Manchester United: Picking a Best Over-30s XI from the Ferguson Era
Since taking the reins at Manchester United in 1986, Sir Alex Ferguson has shown a knack for developing youth.
From nurturing the vaunted "Fergie's Fledgelings" group that contained the likes of David Beckham to leading the current crop of youngsters featuring Phil Jones and Tom Cleverley, Sir Alex has shown that he knows when youth is needed—and ready.
But he also knows when a veteran presence is needed, and his tenure has not always been about the youth movement. And indeed, several started at United well into their 30s.
So, since there has been so much focus on the youth movement at United, I thought it would be interesting to see who were the best over-30s at each position from 1986-2011.
The rules are simple—as long as they played at United into their 30s, they're fair game.
Here is my list of the best over-30s XI from 1986 to 2011.
Goalkeeper: Peter Schmeichel
I almost put Edwin van der Sar here, and I believe it wouldn't be much of a stretch to do so. But, ultimately, I went with the Great Dane.
Playing at United until the age of 36, he was easily one of the most important factors of the team's success.
A vocal leader and a huge presence at the back, he was brought into the side in 1991 at the astonishing price of £530,000—a figure that prompted Sir Alex to proclaim the transaction as the "bargain of the century" in 2000.
He certainly was at that, helping United win five Premier League titles, three FA Cups and one UEFA Champion's League.
Right-Back: Gary Neville
By the time Gary Neville announced his retirement earlier this year at the age of 35, he had become a peripheral member of the squad, very much down the right-back pecking order.
But over the course of a two-decade long career, Neville was long considered one of the best right-backs in England—if not the world.
Forming a great partnership with (first) David Beckham and (later) Cristiano Ronaldo, Neville was a fixture of United's right wing.
Displaying a good footballing mind and a Beckham-like cross, he was an integral part of United's championship runs.
He was rewarded in 2005, at the age of 30, with the captain's arm-band after Roy Keane's retirement.
Centre-Back: Steve Bruce
From 1987-1996, Steve Bruce was at the heart of one of the game's most dominant defenses.
Strong, brave, and a tough tackler, it's a shame that he was never selected for international duty with England.
Still, the man shone for United, particularly after Sir Alex brought in Gary Pallister in 1989 to partner him in the middle.
To this day, the partnership is the benchmark by which all United central pairings is judged.
Bruce joined Birmingham City in 1996 on a free transfer at the age of 35.
Centre-Back: Gary Pallister
The other half of the "Bruce-Pallister" partnership, which in 2006 Gary Neville called "the best in the club's history," Gary Pallister joined United in 1989 for a record £2.3 million.
He instantly formed an understanding with Bruce.
But apart from the incredible defensive displays, he also developed a knack for scoring crucial goals, including two goals against Liverpool in 1997 that essentially decided the title.
After winning almost everything he could in a United shirt, he left for Middlesbrough in 1998 at the age of 33.
Left-Back: Dennis Irwin
By next year, this may very well be Patrice Evra's spot.
But as the Frenchman is right at the cut off at 30 years old, I'm going to have to go with the first of two Irishmen who will appear in this list.
Dennis Irwin came into the side in 1990 and stayed for 12 years. In his tenure, he showed that he had the ability to play both full-back positions ably.
In fact, even with the skilled youngster Phil Neville nipping at his heels, he was the first-choice left-back well into his mid-thirties. In addition to his defensive skills, he was a cracking free-kick and penalty taker.
He joined Wolverhampton after the 2001-2002 season, but his legend lives on.
Right-Midfield: Bryan Robson
Bryan Robson has the distinction of being Manchester United's longest-serving captain over the course of his 13-year Red Devil tenure.
Sir Alex inherited Bryan Robson from previous manager Ron Atkinson but showed faith in the United captain.
The Englishman repaid that faith with a glittering career that saw him remain productive well into his 30s.
Although Robson left the team for Middlesbrough in 1994, he later returned to the club in 2008 to serve as United's global ambassador.
Central-Midfield: Roy Keane
One of the toughest, most dominant, most aggressive captains in the Premier League, Roy Keane was the heart of the United engine for 12 years.
Keane joined the Red Devils from Nottingham Forest in 1993 and pretty much jumped right into the starting lineup, despite the effectiveness of the incumbent pairing of Bryan Robson and Paul Ince up the middle.
After Eric Cantona's retirement in 1997, Sir Alex awarded the captaincy to the combative Irishman, and he wouldn't regret it.
Keane led the team to some of the most successful seasons in Sir Alex's tenure.
He has had his blemishes, such as the constant bickering with Arsenal captain Patrick Viera and missing the 1999 Champion's League final, but he will always be remembered fondly by fans as one of the best ever.
Central-Midfield: Paul Scholes
If Roy Keane was the heart of the United midfield, Paul Scholes was the soul, spending his entire career with the club.
What else is there to say about the ginger-haired prince that others haven't already said? And by others, I mean:
Thierry Henry: "Without any doubt the best player in the Premiership has to be Scholes...He knows how to do everything."
Xavi: "A role model. For me, and I really mean this, he's the best central midfielder I've seen in the last 15, 20 years. He's spectacular, he has it all, the last pass, goals, he's strong, he doesn't lose the ball, vision. If he'd been Spanish he might have been rated more highly. Players love him."
Zinedine Zidane: "undoubtedly the greatest midfielder of his generation."
Possessing a cracking shot and a horrible tackle, Scholes brought consistency and thrills to every match he played—and he did it while staying out of the papers.
Left-Midfield: Ryan Giggs
Ryan Giggs, the only one on this list still playing for United, has had a pretty rough time of it in recent times, but we're not going to revisit that here.
Instead, we're going to realize that we're living through the twilight of one of the greatest careers in world football.
We maybe have only one season left to appreciate the talent that Giggs brings to the pitch, and I for one will cherish every minute of it.
When Giggs finally does hang up his boots, many tributes will surely be written, but this goal is perhaps the best testament to the Welsh Wizard.
Forward: Mark Hughes
Although he left United for Chelsea in 1995 and later managed Manchester City, Mark "Sparky" Hughes is still remembered as a United legend.
He had two tenures with the team and is one of few who thrived under both Ron Atkinson and Sir Alex Ferguson, winning two PFA Player of the Year awards under the Scotsman's leadership.
Forward: Ole Gunnar Solskjaer
The baby-faced assassin would get into the list simply for scoring the winning goal in the 1999 Champion's League final.
But although that is probably his most memorable moment, he had so many more than that.
Never a full-time starter in United teams that had names such as Eric Cantona, Andy Cole, Dwight Yorke, Ruud van Nistelrooy and Wayne Rooney, Solskjaer nevertheless showcased an unerring eye for scoring.
A super-sub who practically defined the role, he was who you called when you needed an important tying or winning goal.
And there you have it.
This year has seen Manchester United romp through the first five games of the new season, and they did it with youth.
But If they were to field a starting XI that featured the previously mentioned superstars as, say 32-year-olds, it's not hard to picture them competing for the Premier League championship at the end of the year.
Agree with my choices? Disagree vehemently? Strike back below! Thanks for reading.