They seem to have been mentioned on here quite a lot recently but since the inception of the Premiership in 1992, the dominant force in English football has undisputedly been Manchester United. Over the years they have had a number of fantastic footballers on their books but who have been the best? Below I have attempted to put together a best eleven of the Premiership Years (also stating the season that I believe each player was at the height of their powers). There are going to be one or two notable absentees but here goes:
Goalkeeper: Peter Schmeichel (1995/96).
This was the easiest choice of all eleven as Schmeichel is probably the best goalkeeper of all time. United haven’t exactly been blessed with an abundance of talent in this area since The Great Dane left the club in 1999. Edwin Van Der Sar has become the closest thing to a replacement that Sir Alex has found for Schmeichel but without a doubt, he would be my choice of keeper for any fantasy team.
Right Back: Gary Neville (2000/01).
The most difficult part of this selection was pinpointing the exact season as to when Neville was at his best. I have gone for the early 2000s as to when I think he was at his peak but for the best part of a decade, Gary Neville was the best right back in the league. Still an important figure at Old Trafford as the club captain, his determination and desire to play for United has seen him rewarded with a contract extension. Neville deserves this for his service to the club and has been an integral part of United’s unrivalled success.
Left Back: Denis Irwin (1993/94).
Patrice Evra was a close contender for this position but I have gone in favour of the former Ireland international purely on the basis of longevity. In his twelve years at the club, he won seven titles, three F.A Cups and a Champions’ League. Albeit right footed, Irwin was arguably better at left back where he played the majority of games for United. Irwin was not only a dependable full back but also had a knack for scoring penalties and free kicks too.
Centre Back: Jaap Stam (1998/99).
In his first season at the club, he won the treble. Intimidating, powerful and no nonsense, Jaap Stam was a centre forward’s worst nightmare. When he signed for the club he was exactly what they were missing and when he was sold (something Ferguson has since admitted his regret at doing), he was sorely missed as United leaked goals in a way they had never really done so before. Although he only spent three years at the club, Jaap Stam made a huge impression on Man United fans and I feel definitely warrants a place in this team.
Centre Back: Rio Ferdinand (2007/08).
I feel that Ferdinand has been the best centre back in the world for the last couple of years now. It took him a while to mature but seems to have been worth the wait. At the time, thirty million pounds seemed to be a very steep price tag for a centre back but Rio looks to have justified that investment and has gotten better with age and experience. Ferguson ought to think about awarding Rio with the permanent job of captain (I’m pretty sure he has).
Right Midfield: David Beckham (1998/99).
While at Man United, David Beckham twice came runner up in the FIFA World Footballer of the Year award. Although he was probably a more accomplished player and talismanic figure for both club and country in 2001, the way that Beckham bounced back from being outcast as a public hate figure after the 1998 World Cup is what most impressed me.
Left Midfield: Ryan Giggs (1992/93).
Giggs has the unique record of being the only player to have scored in every Premiership season. For as long as I can remember, Ryan Giggs has been annihilating full backs. He is the personification of loyalty and is Mr Manchester United. Over the years he has adapted his game to ensure that he can still compete at the top level and doesn’t get any less remarkable. However, it is the Giggs of the inaugural Premiership season that I would want marauding down the left wing as he was simply unstoppable.
Centre Midfield: Roy Keane (1999/00).
The PFA and Football Writers’ Player of the Year in 2000, Roy Keane was the engine room, the heart and soul of Manchester United for many a year. He demanded perfection and usually got it. The way his United career ended sours the fact that he was an immense talent and a fantastic captain. Not only is he an automatic selection but would definitely get the armband too.
Centre Midfield: Paul Scholes (1999/00).
Paul Scholes has never sought attention like many professional footballers do, but somehow I don’t feel he (or his talent) can ever receive enough praise. A truly remarkable exploiter of a football, he can dictate games with his eyes closed and has been doing so for what seems an eternity. It’s tricky to nail down the specific season that Scholes most shone for me as he has been superb for so many of them. I have gone with 1999/00 because of two special goals that live long in the memory, versus Bradford and then Middlesbrough (look them up on YouTube, both occasions United wore the less fondly remembered purple strip).
Striker: Cristiano Ronaldo (2007/08).
Well he had to be in here somewhere. You could play Ronaldo anywhere you like really and he’d still be sensational. Many would say that he is a midfielder but I would probably just tell him to play where he likes. Anyone who can score 42 goals in a season earns that privilege. His aerial ability married with David Beckham’s delivery would be an exciting prospect and I’d be intrigued to find out whether or not Ronaldo would score as many goals up front as he does from the wings. Either way, he’s in. You can’t not have the world’s best player in the team.
Striker: Ruud Van Nistelrooy (2002/03).
This was an unbelievably tough call, one that I didn’t anticipate (somewhat naively) when I began this article. Cantona or Van Nistelrooy? I only went for the Dutchmen because it’s who I’d pick to compliment the team if this were real. A born predator, he scores goals like you and I breathe. 44 goals in a season isn’t easy to ignore. Whereas Cantona was perhaps United’s most influential figure of the nineties and they wouldn’t be where they are today without him, I have to go for Van Nistelrooy just on the basis that goal scorers win a team trophies.
There is my team; some agree with me, most won’t so feel free to add your own suggestions and/or best elevens as well.