Manchester United: Picking a Combined 1999 and 2013 Best XI

Terry CarrollContributor IIIMarch 1, 2013

Manchester United: Picking a Combined 1999 and 2013 Best XI

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    This week's hot debate is about whether Sir Alex Ferguson's Manchester United in 2013 are stronger than in the treble-winning year of 1999.

    Some people appear to have misunderstood his comments in last week's pre-match press conference as suggesting that the team is stronger. What he actually said is that the squad is stronger. 

    He gave as an example that, with Roy Keane and Paul Scholes missing from the Champions League Final, he had to draft in Jonathan Greening, who had only played a couple of games.

    In stark contrast, with almost everybody fit, he has quite the opposite problem this year having to shoe-horn 25 or more internationals into his first team.

    He did of course rotate in 1999 as well as now. It has been one of the hallmarks of his management style. The primary dividend is probably the fittest squad in the Premier League in the second half of the season.

    Our contention is that while he undoubtedly has a stronger squad in depth going for a possible Treble this year, the team in 1999 was stronger when fully fit and available.

    So today's bit of fun is to pick the best combined team from the two seasons. No two people will agree on this, so we'll spice it up with seven substitutes as well (even though only five were allowed in 1999).

Goalkeeper

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    While this one is possibly the easiest of them all, it might not be so in as little as five years' time.

    For most people Peter Schmeichel is undoubtedly the best keeper ever to play for Manchester United. Edwin van der Sar would have come a close second but like Cristiano Ronaldo, of course, fell into the "in-between years" when United won another Champions' League.

    In a way it is a pity we aren't picking a combination of all three, but few would have made it from 2008 other than those who were already there in 1999 or 2013 anyhow.

    While the jury is still out for some, a growing majority is seeing David De Gea as the latest in a triumvirate of great United keepers.

    But for the time being the choice is:

    Peter Schmeichel

Defence

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    Maybe Sir Alex Ferguson made one of his biggest mistakes in letting Jaap Stam go. He was part of the bedrock of United's treble success in 1999.

    Indeed the team we shall assemble here would match any in the history of the club. We have the luxury, for example, of including at least four of "Fergie's Fledglings" who "would never win anything..."

    Right Back - Gary Neville

    Gary Neville was never blessed with the great technical skill of a Brazilian but he made up for it with grit, determination, drive and an uncompromising tackle.

    No doubt a few Italian clubs would have fancied him if he could have been prised away.

    In any great team you need an outstanding captain of course and there is no surprise in this article. But you'll have to wait for that.

    But you also need leaders and "talkers" across the pitch. We have included at least six in our selection here.

    Gary Neville was one of the best. He wore his heart on his sleeve and will undoubtedly become a great manager and motivator, maybe even for England, if not Manchester United.

    Centre Back - Jaap Stam

    What more can you say? Only three seasons and 80 appearances for Manchester United; 50 of those were in the Treble winning season.

    Whether it was his book or that Fergie thought he had the best of him, it was a mistake to sell him, even for £15 million. Stam went on to play for a further six seasons in Italy.

    Centre Back - Nemanja Vidic

    Is Vidic the modern day Jaap Stam? 

    He is uncompromising in defence and actually should score more goals as his frustrating miss against QPR showed.

    Like John Terry he is not blessed with lightning pace, but he reads the game well and is very difficult to get past. There are few better or more fearless headers of the ball in the world.

    It is to be hoped that he will regain his full fitness because he has some of the qualities of the great centre backs of all time and like great wine seems to be maturing with age.

    Left Back - Denis Irwin

    If Sir Alex could choose just two players to augment his 2013 squad to win the Champions League, Denis would surely be one.

    Arguably the greatest left back United have ever had, he quietly and professionally went about his job. Every bit as effective in attack as Patrice Evra, he leaves the Frenchman standing as a defender.

    And Denis took penalties and free kicks as well.

    Sorry Pat. No contest.

Midfield

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    It may come as no surprise to many of you that the midfield is a blanket choice.

    In Manchester United's traditional 4-4-2 formation, we have picked the entire middle line from 1999.

    Wide right - David Beckham

    Has there ever been a better crosser of the ball in the game? One of the things that characterises Beckham and sets him ahead of most wide players is his ability to hit his crosses early.

    Antonio Valencia at his best will run past defenders and cross from the dead ball line (which of course Beckham could do as well...except the running past defenders bit...). But Beckham could hit a 60 yard pass from inside his own half that would land on a sixpence in front of the strikers.

    For those who don't rate him, consider that he is now 37 and has just joined his third European class team. 

    He went to Real Madrid on merit and became one of their best loved players. He may also be one of the most accomplished players to grace the MLS and not be past his "sell-by date."

    Centre midfield and captain - Roy Keane

    Oh if only Sir Alex had Roy Keane in his prime right now.

    There may have been differences between the two, but nobody could deny Keano his leadership qualities (until he lost his grace and publicly criticised his team-mates shortly before leaving United).

    He was the archetypical "box-to-box" midfielder. He could tackle, distribute, score goals and organise.

    Who could ever forget his utterly unselfish performance in the semi-final against Juventus that drove United into the third leg of an unforgettable (and unrepeatable?) Treble?

    Centre midfield - Paul Scholes

    While Paul played much of the early part of his career as a No.10, we have included him here in central midfield as the "playmaker."

    Nobody could hit a pass better than Paul; at his best he never gave the ball away either and could be relied on for up to 20 goals in a season. Between 1995 and 2007 he only had two seasons where he scored less than 10 goals.

    So far he has 713 games and 155 goals for Manchester United in 20 consecutive seasons. How much he adds to that will depend on his own decision whether to renew his contract next year.

    Wide left - Ryan Giggs

    What more can you say? Some time in the next few weeks Ryan will pass 1,000 first class appearances, including internationals and the Olympics.

    No doubt he will accept a contract for another season after this, during which he could pass 1,000 games for United. He could also score in his 24th consecutive Premier League season.

    While some were beginning to write him off earlier this season he is having yet another renaissance and once again scoring critical goals.

    He will be 40 in November but remains one of the few players in the Premier League who are able to terrorise opposition defences. 

Attack

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    While Dwight Yorke and Andy Cole were a great combination, Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie may yet turn out to be Manchester United's best ever.

    They are both intelligent in a footballing and a general sense. One has been a captain and the other could yet be.

    Striker - Wayne Rooney

    Of course Wayne is already a United legend, despite threatening to leave a couple of years ago.

    A number of things have endeared him to United fans and allowed him to be forgiven his earlier errors of judgement.

    Apart from his ability to rattle defences and the opposition paying him the respect of often double or triple marking him, it is his ubiquitous ability across and up and down the pitch that has become his greatest asset.

    To call him a utility player would be an insult. The fact is that,like the great Duncan Edwards, Rooney has made himself into the complete footballer.

    His willingness to start wherever the manager picks him and play anywhere he sees the need gives Sir Alex so many different tactical options.

    For example, people wondered how SirAlex could accommodate four strikers. Answer? Chicharito up top; Van Persie "in the hole"; Welbeck on the left and Rooney on the right. And then allow them to alternate.

    Perhaps Rooney's all-round talent was best exemplified in the year after Cristiano Ronaldo left Manchester United.

    Asked to play mainly as an "out and out striker" he managed to score no less than 34 goals in 44 games including many with his head.

    While he will not eclipse Ryan Giggs' appearance statistics he will surely surpass Paul Scholes before his time at United is done. 

    He will surely also set a new record for England caps for an outfield player. One day he may captain his country, if not United.

    Striker - Robin van Persie

    The quality of the players behind them would allow United to play two strikers in this team. One of the main reasons is the flexibility and adaptability of both players.

    While Van Persie is more left-footed and Rooney more right, they are both genuinely two-footed. Both also like to drift out to the wings, swap sides and attack from deep.

    Surely few would argue against Van Persie being one of the top handful of strikers in the world in the last two seasons. If anything he has improved further at United.

    His contributions this season have been absolutely critical and if United win the Premier League, let alone a Treble, he will be the key difference.

    No wonder Mancini is moaning.

Substitutes

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    Choosing the substitutes is almost harder than the team itself.

    A couple of them pick themselves for obvious reasons, but otherwise we have gone for flexibility. We are also assuming United are going all out to win the match.

    David de Gea is an easy choice as keeper ahead of Raimond van der Gouw.

    Rio Ferdinand is one of the classiest defenders Manchester United and indeed England have ever had. He and Nemanja Vidic are the best centre-back partnership ever.

    Phil Neville is probably one of United's most underrated players. Was Sir Alex in error in letting him go to Everton, where he has not only made captain but gone on to play another 302 matches, surviving well after his brother?

    He gets the nod here ahead of Nicky Butt because of his ability to play left back, right back or defensive midfield. One day Phil Jones may be the choice instead.

    Antonio Valencia is similarly chosen because of his defensive qualities.

    Nani is selected because on his best form he is one of the most dangerous attacking players in the world. Let's hope we consistently see the best of him some time soon, starting against Real Madrid.

    Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Chicharito are chosen ahead of Andy Cole and Dwight Yorke simply because they are both "super-subs", able to come on, score a goal and change a game. Solskjaer can also play out wide.

    No doubt you will have your own views, so who would you pick in a combined 1999 and 2013 team?