The United Team Of The Last Decade
We continue with our series looking back on the decade that has just passed. This time it's the best team of the years between 2000-2009 - the 18 players who made the biggest impact in this period. They will line up in a 4-4-2 formation because despite all the experimenting and the success of 4-3-3 and 4-2-3-1, this was the formation Fergie most frequently used formation during this decade.
Goalkeeper: Edwin van der Sar
here's only one candidate, really. Why did we not sign him in 1999 when he was offloaded by Juventus? True, at that time he was in horrible form, his confidence shattered but he was resurrected at Fulham and signing him in 2005 was one of the best deals of the decade from United's point of view. He is a worthy successor to Peter Schmeichel and his save from Anelka's penalty in Moscow will never be forgotten.
Right-back: Gary Neville
gain, only one candidate. Right up to his devastating injury in 2007, he was a remarkably consistent defender, someone who could always be relied upon. He could never be accused of lacking commitment or determination and he was a great leader on the pitch.
Centre-back: Rio Ferdinand
azy, overpriced, overrated, lacking concentration: all the criticism levelled at him has been exposed as unfair and sometimes downright ridiculous as Ferdinand emerged as the best centre-back. He was at his marvellous best during the spring of 2008 when the back four marshalled by him conceded only two goals during the knockout stages of the Champions League. For 30m, he was still a bargain.
Centre-back: Nemanja Vidic
aap Stam has his merits but he was sold in 2002 and he had less success with United this decade than the big Serbian. Vidic was the consistent, no nonsense partner that Ferdinand's more cultured style craved - together they were the best pairing in the world for the past three seasons. It is particularly unfortunate that their loss of form and injury problems coincided with the departure of Cristiano Ronaldo, thus escalating the problems Fergie has to face.
Left-back: Patrice Evra
ith all due respect to Denis Irwin, there is a valid argument that Patrice Evra is the best left-back United ever had. The Frenchman is often the heart of everything United do well in attack yet his defending is almost always first-class - I'm prepared to overlook his problems in dealing with Aaron Lennon. Fast, strong, skilled and determined: Evra does not have a weakness. He's even a good header of the ball though his lack of height obviously hinders him in the air but this is such a minor issue compared to his excellence that it's barely worth a mention.
Right midfield: David Beckham
is best season was possibly 1998/99 but Beckham was remarkably consistent in the early 'Noughties' as well, making significant contribution to winning three league titles. The ending was sour but that does not mean Beckham was not a truly great player for United. His crossing is missed to this day and many of us are still convinced that had he been fit for the Champions League semi-final against Leverkusen, United would have made it to Glasgow. As it is, we only have his stunning strike in La Coruna in the previous round to savour.
Central midfield: Paul Scholes
he ginger maestro is an automatic pick, having won six league titles during the decade and having enjoyed his best season in 2002/03, scoring 20 goals as United toppled Arsenal. During the middle of the decade he had a significant dip in form but he came back stronger than ever in 2006 and inspired United to a sweet and unexpected title triumph. In 2008, he fired us into the Champions League final with a wonderful effort against Barcelona and he is still an important part of the red machine. Magnificent player.
Central midfield: Michael Carrick
his was the most difficult choice but in the end I was forced to conclude that Carrick made a bigger impact in the Noughties than Roy Keane, no matter what a wonderful and irreplaceable captain he was. Carrick, unfairly criticised by many, formed a brilliant partnership with Paul Scholes as United got their trophy back in 2007 and though the Ginger Ninja's significance has diminished, Carrick clicked with Fletcher as well. Many still question him but he was a key player in three seasons in which United won three league titles and reached two Champions League finals. Roy Keane was a better player than him but not during this decade.
Left midfield: Ryan Giggs
ig surprise, eh? At 36, he's still one of the best wingers in the Premier League. For the last five years he's been forever tipped to quit but he's been carrying on, sometimes carrying United. One of the best players United ever had, he has his place in the team of the Nineties as well and he looks as hungry as ever to land a 12th league title this season.
Deep-lying forward: Wayne Rooney
e can be eternally grateful to Everton for nurturing this wonderful talent. Selfless, hard-working and brilliant at the same time, Rooney is always prepared to do the donkey work for the team but he did not shirk the responsibility heaped on him after Ronaldo's departure and he's excelling as our main attacking force. His talent has often been sacrificed for the team but at 24, he still has plenty of great years ahead of him to realise his full potential - because make no mistake, he can be even better.
Centre forward: Cristiano Ronaldo
bet all of you screamed 'Where is Ronaldo?!' when you saw David Beckham occupying the right berth of midfield. Ronaldo might have come here as a winger but he was at his devastating best as a roving attacker, free from defensive responsibilities. As an orthodox winger, he wasn't that effective but he was deadly as a wide attacker or even as a centre forward. His 42 goals during 2007/08 represent one of the greatest individual contributions during the club's history and his performance at the Emirates in the Champions League semi-final last season was the most wonderful exhibition of centre-forward play I've ever seen.
Tomasz Kuszczak: Yes, we had a horrible decade in terms of keepers. He is more consistent and reliable than even Tim Howard was but he's a very, very, very distant second to the great Edwin.
b>John O'Shea: He played in every single position on the pitch throughout the decade and he's a cult hero. An average player but his Anfield goal will never be forgotten.
b>Roy Keane: He almost beat Michael Carrick for a starting berth for his excellence between 2000-2003. But he was a diminished player for the last two years of his United career.
b>Darren Fletcher: Once the scapegoat for our failures, now he's a key component of the midfield. Tells everything about his determination and about Fergie's eye for a player.
b>Ole Gunnar Solskjaer: Injuries destroyed him in the end but when he was fit he was always there, always providing excellent movement and deadly finish. A hero as long as this club exists.
b>Ruud van Nistelrooy: Could have made the starting eleven - 150 goals in 219 games is quite impressive - but unlike the players there, he did not make United a better team. He was a great player but United were more successful without him.
b>Wes Brown: Despite the constant injury problems hindering his progress, he managed to carve out a career for himself at United, though he was always mainly a squad player. He was, however, excellent during the magnificent Double season.
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