Manchester United: Picking an XI Who Wore Their Hearts on Their Sleeves
If anyone at Manchester United wears his heart on his sleeve, it is The Boss.
From the moment he arrived, he has inculcated the spirit and tradition of the club. Together with Sir Bobby Charlton, he is a modern day safeguard of everything that has gone before. He has utter and total respect and love for everything about the club and truly worships the Stretford End.
He transmits his passion to every player who plays for United. He signs and develops players that are honoured to join United and who would give the rest of their careers if they could. Whatever their age, they look up to him.
It is no surprise, therefore, that most of the players chosen here have played for him. That is the commitment that he instills and nurtures. That is why he will go on as manager until he can no longer, because his passion never dies.
Choosing a list of players who have worn their heart on their sleeve for Manchester United would be hard enough. Putting them into an XI is almost impossible.
As always, you will have your own choices and disagreements. That is your right.
I have watched this club man and boy for 56 years. The players that moved me are the players who could not hide their love of the club and their sheer, unadulterated delight at a goal or a trophy. The players who would beat down the door to get into training and would walk barefoot to Old Trafford to play.
Goalkeeper: Peter Schmeichel
Peter Schmeichel is Scandinavian—normally calm, cool and reserved. But when Ole Gunnar Solskjaer scored to win the UEFA Champions League in 1999, he did cartwheels in celebration.
His exuberance had already been demonstrated a couple of minutes earlier when he ran up-field for an injury time corner, which ultimately resulted in Teddy Sheringham scoring the goal that set up the spectacular win.
He played with passion and commitment. It wasn't unusual for him to run up-field if United were losing and he even scored a goal in the Cup-Winners Cup. In general, his actions were designed to unsettle the opposition defence with his mighty frame, as on that memorable night in 1999.
Schmeichel would appear on many people's lists of the best keeper to play for United and even the best ever.
He hated losing and was even massively committed in training, where he would rush out of the goal and nobody could score except Scholes, who would chip him.
United supporters could even forgive him finishing his career at City, because during his time at Old Trafford he was wildly popular, demonstrably committed and talismanic.
Right Back: Gary Neville
Who else? Everybody else hated him; Manchester United supporters loved him.
Nobody was ever more committed to the cause, body and soul. Ferocious in the tackle, voluble in driving his players on and passionately dedicated to the cause as captain.
Why should anyone be cautioned for what Gary did at Liverpool? Some saw it as deliberate provocation, but Gary wanted to win more than anyone, and the match he wanted to win most was Liverpool—at Liverpool!
Now he's even incurred the wrath of Andre Villas-Boas, as a pundit on Sky Sports, despite his impartial, savvy and intelligent summaries.
Way to go, Gary!
Centre Back: Steve Bruce
No wonder Sir Alex Ferguson had such nice things to say about Steve Bruce when he lost the Sunderland manager's job recently.
Sir Alex owes no player anything, but in 1992/93, with their captain, Bryan Robson, frequently out due to injury, Sir Alex asked Steve Bruce to fill the gap.
Nobody could have done it with more heart and commitment. The video not only shows Bruce's two headed goals that turned a losing position to victory, they also—more than any other example—show Steve Bruce's dedication to the cause.
It also captures Sir Alex's own delight for his team at a relatively early stage during his 25-year stay at Old Trafford.
United went on to win the title, and the rest, as they say, is history...
Centre Back: Nemanja Vidic
My God, he's going to be missed.
Just look at the face of Nemanja Vidic when he's playing. You can see the battle scars and the steely determination to win. He puts his head in where others hold back. He tackles fearlessly.
And when he scores, nobody in the stadium could ever doubt where his heart is.
The next year is going to be terrible for him—and us.
He'll miss the football more than we can understand. He'll be heading every ball and making every tackle.
His face lights up like a beacon when he scores and runs to the Stretford End. Otherwise, you might never know from his expression other than he is quietly committed.
And yet this is a man who has admitted to almost crying watching a movie:
Tough exterior, heart in the right place.
Left Back: Patrice Evra
Patrice Evra is one of those rarities at Manchester United: a player who signed in January. Since then, as with the other player who joined at the same time, Nemanja Vidic, he has been nothing short of 100 percent committed to Manchester United.
And the two of them represent some of the greatest signings Sir Alex Ferguson has ever made.
Yes, he could have moved on last season, but, after five-and-a-half seasons already at Old Trafford, he has effectively committed himself to the club for the rest of his career.
He has never been more needed now that club captain Vidic is out for up to a year.
"Pat" plays like a teenager every match, with skill, guile and huge energy. Yes, he sometimes over-commits himself in the cause, as against City, where he was at the wrong end of the pitch for most of the goals, but that was because he never gave up trying to get something out of the match.
His many MUTV interviews show that he has a wicked sense of humour.
He hates to lose, as his post-match interview showed after United were knocked out by Basel.
It is this passion, commitment and will to win that United will need from their newly-promoted captain for the rest of this season.
Midfield: Bryan Robson
Nobody has ever put their body on the line for Manchester United more than Bryan Robson.
Sadly, it meant that he played far fewer games than he might have otherwise. He missed important fixtures, but he made a massive contribution in many matches, and overall, probably as much as any other player in United's history.
His nicknames, Captain Marvel and Captain Courageous, summed him up.
In 1984, United reached the last eight of the European Cup for the first time since the 1960s. They lost the first leg, 2-0, against a Maradona-inspired Barcelona. In the return match at Old Trafford, Bryan Robson was inspired and, with two goals himself, led his team to a historic win.
He has recently had to fight a different battle against throat cancer, but now a Manchester United official ambassador, he is pledging the rest of his life to the club that he loves.
Midfield: Roy Keane
For those of us who saw them both, it would be a hard choice between Bryan Robson and Roy Keane as to who was the better, or the more committed, to the Manchester United cause.
Both played in central midfield, equally adept in attack or defence. Both captained the side and led from the front. Both would put their bodies on the line match after match.
Keane, however, made the ultimate sacrifice when he led United to a stunning 1999 semifinal win against Juventus in the Champions League.
Despite receiving a yellow card early on that meant he would miss the Final, Keane scored first and drove United to an extraordinary 3-2 victory that may be the best match he has ever played.
Sadly, due to speaking his mind before he left Old Trafford, and recently after United's exit from the Champions League, he is unlikely to be on Sir Alex's Christmas card list.
But the debt United fans and even Sir Alex owes to his former captain cannot be overstated in this, the most successful era in the club's history.
Many still have him as the greatest player ever in the Premier League.
Midfield: Nobby Stiles
How do you measure the contribution of any one player to a club?
Hardly any footage remains of Nobby Stiles. This video does at least capture his famous victory dance for England, replicated at Old Trafford many times.
What do we remember? The gap-toothed grin (he took his front teeth out to play), the uncompromising tackles, the way he stifled one of the world's greatest ever players, Eusebio, in the European Cup Final that United went on to win?
He was a Manchester lad who played 392 times for United, scoring 19 goals. Uncharacteristically small for any player, let alone a defensive midfield, Stiles was nevertheless fearless and selfless in the tackle. He was also so short-sighted that he had to wear strong contact lenses to play.
One of the first of the modern day midfielders, Stiles will never be forgotten by those who saw him for Manchester United and England.
Sadly, he has felt the need to sell many of his memorabilia to provide for his family. But the measure of his value at Old Trafford is such that the club bought his greatest medals for the Museum.
Attack: Wayne Rooney
Has any player worn his heart on his sleeve more than Wayne Rooney?
Despite being brought up in Liverpool and playing for Everton, the only time his commitment was ever doubted was when he asked for a transfer last season. If he is to be believed, it was primarily because he felt the team needed strengthening, a commitment that he sought and was given—by Sir Alex Ferguson, David Gill and even the owners—in person.
Yes, he is desperate to succeed for himself, but as with Roy Keane, you will find him both joyous and critical when things don't go right.
Many expect him to be the next long-term captain at United. Whether that is now a forlorn hope after his near-exit last season, we shall have to wait and see.
His openness can be shown by: his general demeanour, when disappointed in his own performances, his angry lambasting of colleagues, his unfortunate expletives into the camera after scoring a hat-trick or his typical sliding-knee celebration after scoring.
He also has frequently kissed the badge, whether to irk opposition supporters or delight his own.
He is desperate to succeed, for the club and himself, and will play wherever the manager picks him. He is reputedly one of the first to arrive at training and one of the last to leave. Being a perfectionist can sometimes lead to savage disappointment, such as missing an open goal against Basel.
Love him or hate him, he will be remembered for the rest of our lives. He is fundamental to England's success and talismanic at United. He wants to play every match, kick every ball and he simply doesn't know how to lose.
Attack: Sir Bobby Charlton
"No-one, in my time, exemplifies Manchester United's history better than Bobby Charlton."
So says Sir Alex Ferguson in this video clip.
It was a miracle that Sir Bobby survived the Munich crash. He never recovered from the shock, but persuaded to lace up his boots again by Jimmy Murphy, he went on to be one of the two or three greatest players ever at Old Trafford.
He may have "lost his smile," as his brother Jacky put it, but he never lost his heart. He is a living legend, lauded across the globe as one of the game's few supra-national ambassadors.
A director at Old Trafford, he has given almost six decades to the club. He is an absolute gentleman and arguably the club's most loyal supporter, too.
For whatever reason, nobody has ever shown more passion and emotion on behalf of Manchester United. When he goes, there will be a great mourning, and no one else will ever match him.
Attack: David Beckham
Well, Posh and Becks are a right soppy pair. Nobody could deny that David wears his heart on his sleeve for United and for England.
To receive this trophy from the legendary Sir Bobby Charlton says it all. You can YouTube David's goals and assists for the rest of the day, but he is more than just a footballer.
He himself would have loved to play on for Manchester United, and judging by his regular supportive comments, his heart is still in Old Trafford.
He turned out for Gary Neville's testimonial and would have repeated the trip for Paul Scholes if his LA Galaxy contract had allowed.
At the age of 11, David won the Bobby Charlton Soccer Skills competition and a trip to Barcelona, where he was spotted by a Manchester United talent scout.
His parents insisted he complete his education in Chingford, and he signed apprentice terms at 16. He spent a total of 12 years at Old Trafford with 399 appearances and 87 goals.
His goal celebrations characterised his love for the club, which he has cherished since childhood. His love of the England team is no less, and he would gladly add to his 115 caps if Fabio Capello would let him.