Picking an Ex-Manchester United XI That Would Beat the Current Bunch
Manchester United's season has been an almost unmitigated disaster. There is plenty of room for debate about where the fault lies, and my personal take on it is that the playing squad is actually in much better shape than the league position would suggest.
After all, these players were the the champions of England last season, and they have seen Juan Mata and Marouane Fellaini added to the ranks. Admittedly, one of those may be more of a boon than the other.
However, this season has proved United fallible.
Given this fallibility, is there an XI that could be constructed of ex-United players still playing for other clubs, which would be capable of beating the current crop?
Of course, now that Ryan Giggs is manager, almost certainly not. If I know anything about football, a 4-0 win against Norwich City means we'll never lose again.
It would probably be close, given that United's weakest link this season was not a member of the playing staff and is no longer part of the equation, and Ex-Reds FC—as we shall call them—aren't without weaknesses.
However, lining up in a 4-2-4 / 4-2-3-1 hybrid to accommodate the range of attacking talent available to them, they also have one not-so-secret weapon.
Tim Howard is a fine choice for goalkeeper in an Ex-Reds XI.
The Everton stopper certainly would not oust David de Gea from United's first team, but he stands head and shoulders above the competition for the role of best-former-United-'keeper still playing.
A mostly safe pair of hands, with excellent agility and reactions, Howard may not have been cut out for the very top level, but he is unlikely to let the side down.
Now on to a former United player whose name is sung at almost every game.
Of course "Sheasy" has to be in this XI, because when he goes marching down the wing, we all know that Johnny will score a goal.
Like the 'keeper position, there aren't too many options available for the Ex-Reds at right-back, and O'Shea is the best of the bunch.
As with O'Shea, Wesley Brown is still loved at Old Trafford, and is a player whose song will be sung for many years to come.
He is also, genuinely, a defender of the very top class. Had he not been so unfortunate with injury it is unlikely he would have left Old Trafford, and there have been many occasions since he left when United would have loved to have Brown in the side.
A technically gifted, brave and physically imposing defender, Brown makes an excellent choice at centre-half.
Perhaps this is cheating, but Nemanja Vidic is effectively an ex-red. He has signed for Inter Milan and will be leaving to join them at the end of this season.
Given that he has made himself available for selection for Ex-Reds FC, Vidic will captain the side from the heart of defence.
Vidic's many qualities as a defender are well known to United fans. He certainly appears to have lost some pace, but he and Brown would be intelligent enough to make life difficult for United's strikers.
A moment of honesty. I have not seen much (any) of Newell's Old Boys this season, but Gabriel Heinze earns his place in this side by virtue of the fact that he is still playing regularly and therefore probably better than Fabio Da Silva—the only other realistic option.
Heinze did an excellent job at United, and it was a surprise when he was let go so soon after the arrival of Patrice Evra—though he did commit the unforgivable sin of trying to force through a move to Liverpool.
The back five is probably the weakest spot in Ex-Reds FC, and the addition of Nemanja Vidic to the ranks was a significant boon. However, United may struggle to take advantage of the defensive frailties, particularly lack of pace, because possession will be hard to come by up against the Ex-Reds midfield.
The one that got away.
Paul Pogba has had a wonderful season at Juventus, and would have been an enormous asset to United. He is probably a better player and has certainly had a better season than any of United's current options in the centre of midfield.
Pogba has an excellent range of passing, an eye for goal and is difficult to get off the ball. United would have been very well served to hold on to him, and he would hurt them from the heart of the Ex-Reds XI.
Ravel Morrison is the other one that got away, although the circumstances of his departure were different. After initially impressing at West Ham, he was loaned to Queens Park Rangers for the latter part of the season.
He has done excellently, winning the Championship Player of the Month award for March.
Linking up with his old youth-team accomplice Pogba, Morrison would provide flair and creativity in the centre of the park, something United are sorely lacking.
Altogether now: ”Booooooooooooooooo!”
Carlos Tevez would be the player in the side who would receive the frostiest reception from the Old Trafford crowd, with only his compatriot Heinze close to competing for that dubious honour.
However unpopular he may be, the Juventus forward is an excellent player and caused trouble for United every time he faced them as a Manchester City player.
Fiercely energetic and combative, Tevez would cause problems for United's defence and create space for the other attackers, which one of them in particular would thrive on.
It is at this point that the Ex-Reds activate their cheat mode.
The Portuguese genius, fresh from his first Ballon D'Or since leaving United, would be the star man in the side.
It is virtually impossible to speak highly enough of Cristiano Ronaldo as a footballer. As long as you accept the fundamental limitations of the laws of physics, there is almost nothing he cannot do. It would be an enormous lift to the Ex-Reds to have him around, and the current reds would struggle to contain him.
Although not at his very best in the Champions League clash between United and Real Madrid last season, Ronaldo still made a telling contribution, scoring two of Madrid's three goals across the two legs.
He is, simply, one of the best footballers there has ever been.
Diego Forlan is another player past his prime, but could serve as a link between midfield and attack in this side.
He currently plies his trade at Cerezo Osaka in Japan, where he has five goals in nine appearances this season. While the level of his competition may have dropped, his output certainly has not.
"Joe Red" is currently at Fiorentina, where he is battling yet another serious injury. However, before his injury he was in superb form for the Viola, scoring 14 times in 19 appearances. He would play as the out-and-out striker in this team.
He is capable of doing a lot of damage on his own, and would certainly help to create space for his attacking colleagues.
It is not certain that this side would beat United, but with the creative talent on show they would, at the very least, be a lot of fun to watch.
And given that they've got Cristiano, you would have to make them favourites for this hypothetical game.
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