Fans, pundits and fellow players considered Kieran Richardson lazy, inadequate and many other unfortunate synonyms when he was at Manchester United. He made only 41 league appearances in five seasons at the club, scoring just two goals. Richardson’s £5.5 signing seemed at the time a misguided move by Roy Keane in the summer of 2007. Thus far, that’s been hardly the case.
At Sunderland, Richardson has blossomed. Despite injuries, he’s developed into a dynamic attacker, a free kick artist and a match winner. Originally viewed as unworthy of his fee, Richardson would probably be worth at least double it now, if manager Ricky Sbragia saw him as dispensable. We never saw Richardson’s full potential until he left Manchester United, which raises a question. How valuable are their other second-tier players?
John O’Shea’s popular image is as a bit of a bumbler and a doofus. He’s never cemented a place as a first-team regular, despite making 313 appearances. He’s clearly not in the same class as Cristiano Ronaldo, though he’ll show the occasional burst of flair.
However, the 27-year-old is very versatile. He can fill in at fullback, centre-half and in central midfield, without United noticeably declining. He literally has played every position on the pitch for United. How much would a player like him be worth for Everton or Tottenham? How good would he be with a consistent place in the Starting XI?
Who, when discussing a Manchester United performance, ever touches on Wes Brown’s contribution? Listing the best players at various positions in the Premier League, Brown’s name seldom arises. Has he been overlooked?
United were better with Brown at right back last season than they were with Gary Neville the year before. Fabio Capello brought Brown into the England squad ahead of the far more hyped Micah Richards, with solid results. If Wes Brown were playing for a mid-table club such as Portsmouth, would he receive more praise?
Look at Darren Fletcher as well. He’s often maligned compared to his more talented companions. Even his own teammates have ridiculed him. At 24-years-old he’s never nailed down a place in the United midfield.
Despite this, however, Fletcher has been important for Manchester United. When big signings Hargreaves and Carrick have been injured, Fletcher has filled in for big matches and played well. United displayed no midfield faults when he played against Chelsea. He already has 40 caps for Scotland. He probably steps straight into 14 or 15 Premier League Starting XIs. How good would he be with a regular run of games?
Manchester United have elite-level talents, such as Ronaldo, Rooney and Ferdinand, but so do Chelsea, Liverpool and Arsenal. What sets Manchester United apart is their second tier. While the other big three falter noticeably without a star or two, United absorb injuries, calling on experienced players, such as O’Shea, Brown and Fletcher to fill a hole without incident.
Rather than being oafs or wastrels, these second-tier players are a major reason, Manchester United has won the Premier League the past two seasons.