come a long way.
Numerous honors, from countless league titles to his knighthood, have been bestowed upon him.
During his time, he has adopted the philosophy that no player is bigger than the club and thus been able to keep high-profile players in check with his harsh measures.
And as he moves closer to retirement, supporters like us can only hope that we can find an adequate replacement.
Bonus: Sir Alex's Five Best Signings and Five Worst and Ideal Starting XI
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5. Cristiano Ronaldo 4. Wayne Rooney 3. Peter Schmeichel 2. Eric Cantona 1. Roy Keane
5. Eric Djemba-Djemba 4. Ralph Milne 3. Kleberson 2. Massimo Taibi 1. Juan Sebastian-Veron
Ideal Starting XI
Peter Schmeichel, Gary Neville, Nemanja Vidic, Rio Ferdinand, Patrice Evra, Cristiano Ronaldo, Roy Keane, Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs, Eric Cantona, Wayne Rooney