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Manchester United 2011: Are They Better Than the 1999 Team?

Lee ThorpeContributor IIIMay 1, 2011

Manchester United 2011: Are They Better Than the 1999 Team?

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    Ever since Cristiano Ronaldo departed Manchester for the sunny skies of Madrid, critics and supporters alike have been quick to suggest that this is the weakest team Manchester United have had during Sir Alex Fergusons tenure at the club.

    Last summer the calls for Ferguson to sign a world class player, most notably Wesley Sneider, grew louder. As the seasons kick off grew nearer it became obvious that there would be no big singings joining the club, Ferguson instead chose 2 unknowns to a lot of people and young player who had only just came into the big time with Fulham. They were Javier Hernandez, Bebe and Chris Smalling.

    Smalling and especially Hernandez have answered the call well. Chris has looked composed when he’s been called upon and I have a lot of faith of a good future for the youngster. Javier has so far scored an amazing 19 goals in all competitions and has recently kept their leading scorer, Berbatov, on the bench and he has got to be the buy of the season in the Premier League. Bebe on the other hand hasn’t had that much of a chance of yet, and a lot of fans are already calling him a flop from only the handful of times they have seen him play. I think it is unfair to expect every young player to instantly be a hit and not be allowed a chance to settle in, seeing as our league is one of the best in the world and it must be daunting for any young foreign player coming to our shores and try and win round the fans straight away, especially at a club like United so I will reserve my judgement on him.

    Everybody seemed to have an opinion.  Ferguson was losing it. No one wanted to play for United anymore. United couldn’t afford anyone of the highest calibre.

    Everybody soon became an expert on what was going on behind the scenes at Old Trafford and many people gleefully predicted yet another downfall for the Red Devils, especially when Rooney wanted to leave the club due to a lack of ambition.

    Yet here they are at the beginning of May one foot in the Champions League final and one hand on the Premiership, and if it wasn’t for Manchester City they could have been looking at the Treble yet again.

    So if this really is the worst team of Ferguson's reign then I don’t think their fans will be complaining very loud. For me the team from around the years 03-05 was a bit below United’s standards but to be fair that was a transitional period for the club.

    I thought I would see just how ‘bad’ this team was by comparing it to Ferguson's best side, the 1999 Treble winning team (Other Reds say the 1994 side was the best for Ferguson but for me it’s the Treble winning lot).

Goalkeeper: Peter Schmeichel vs. Edwin Van Der Sar

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    Two of the greatest goalkeepers of all time, and possibly the greatest to ever pull on the number one shirt for United.

    During Peter’s career at United he was definitely the best goalkeeper in the world, and arguably the best they ever had. He pulled off many famous saves for United and many times he saved three points from turning into one, and one turning into nothing. He holds the record for the greatest clean sheets-to-games ratio in the Premier League with 42% of the games he played in the league ending without his team conceding. He proved one of the greatest bargains of the century at £500 thousand and his finest moment for the Red Devils was captaining them to Champions League glory in his last game for the club.

    Edwin was also a great steal for the club at only £2 million. He has proved that he still is one of the best goalkeepers in the world even in the latter stages of his career. His penalty save against Anelka in the European Cup final will go down in Manchester folklore. It is a real shame that Edwin went to Juventus after Peter retired instead of coming to United six years earlier because what United lacked was a consistently dependable goalkeeper during those years.

    My Pick: Peter Schmeichel.  Edwin could have walked into most teams during his career but in my opinion no one had the presence like Schmeichel. His big contribution helped United get where they were in the 90’s and today.

Right Back: Gary Neville vs. Rafael

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    Mr. Dependable Gary Neville is Manchester United through and through.  I’m sure this man would have the United badge tattooed on his heart if he could and not only was he dedicated to the cause he was also a pretty handy player. Gary will go down as one of the best right backs in Premiership history and the treble season was one of his best seasons. Him and Beckham linking up down the right provided many goals and was a huge factor for the club's success that season.

    Rafael definitely has a great career ahead of him. The next Cafu? A great possibility if he carries on with the progression he has shown so far. A tremendous talent with a great attacking threat and he doesn’t forget his defensive duties as well, but he needs to keep his cool when tackling as he has already shown he can throw in the odd rash challenge.

    My Pick: Gary Neville.  He is a true legend at the club and before his injury was the best player at his position in the league. Rafael does have the potential to be a quality right back, but time will tell.

Centre Back: Jaap Stam vs. Nemanja Vidic

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    Two great big centre backs that would both go into any challenge against any opponent with 110% commitment. Many attackers who have played against either player would undoubtedly have walked or limped off the field with a wound.

    Stam cost United around £10 million which was a world record for a defender at the time and as strange as it may sound, the £10 million appeared as a bargain when you consider how much of an influential figure he was during his three years at the club. He only managed to score one goal for United, but he was actually alright with ball at his feet. During the treble season he was the best defender in Europe and his big physical presence was important to United’s success. His time at Old Trafford was short, but his impact will always be remembered.

    Nemanja is on course to be one of the greatest defenders in United’s history. Since his arrival from Spartak Moscow we have witnessed him to go on and become one of the world’s greatest defenders. Vidic’s greatest strength is his aerial dominance and that has also helped him score some goals too—17 in all competitions. He rarely puts a foot wrong and this season he has been immaculate. He could have won player of the year.

    My Pick: Nemanja Vidic.  A very hard choice.  Difficult to separate but I give the edge to Vidic just because he was slightly faster and scored more goals.  I’m sure everyone will have a different opinion on this one.

Centre Back: Ronny Johnsen vs. Rio Ferdinand

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    Ronny is the forgotten man of the treble team—a solid defender who rarely did anything wrong. It’s a shame that injury cut down his United career because people don’t realize just how good he was.

    Rio is another from this current team who has gone on to be one of the best in the world. Even though he’s edging towards the end of his career, United do miss him when he’s not on the pitch. He and Vidic have developed such a good partnership on the pitch, complimenting each other’s style. Not without his critics over the years, but Rio is one of the best ball playing defenders England have produced.

    My Pick: Rio Ferdinand. United will miss him when he retires, but Smalling is showing a lot of promise

Left Back: Dennis Irwin vs. Patrice Evra

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    Denis Irwin enjoyed a glittering career at Old Trafford, playing over 300 times for the club and winning a host of trophies. He was one of the most reliable players I have ever seen and was always one of the first names on the team sheet during his time there. He was always a true professional and stayed out of the lime light unlike most footballers. Did he ever have a bad game?

    Patrice is a very good attacking fullback who brings so much to the team. A lot like Irwin you could imagine him being one of the first names on the team sheet and he is also very reliable. A thing that I notice with Evra is that he genuinely seems to enjoy playing for the club. He has developed a strong bond with the United faithful.

    My Pick: Dennis Irwin. Already a United legend and perfect person to have on any team.

Right Wing: David Beckham vs. Antonio Valencia

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    In 1999 David Beckham was probably at his footballing best. The treble year brought the best out in him with so many crucial assists and passes. He was one of United’s main threats on their road to glory. After that season he finished second for European Player of the Year, showing just how important he was for United.

    Valencia has a task that no one would want. Fill Ronaldo’s boots. While most players would simply buckle under the pressure of that momentous task, Antonio seems to relish it, surprising most people and proving his doubters wrong. Rooney seemed to enjoy his crosses last season beating his own goal scoring record for goals in a season. Valencia suffered a leg break earlier this season which derailed his career progress but he now seems back to best, just lacking fitness a bit, but United missed him when he was out.

    My Pick: David Beckham. I personally think Valencia has more skill and will go on to be a great player for the club but Beckham at the time was simply untouchable at his position.

Centre Midfield: Paul Scholes (99) vs. Michael Carrick

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    In 1999 Paul Scholes was a tour de force. A box-to-box midfielder, he scored bagfuls of goals on the domestic, European and international stage. He hadn’t even reached his best footballing years but he was already proving himself as one of the most gifted young midfielders on the continent. It was a shame he had to miss the European Cup final due to suspension

    If ever a player’s career has steadily gone backwards then people must look at Carrick as the advocate. He arrived at Old Trafford as a no-frills, technically efficient young player. Five years later, and the most technical thing he can do is pass sideways or back. There’s a reason he’s never really had a sniff for England. It is time he is shown the door. Give Anderson a long run.

    My Pick: Paul Scholes.

Centre Midfield: Roy Keane vs. Darren Fletcher

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    Roy Keane is still a legend in the red half of Manchester and deservedly so. He is one of the most important players in the history of the club and one of the greatest captains the English league has seen. His ability to grab a game by the scruff off the neck and he often dragged United through some games. His goal against Juventus when United were 2-0 down after picking up a booking showed just what kind of captain he was.

    Fletcher is the opposite of Carrick for me. He has had his fair share of critics but he seemed to get his head down and work on his game and we all saw him turning into a good midfielder. It’s a shame he missed the 2009 final against Barcelona. He may or may not have made a difference, but he was on good form and United missed him. Not his best season this year, but I’m sure he’ll pick his game up next year when injury free.

    My Pick: Roy Keane. He can never been replaced.

Left Wing: Ryan Giggs (99) vs. Nani

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    Ryan had a really good season in 99 compared to the 97/98 year. When you think of the 99 year he is one player that springs to mind for that amazing solo goal against Arsenal in the FA Cup. Even in the European Cup final he played in an unfamiliar role on the right and he excelled. He is still going strong today and the end is still not in sight.

    If one player can have the Ronaldo effect then it’s Nani. Another truly gifted Portuguese winger with an array of tricks that can light up the game. During the last few years people have been frustrated with him, but he can be absolutely brilliant. Thankfully we have more brilliant instead of bad games from Nani these days. He has really improved his consistency, and could have won the PFA player of the year this season.

    My pick: Ryan Giggs. He was a real force in this era.

Striker: Dwight Yorke vs. Wayne Rooney

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    Yorke was a free scoring striker for Villa during the 90’s and in 1998 United broke their club record to bring him in for £12.6 million. He continued his scoring exploits for United and in his debut season he scored 30 goals in all competitions. A lot of his goals were important match winners for United and he was a key figure on the road to the treble.

    I think it’s obvious just how important Wayne is to United. He may not have been at his best all season but it looks like he is getting into form at just the right time. Hopefully his head is back on track, and he truly does want to stay at Old Trafford because that’s exactly where he is needed. The most gifted player on this team.

    My pick: Wayne Rooney.  Dwight would always get goals, but Wayne brings sheer brilliance onto the field with him.

Striker: Andy Cole vs. Dimitar Berbatov

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    Cole was one of the best goal scoring strikers in the Premiership when Ferguson brought him to Manchester, but the goals just seemed to dry up. Then along came Dwight Yorke. They struck up a great partnership that struck fear into all of Europe. These two knew exactly where the back of the net was and it didn’t seem to matter what game it was—they always seemed to score. Cole managed to score 24 in all competitions as he played his part in bringing the treble home. He had a lot of critics too and many claimed it would take him five chances until he scored.

    Now if we’re going to talk about a man with critics, let's talk about Berbatov. He has been lambasted ever since he pulled on the famous red shirt. Some will say it was justified and others say it’s not. Truth is that there always has to be a fall guy and after some poor performances it made him a good scapegoat for the fans. But this season we have all witnessed exactly why United and Manchester City battled for his signature just a few seasons ago. The Bulgarian's touch is sublime and his array of skills is virtually unrivaled. He has finally showed that he is a goal scorer. Alas, I can’t see him being here next season.

    My Pick: Dimitar Berbatov.  He can bring something different and most other teams would love his talent.

The Bench vs. the Bench

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    Raimond Van der Gouw                               Thomaz Kuszczak

    Henning Berg                                                  John O’Shea

    David May                                                       Wes Brown

    Nicky Butt                                                        Anderson

    Phil Neville                                                      Paul Scholes

    Jesper Blomqvist                                            Ryan Giggs

    Jonathon Greening                                        Park Ji Sung

    Ole Gunnar Solskjaer                                     Michael Owen

    Teddy Sherringham                                       Javier Hernandez

     

    Two very talented benches to pick from. Which would you choose?

Conclusion

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    So here’s my perfect team from the choices in 1999 and 2011

    Goalkeeper: Peter Schmeichel

    Right Back: Gary Neville

    Centre Back: Rio Ferdinand

    Centre Back: Nemanja Vidic

    Left Back: Dennis Irwin

    Right Wing: David Beckham

    Centre Midfield: Paul Scholes (99)

    Centre Midfield: Roy Keane

    Left Wing: Ryan Giggs (99)

    Striker: Wayne Rooney

    Striker: Dimitar Berbatov

    I know most of them are obvious picks, but there are a few there which could raise a debate. Who would you of picked?

    Hope You enjoyed it!

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