Fergies best XI
By Nick Webster
Part of being the greatest football manager ever is having the ability to never admit when you’re wrong. You might wonder how such a feat can be pulled off in an age when 24-hour media knee jerk reaction is the norm…I’ll tell you how!
11 Premier League titles, two Uefa Champions Leagues, five FA Cups, four League Cups, one Uefa Cup Winner’s Cup and countless other trophies, suck it!
This weekend, Manchester United manger, Sir Alex Ferguson surpassed the late, great Sir Matt Busby in terms of durability at Old Trafford. In this time period he has built three great teams and in all fairness, now looks to be well on the way to creating number four.
With the end nearer than the beginning though and a weekend destroyed by the English weather, I thought a time for reflection would be the perfect way to honor the knight and pick, what I think is his all-time Red Devil XI along with my memories of why they would make the gaffer’s list.
This team maybe slightly lopsided but even SAF has been known to send out a team that has defied the critics. So 3-4-3 be dammed.
Peter Schmeichel MBE: SAF described Schmeichel as the “bargain of the century” when he stole him from Brondby in 1991 and so it proved to be as the ‘Great Dane’ proved to be the greatest goalkeeper in United’s history. 1999 was his best season for obvious and two memories from that campaign are still vivid. The first, a penalty save from Denis Bergkamp during the FA Cup semi-final replay versus Arsenal and the second, the cartwheel as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer scored ‘that’ goal in Barcelona.
Gary Neville will be spitting venom but Patrice Evra gets my nod as the best fullback in the Fergie era. The Frenchman might not have United coursing through his veins despite chinning a Chelsea groundsman during a heated ‘cool down’ at Stamford Bridge but he is the superior player while making the team better at both ends of the pitch.
Mr. Casual infuriates me but you can’t deny that when he’s on top of his game Rio Ferdinand puts fellow contenders for the center back position, Jaap Stam and Nemanja Vidic in the shade. A pure footballer, Ferguson, stood by his man after a drugs test ‘no-show’ that resulted in an eight-month ban from the game. The fact that he came back to win over the Stretford End and then more importantly share lifting the 2008 Uefa Champions League trophy with Ryan Giggs proves that he has humility and a touch of class.
Mention Sheffield Wednesday and images of Steve Bruce racing around Old Trafford immediately spring to mind but he is much more than that. SAF recognized that he needed a foundation to build his team around and despite a few lean years when he first arrived, Bruce, proved to be the lynchpin that propelled the club to all its recent success.
For twelve years Roy Keane was the engine that made United tick and despite leaving the club in explosive circumstances, can there be any doubt that the Irishman’s name was the first on the team sheet. Picking out one moment to sum up his Manchester career is almost impossible but the 2005 Highbury tunnel dust up with Patrick Vieira still brings a smile to my face.
Just how good is Paul Scholes? The fact that SAF still has the belief that at 36-year-old, the ‘Ginger Prince’ can not only start but boss domestic and European matches gives you all the answers you need. When it comes to consistency over a period of time, Scholes has no peer. His thirty-yarder against Barcelona in 2008 ranks right up there as one of my favorite strikes ever.
The spiriting away of the ‘King’, Eric Cantona from Leeds United has to rank as the greatest piece of business, SAF ever conducted at Old Trafford as the Frenchman inspired the team to end its 25-season title drought. In five years he collected four league titles including two doubles but it wasn’t just the winning, it was the mentality that he brought to the club that made him so special to Ferguson. As for great moments, the chip, the volley, the header, the kung-fu kick, you name it, it’s all seared to memory.
It would be hard to argue against Ryan Giggs OBE being United’s greatest ever player but if you did, you couldn’t argue about him being the most decorated as the Welshman has 32 major honors to his name. A true one-club servant who can forget his memorizing slalom run through Arsenal in that epic FA Cup semi-final in 1999.
Cristiano Ronaldo’s competitive debut against Bolton in 2003 seems like yesterday. I remember him stepping on to the turf, wondering whom the heck this kid was and then sitting back in awe as he terrorized Bolton Wanderers. Six years later after winning everything the game has to offer, we certainly knew who he was. Ferguson had molded and crafted a player who during the 2007/08 season would score a staggering 42 goal from the wing and be widely recognized as the best player in the world.
Goals are the currency of strikers and Ruud van Nistelrooy time at Old Trafford was full of them. Yet again, Fergie’s eye for talent was evident as he stalked the Dutchman before breaking the British transfer record when signing him from PSV Eindhoven. Cataloguing his goals is an impossible task however my most abiding memory is Martin Keown launching himself at Ruud after he’d missed a penalty in yet another United/Arsenal epic.
The secret to great management is how you handle the stars - no one has done that better at Old Trafford than Ferguson. The tactful handling of the Wayne Rooney saga being his latest project and you’d have to say he came out of it smelling of roses. In fact his managing of Rooney has been an example in how to get the best out of players and why he’d pick Wayne every time. I’d pick him solely for the volley against Newcastle United three seasons ago but that’s just me.
1358 is the number of times that Sir Alex Ferguson has chosen a team to represent Manchester United in a first class competitive fixture and all things being equal, this surely would be the team he would’ve picked, if given the chance to select his all-time Red Devil XI.
Bruce Ferdinand Evra
Scholes Keane Cantona Giggs
Ronaldo Van Nistelrooy Rooney
This article was first published on foxsoccer.com