If the ’90s was a decade that marked the ascension of Fergie to the throne, the following ten years heralded a new century of expansion for Manchester United’s greatest manager.
It also featured the forthcoming of several talents who were finding their footing for a soaring Manchester United and their coming together didn’t just forge an empire but a glittering dynasty with stars flickering at every position.
In this story, we will take a look at Manchester United’s best eleven of the opening decade of the 21st century that ran riots after a sloppy start to the decennium.
Goalkeeper: Edwin van der Sar
It is not always that you draw the tag of the best from Sir Alex Ferguson unless you are the flying Dutchman. Needless to say, but he was a winged monster under the woodwork. Just to enlist a couple of highlights of this big man’s career for United, let’s reminisce about the FA Community Shield final display of 2006-07. Three consecutive penalties were refuted by him to send the United fans into an inexplicable frenzy. That, however, was the prelude to madness as he saved the best for the 2007-08 UCL final against Chelsea where he denied Nicolas Anelka a bite at glory by saving his penalty in the shoot-out. Keeping aside his shoot-out showdowns, he was also a beast in the box as he would simply not hesitate to dart ahead and pluck the balls from mid-air and his towering stature would pave the way for him to impose fear in the hearts of the opposition.
Defenders: Gary Neville, Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic, Patrice Evra
Gary Neville is undoubtedly one of the most rock-solid defenders of the decade for Manchester United. Though he found his footing in the ’90s, his legacy in the 2000s was nothing short of enviable. The man took immense workload and kept on hacking away at shins and ankles when the opportunity came knocking. Neville played a staggering 400 matches for United in Premier League and being a defender flipped in 5 goals and was a part of 257 victories. In the aforementioned decade, he was a part of 227 Premier League matches from which he scored three goals. His overlapping ability earned him 18 assists in the decade too. He made 46 cup appearances in the stipulated years that saw him stringing 4 assists. He was also a part of 73 UCL games for Manchester United between 2000 and 2010. He was able to smash two goals and square off five assists. These numbers are just a burning ode to one of the greatest wing-backs in the history of Manchester United.
Rio Ferdinand arrived at Old Trafford in 2003 from Leeds United. A strongly built defender towering at 6 ft 2 inches, he believed in no-nonsense defending. He played 455 matches for Manchester United that saw him rack up 8 goals and 9 assists. He played 221 Premier League games in the opening decade of the 21st century from which he managed to snap up 7 goals and strung 3 assists. He also started in 40 cup games from which he managed two assists. He was a part of 67 Champions League appearances in the stated decade from which he fired a goal and stitched a couple of assists.
Nemanja Vidic was nothing short of a rock as he meant business with every single kick of the ball. In fact, there was a time when he said that he would rather have his nose broken because he can fix it instead of enduring defeat that is irreparable. He arrived in 2005 from Spartak Moscow and was given a talking to by Ferguson right away as he made the mistake of comparing United with Chelsea. The rest they say is history for the Serbian center-back as he participated in 126 Premier League games for United between 2000 and 2010 where he scored 14 goals and strung four assists. He also started in 24 cup appearances where he concentrated on his defence a lot more than giving in to his lust for attacking invasions. From 36 UCL appearances, he fired four goals that made him absolutely irresistible from being included in the line-up.
In 2014, Patrice Evra hammered a wonder strike against Bayern that underlined this man’s brilliance as one of the most versatile players to have played in England. After arriving from Monaco, he was a part of Manchester United’s starting eleven for 134 matches between 2005 and 2010. He was exceptionally agile and his relentless hunger for winning the ball made him a fierce competitor in the left-back position. On top of that, he could steer away the balls significantly from danger and he was blessed with leadership abilities. He never believed in giving up and his physical exertion upon counterparts made him a man to look out for.
Midfield: Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs, Cristiano Ronaldo, Roy Keane
The midfield for the ’90s and the 2000s will almost remain the same because of the glittering players that Manchester United had in their ranks. Paul Scholes was an absolute beast and you fed him anything outside the box, he would hammer that home with extreme prejudice. His snatching ability in the midfield alongside his runs and creativity was impeccable and his shooting form was simply untenable.
Ryan Giggs gifted Manchester United countless jolly moments that would remain etched in golden letters in United’s history book. From running rings around defenders with deft turns and some insane pace control, the Welsh wizard was looked at as an epitome of midfield brilliance. In the 90’s he was a lissome winger from which he evolved into a central midfielder of magical stature in 2000. His pace and body-feints were simply a sight to the sore eyes and the legacy that man left behind is still untouched.
The name Haaland rings a lot of bells for the United supporters as Alf-Inge Haaland was taken for a flying toss by the beast called Roy Keane. If Cantona was the livewire of chaos in the ’90s, the man who played the symphony of destruction in 2000 was Roy Keane. He didn’t give much attention to creativity. He eyed precision with the long-balls and believed in carving them upfront for the surging attackers. He also had a great shooting range and his extraordinary skillset deemed him as irreplaceable in the United squad.
The man who broke the internet again for the umpteenth time last night as he blasted a last-minute goal to seal a victory for United, Cristiano Ronaldo was the revelation by Sir Alex Ferguson that completely changed the course of Manchester United and world football. The youngster was spotted when Lisbon was up against United and Fergie made no delay in roping in this young lad. Ronaldo found a new father in Fergie and what followed thereafter was history. He would do his exotic pirouettes around the defenders, dribble at his own free will, make the opposition chase shadows and no matter how many epithets we compile for him, it will simply not be enough. Before he turned into a striker for Real Madrid, he transcended himself to one of the best wingers of all time for United.
Forwards: Wayne Rooney and Ruud Van Nistelrooy
Not many United players have the record of pulling off the outrageous bicycle kick against their city rivals, Manchester City. The one who did was Wayne Rooney. However, he was a lot more than that solitary strike that completely changed the course of the game. He was a positive striker and an exceptionally adept central attacking midfielder with the prowess of scoring endlessly. Towards the latter half of his United career, he evolved into an apex predator, smashing goals at will. Not everyone who thrived in the Merseyside chose Liverpool, a few became Wazza.
In the days of brutal football, it wasn’t a regular spectacle to see strikers scoring goals at will. It needed something special and extraordinary to grab the limelight with your goal-scoring reputation. This Dutchman proved to be an exception to everything. He would simply keep on scoring and from 150 games for Manchester United, he fired 95 goals. He simply knew his way through to the end and would keep on knocking on the door unless his will was fulfilled. Also, to mention he had a predator’s will in front of the goal.