Picking a Best XI of Ex-Manchester United Stars Who Are Still Playing

Nick Akerman@NakermanFeatured ColumnistJune 20, 2013

Picking a Best XI of Ex-Manchester United Stars Who Are Still Playing

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    Plenty of undeniable talent has left Manchester United over the years. While the current squad recently captured the 2012/13 Premier League title, how does a lineup of ex-United stars fare against the real team?

    Only one rule must be taken into consideration for this one: all players included must still be representing a professional club. Sorry Mr Beckham, that means you're out.

    Is your favourite ex-United star included? Read on to find out.

GK: Ben Foster

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    Signed in 2005, Ben Foster really did possess the potential to be Manchester United's no.1 after Edwin Van der Sar called it a day.

    Unfortunately, the English stopper could never put together a consistent run of form between the Old Trafford sticks. He was loaned to Watford between 2005/07, and upon his return, was forced to undergo cruciate knee ligament surgery.

    Foster had to do battle with Tomas Kuszczak for a place on the United bench. With Van der Sar injured, Sir Alex Ferguson continuously flitted between the two reserve stoppers, giving both time to impress.

    Although Foster appeared in Premier League and Champions League fixtures, his best performance came in the 2009 League Cup final against Tottenham. He saved Jamie O'Hara's penalty in the deciding shootout, capturing silverware for United.

    Unfortunately for the keeper, this was as good as it got. Major mistakes during the 2009/10 season saw him heavily criticised. Ferguson's patience eventually ran out, and in 2010, Foster made his way to Birmingham City.

    Since leaving, Foster has established himself as one of England's best keepers. He produced an excellent 2012/13 season with West Brom and continues to hover around the international setup.

LCB: Gabriel Heinze

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    Before speaking about Gabriel Heinze, a disclaimer is needed: I couldn't bring myself to include Danny Simpson in this best XI, so this formation will start with three at the back.

    Phew, now back to Heinze.

    United's old Argentinian defender isn't remembered too fondly at Old Trafford. Although he performed well for the Red Devils, his decision to demand a transfer to Liverpool soured any rapport he had with the fans. Despite admitting he regrets how his United tenure came to an end, Heinze experienced a fiery reception when he returned with Marseille in 2011.

    Heinze comfortably fits in as the left-sided centre-back in this defensive three. Now playing for Newell's Old Boys in Argentina, he slots in ahead of John O'Shea after recently capturing the domestic championship in his native land.

CB: Gerard Pique

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    It's difficult to comprehend Manchester United ever letting Gerard Pique stay.

    His emergence as a Barcelona world-beater is stored in the history books, as is the efficiency of Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic's centre-back partnership for United. Both occurrences needn't change, but it is extremely interesting to consider what would have happened if Pique remained in England.

    The Spaniard is undoubtedly one of the top talents United have ever let go. Despite a lack of quality across the past year, Pique remains an integral part of Barcelona and Spain's success.

    He props the defensive trio up and should be considered one of the team's natural leaders.

RCB: Ryan Shawcross

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    Ryan Shawcross never played a senior game for Manchester United.

    Rumours at the end of 2012 suggested he could return, but the Englishman will be difficult to lure from his Stoke City captaincy. He is powerful, offers a crunching tackle and can dominate opposition in the air.

    Shawcross fits in next to Pique, offering another physical presence to the right-side of defence. He isn't the most mobile of defenders, so expect plenty of help from the upcoming midfield selection.

LM: Zoran Tosic

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    Zoran Tosic recently stated he regrets leaving Manchester United.

    Since departing, Tosic has helped CSKA Moscow to a Russian Premier League title win and two cup triumphs, suggesting he could have been an exciting addition to United's ranks if he remained at the club.

    The 26-year-old is a precise passer of the ball and can deliver a fine set-piece. Although not the quickest winger, his distribution and control would enable this team to retain possession in wide areas. That's more than Ashley Young and Nani do, right?

CM: Paul Pogba

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    Sir Alex Ferguson may regret letting Paul Pogba go. The Frenchman plays a vital role in a Juventus midfield who romped to Serie A victory this year.

    He continues to improve and could be one of the world's top performers in a few years. The towering 20-year-old has more than a little bit of Patrick Viera about him, offering support in attacking positions and covering defence when needed.

    Considering this lineup starts with three defenders, his versatility galvanises a back-line that may be stretched against opposition who use the wings.

CM: Darron Gibson

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    Manchester United never saw the best of Darron Gibson.

    The Irish midfielder is smart on the ball, determined to win possession and has the ability to score piledriver goals. Despite rarely showing this in a red shirt, he excelled under the tutelage of David Moyes at Everton.

    Lining up alongside Pogba as a central midfielder, Gibson would patrol the halfway line, much like Michael Carrick does for the current United team. He could act as a pivot in the centre of the pitch, spraying possession out wide for attackers who all flaunt individual flair.

RM: Park Ji-Sung

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    Playing three in defence doesn't matter when you have Ji-Sung Park in your side.

    The former Manchester United workhorse's endless energy and willingness to battle endeared him to the Old Trafford crowd during his seven-year spell with the club.

    Although starting on the right flank, Park would be everywhere. Alongside two defensively capable midfielders, his inclusion justifies the decision to include three at the back, as support across the entire pitch is guaranteed.

LF: Cristiano Ronaldo

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    Never heard of him.

ST: Carlos Tevez

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    Carlos Tevez is successful wherever he plays.

    United fans will fondly remember his ability to win games alongside Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney, while Manchester City followers will recollect his time playing with Sergio Aguero.

    The Argentinian machine heads up a ridiculously strong attack. Playing in the middle, Tevez's movement and willingness to cover huge distance also allows Ronaldo to float between positions from the left. He is a proven goalscorer at all levels of the game, and deep down, many United fans still wish he never headed to the Etihad.

RF: Diego Forlan

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    Diego Forlan didn't enjoy the best of times at Manchester United.

    It was over a decade ago he downed Liverpool with two goals at Anfield. Other than this, the Uruguayan's career didn't rise to prominence until he joined Villarreal in 2004. Representing Atletico Madrid, Inter Milan and Internacional since then, numerous team honours and personal accolades have followed.

    In his old age, Forlan has played numerous games on the right of Internacional's offence. Although he naturally drifts towards the middle, this perfectly suits a lineup made up of ex-United players who are still taking to the pitch.

Recap and Tactical Notes

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    So, with the lineup confirmed, tactical decisions need to be made.

    With three narrow centre-backs, it's pivotal Pogba and Gibson remain defensively minded. The Juventus destroyer would drop just in front of Pique when United need to soak up pressure, allowing Gibson to maintain space on the halfway line.

    In moments that force Heinze and Shawcross wide, the positioning of both central midfielders would stop the team falling apart. Park would also be expected to offer a defensive presence down the right side and drift towards the middle when United attack.

    Tevez has a special role to fill. Once again, when United are under the cosh, he would drop deeper to help shift some of the workload. With Ronaldo and Forlan remaining ahead, Tevez would form a speedy link between the midfield and attack.

    Who would you include in an Ex-Manchester United Best XI? Remember, each player must still be active! Let me know in the comments section below and fire words at my Twitter account right here: