Picking a Best Ex-Manchester United XI Still Playing at Other Clubs
Contrary to popular belief, there is in fact life after Manchester United. After the lights of Old Trafford careers go out, the men who once called the halls of Old Trafford home move on to pastures new. Some succeed, but many fail to live up to the hype of playing for England’s most successful club.
Here we look at a best XI side of ex-Old Trafford icons from the Sir Alex era still plying their trade elsewhere. From the world’s most expensive player to England’s most marketable star, it's quite a roll-call.
Tim Howard: Everton
Howard was possibly the most adept of the long line of inadequate goalkeeping replacements Sir Alex Ferguson sought for the Great Dane, Peter Schmiechel.
Yet his Old Trafford career, after impressing when playing in his native America, was beset by failed promise and crushed expectations. After a measly 45 league appearances during five seasons at the club, Howard escaped his Olds Trafford torment, relocating to Goodison Park and Everton FC.
Since his move, Howard has cemented his place amongst the best goalkeepers in the Premier League during the past five seasons, as he flourished under David Moyes’ astute stewardship.
Phil Neville: Everton
Brought up though the Old Trafford youth system alongside older brother Gary, Phil Neville emerged into the United first team amidst the most decorated era in the club’s history.
Both Neville brothers became mainstays for both club and country, but it was eventual United captain Gary who was the automatic choice.
After 10 years at his hometown club, Neville, frustrated by lack of opportunity, moved to Goodison Park in a £3.5 million deal. In the precluding 10 years, Neville has found a purpose on Merseyside as David Moyes’ captain, making over 200 appearances as one of the first names on Moyes’ team-sheet.
Gerard Pique: Barcelona
It is not often that Sir Alex Ferguson admits to making a mistake, but although admitting to the premature sale of defender Jaap Stam, deep down, the sale of Pique to FC Barcelona must really hurt.
Scouted by the Old Trafford club and brought into the club’s esteemed youth system as a youngster from home-town club Barcelona, a strong future was expected of Pique.
However, following a tough initiation period of in English football, Pique’s United career was ultimately going to end in frustration, following a succession of loan deals and only 12 appearances for his parent club.
And so it was in 2008 that, in a five million deal, Pique was allowed to return to Barcelona, where he has asserted himself as the eminent centre-back of his generation amidst the all-conquering Barca side.
Ryan Shawcross: Stoke
Another who shaped his career in the United youth system before lack of opportunity forced him elsewhere, Shawcross has gone on to forge a career for himself closer to home, at Stoke’s Brittania stadium.
A battling centre-half in the traditional English mould in the past few years, a return to Old Trafford has been muted for the Stoke captain.
Yet Shawcross is essentially emblematic of Tony Pulis’ Stoke side; honest, strong, disciplined and committed, he has formed a huge part in Stoke’s emergence into an established Premier League side.
The boy’s done good.
John O'Shea: Sunderland
The most recently departed of all the players on this list. During his time at Old Trafford, John O’Shea was Mr United. Employed as Sir Alex’s utility man, O’Shea had the unique honour of being deployed in every position, including as an emergency goalkeeper!
As such, without a recognised specialist position, to some, O’Shea’s contributions were undermined. Yet player’s of the Irishman’s ilk are a valuable assets for their sides, with their sheer versatility digging their manager out of many an injury-induced hole.
Now at Sunderland, under Steve Bruce’s guidance, O’Shea finally has a chance to assert himself as a first choice regular and put the utility tag behind him.
David Beckham: LA Galaxy
David Beckham, despite strong cases by the dynamic duo of Messi and Ronaldo, is still debatably the most marketable footballer in the world. And like Ronaldo (youth career at Sporting permitting), the place where it all began was in the Theatre of Dreams itself.
Beckham left Old Trafford in 2003 after coming up through the youth system in the club and moved to Madrid in a £25 million deal amidst the second incarnation of the Galacticos at the club. Beckham again flourished in Madrid, netting 13 times in 116 appearances, staying in the Spanish capital for four years before again moving, this time to LA Galaxy in the MLS.
After two loan deals to the Italian capital of Milan, during his time at Galaxy, Beckham’s cosmopolitan circumnavigation of world football gained a sense of Italian flair.
Fast forward to the present, and Beckham’s LA Galaxy contract is set to expire in around two months, and so, English football’s most iconic player may soon be coming to a club near you. Well, unless you live in Grimsby…
Owen Hargreaves: Man City
Hargreaves came to United in 2007 after a strong display in the 2006 World Cup, where he was cited by many as England’s best player. Moving from Bayern Munich, the English Canadian hybrid came amidst huge expectation.
However, following an injury beset nightmare that saw him injured for the majority of his four year United career—as just 27 club appearances lay testament—this summer, enough became enough, and despite desperate attempts to prove his fitness, Hargreaves was not offered a new contract.
Burning his Old Trafford bridges, Hargreaves first committed the sin of crossing the Manchester divide before launching a stinging attack on the perceived negligence of his former employers medical care.
Even if he isn’t flavour of the month amidst the corridors of Old Trafford, Hargreaves remains an excellent player/former player (delete as appropriate).
Juan Sebastian Veron: Estudiantes
Possibly a controversial inclusion in this list, Veron is commonly mentioned amidst the biggest flop’s in United history. However, the man from Argentina, whom Sir Alex signed for an eye-watering 26 million, is spoken about in such derogatory circumstances essentially as a result of this price-tag.
Such was his form that Diego Maradonna was sufficiently enamoured to see Veron as a pivotal cog in his Argentinian charges 2010 World Cup campaign.
Oh and there are very few alternatives for the central midfield birth as well…
Cristiano Ronaldo: Real Madrid
If I have to justify this one to you...well, I will assume I don't.
Ruud Van Nistelrooy: Malaga
How could we possibly make an ex-Manchester United XI without finding room on the roster for van the man? Nistelrooy, to me, is without a doubt the finest goalscorer I have had the pleasure to witness at United during my lifetime. He didn’t really score from outside the box, but when you are as dynamite as Van the Man from 12 yards, why bother?
After a well-published clash of opinion with United supremo Sir Alex, there really was only going to be one winner, and so it was that in 2006 that van Nistelrooy followed the path set out three years previously by David Beckham, moving from Manchester to Madrid.
Now at La Liga side Malaga, after a brief stop over in Germany, Ruud van Nistelrooy will always be remembered in Manchester as one of the finest players of the Ferguson era.
Alright, he isn’t having the best time of it at the moment, but on his today, there are few in the modern game that can touch Tevez for ability. Yet with an attitude problem that would make Joey Barton wince, it is debatable whether Tevez will ever fully justify his phenomenal ability.
To date at the very top level, it was only really last season that Tevez laid a strong claim to be mentioned amidst the pantheons of the world’s best. At Corinthians, the comparative level of the game in Argentina decreed, comparisons weren’t justifiable. At West Ham, the relative lowly stature of the team made claims for world domination unfeasible, and at United, he simply wasn’t on the pitch enough.
After his move across the city’s divide, Carlos Tevez showed the world just what he could do, to such an extent one would be forgiven for forgetting City weren’t a one man team. Yet this just makes the ignominy of his current predicament all the more depressing; am I the only one that thinks this wouldn’t have happened if he was still at United?
Giuseppe Rossi: Villarreal forward
Diego Forlan: Inter Milan forward
Kieran Richardson: Sunderland midfielder
Wes Brown: Sunderland defender
Ben Foster: West Brom goalkeeper