An All Time Manchester United Best XI with no two players from a country
“Either write something or read something or do something worth reading or writing”. The lockdown is driving me crazy into new, undiscovered levels of boredom. So, I did the most productive and at the same time, the most unproductive activity I’ve done in months. I made an All Time XI of all the major clubs in Europe comprising of one player per country. The series starts with the most successful English club Manchester United.
Peter Schmeichel (GK) – Denmark
“Goalkeepers win you games sometimes, and Peter Schmeichel won more games than any other goalkeepers I’ve ever seen.” – Ryan Giggs
Over the course of time, Manchester United have been blessed with some remarkable goalkeepers. Whether it be Harry Gregg of the ‘Busby Babes’ or Edwin Van Der Sar of the later Fergie era or David De Gea, arguably the greatest goalkeeper of the current generation, all of them have etched their names in the Man Utd folklore. But the cream of the crop is Peter Schmeichel, one of the greatest shot stoppers to ever grace the game. ‘The Great Dane’ was an absolute monster for The Red Devils. During his stint with United, Schmeichel made 292 appearances, won five Premier League titles, three FA Cups, four UEFA Goalkeeper of the Year awards and capped of his Manchester United career as part of their historic treble winning squad.
At 6’4, Schmeichel was an imposing figure. His lightning quick reflexes enabled him to make saves that defied the laws of gravity. More than the saves or the clean sheets, his presence made him the legendary figure he is today. He had the rare ability to improve a defense by just playing. He was like a general, marshalling his troops in battle. Be it shot stopping, be it distribution, be it leadership, Schmeichel had it all. He made such an impact that an even a stint with arch-rival Manchester City did nothing to dampen his legacy in the red half of Manchester.
Antonio Valencia (RB) – Ecuador
“I knew what a fantastic player he was and he has not disappointed me on that front. However, what I could never have imagined was what a great person he is. I know I have said this before but I truly believe it is a real privilege for us to have such a good player and such a good man.” – Jose Mourinho
Barring David De Gea, Antonio Valencia had been the most succesful player for United in the Post-Fergie Era. He was and still remains, a criminally underrated player. Bought from Wigan Athletic as successor to Cristiano Ronaldo, the Ecuadorian had big boots to fill when he arrived in 2009. Such was the trust placed upon Valencia that the club gave him the No.7 shirt worn previously by the likes of Cantona, Beckham and Ronaldo. Back then, no one could have predicted that Valencia would stay one for 10 years, becoming the club’s stalwart at right back and captain them later in his career.
Valencia was a flying full-back. His devastating pace and excellent crosses into the box were a constant source of struggle for opponents. His no-nonsense, unflashy attitude and work ethic helped United immensely during their periods of transition under different managers. In 2019, Valencia left Manchester after 10 years of tireless service, making 241 appearances for the club.
Jaap Stam (CB) – The Netherlands
“It was one of the mistakes [ selling Jaap Stam] I made. Hopefully I haven’t made too many, but that was one.” – Sir Alex Ferguson
Jakob “Jaap” Stam’s tenure at United is a typical example of ‘Quality over Quantity.’ A daunting presence at his peak, the Dutchman made a profound impact during his relatively short spell with The Red Devils. He was instrumental for United’s success in the late 90s after the departure of the ageing old guard of Steve Bruce and Gary Pallister.
Stam was a strong defender with top-notch distribution and an acute positional sense. His versatility also enabled him to play at right-back. Even though Stam made only 79 appearances, he won two UEFA best defender awards, three consecutive league titles and was a major cog of the treble winning squad, perhaps the greatest Manchester United team ever. Peter Schmeichel once said that Stam was the best all-round defender he had come across in his career. He was a rock at the back and his importance to United was in full display when they collapsed defensively after his abrupt departure in 2001.
Nemanja Vidic (CB) – Serbia
“Nemanja put his head where other players are scared to put their feet.” – Robin Van Persie
Nemanja Vidic was a warrior. Bought from Spartak Moscow for just 7 million, he has established himself as one of the greatest, if not the greatest defender to ever play for Manchester United. From 2007 to 2011, there was no central defender in the Premier League better than the Serb. Along with fellow legend Rio Ferdinand, he helped to transform United from a side with a rather leaky defense into one of the best defensive forces in the world. The defensive duo hit its peak in the 2007/08 season, winning the Premier League and the Champions league conceding just 22 goals in the former.
Vida poured his heart out on the pitch. He would do anything to win a tackle, to not let the ball go past him. While Ferdinand was more elegant or technically proficient, he was the better of the two due to sheer tenacity and never say die attitude. He is the only defender to win the Premier Player of the Year twice. He made 211 appearances in 8 years for United winning numerous laurels that includes 5 Premier League titles before leaving in 2014.
Patrice Evra (LB) – France
“He was a fighter and a leader and a top left back. Played every game, every season and never missed a training session. A proper player!” – Phil Neville
Patrice Evra is by far, the best left-back Manchester United have had since the departure of the legendary Denis Irwin. During his tenure in United, he was indispensable, featuring in the Premier League Team of the Year thrice. Along with Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand, Evra completed a world-class defensive unit, peaking in the 2007/08 season by winning a Premier League and Champions League double. The Frenchman was one of the best, if not the best left-back in the world. He was the ultimate professional for United on the field and a vocal presence off it.
Evra was a proper modern day full-back. He was quick in attack, capable of zooming forward with the ball, delivering one cross after another and strong in defense, not afraid to make a tackle or two. In the 2009-10 season, he appeared in all 38 league matches, testament to his superb injury record. He left the club in 2014, winning five Premier League titles in 273 appearances. United’s struggles over the years with Blind, Young and Shaw at left-back shows how important Evra was for the Red Devils.
Ryan Giggs (LM) – Wales
“If Giggs was French, Pires or myself would have been on the bench.” – Zinedine Zidane
When I think of Manchester United, two names come into my mind. Sir Alex Ferguson and Ryan Giggs. Both these men are synonymous with the modern-day Manchester United. What more to say about Giggsy that has not been said already? His Premier League medals tally of 13 is bettered by just United and Liverpool. He had a ridiculously long career, being the only player to play in each of the first 22 seasons of the Premier League. A one club man, he is among the most decorated players in the history of the game, winning 34 trophies with United. I can go on and on!
As a player, Giggsy was mesmerizing! He made football look effortless. Mainly deployed at left midfield, he had the ability to run with the ball and leave opponents reeling at his stride (THAT goal against Arsenal comes into mind). Also, he was incredibly versatile, which contributed to the absurd levels of longevity. Over the course of his career, he has played as a left mid, right mid, attacking mid, centre forward and at times, even as a full-back. He was never sent off during his 24 year long career with United which proves his excellent disciplinary record. He finished his career in Manchester with a staggering 963 appearances. The greatest player in the history of Manchester United! Period.
Sir Bobby Charlton (CM) – England
“There has never been a more popular footballer. He was as near perfection as man and player as it is possible to be.” – Sir Matt Busby
Probably the best English footballer ever? Check. One of the greatest to play for Manchester United? Check. One of football’s finest sons? Check. Sir Bobby Charlton was one of a kind!
There might not be a more iconic figure in English Football history than Sir Bobby Charlton. He imprinted his legacy upon English Football by playing an instrumental role in their World Cup win in 1966. However, his career in Manchester was as legendary.
Sir Bobby’s career nearly ended at the age of 20. He was one of the survivors of the tragic Munich air disaster. As Manchester United rose from the ashes, Sir Bobby was a symbol of their past, a torchbearer of the club’s success, their best player. He was a playmaker with unparalleled vision and clinical finisher with both feet. 10 years after the Munich Air Disaster, Sir Bobby captained United to their first ever European Cup against in 1968, scoring twice against the legendary Eusebio’s Benfica in the final. He ended his career the club’s highest goal scorer with 249 goals from a mammoth 758 appearances, winning 3 league titles, a European Cup and a Ballon d’Or in the process.
I had half a mind to include Paul Scholes in my squad but, Sir Bobby Charlton is Sir Bobby frickin Charlton!
Roy Keane (CM) – Republic of Ireland
“If I could pick one player in my team, I would always pick Roy Keane, in front of any other players I’ve played with. Keano had everything. He was a leader, a great player, and probably the best I ever played with.” – Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
Roy Keane was an absolute monster, a frightening presence during his playing days. He was notorious for his boiling temper. His infamous lunge on Alfie Haaland literally ended the Norwegian’s career. However, no one could deny the fact he was a phenomenal footballer.
Keane was a dominant, tenacious central midfielder with a wide range of passing. He was a highly aggressive tackler. He holds the joint record for the most red cards received in English Football, being sent off 13 times in his career. His ability to seamlessly make the transition from defense to offense helped United immensely in counter-attacks. Also, the frequent late runs into the box ensured an occasional goal. The Irishman was captain of The Red Devils during their most successful period, winning the European Treble (The only English club to do so) in 1999. When he left United in 2005 after a fallout with Sir Alex Ferguson, he had made a total of 326 appearances, winning an astounding 7 Premier League Titles, a Champions League Title and 4 FA Cups.
George Best (RM) – Northern Ireland
” What he had was unique. You can’t coach it. If you go back to the basic qualities, he was exceptional.” – Johan Cruyff
George Best is probably the most elegant footballer to ever grace the game. While a controversial figure off the pitch, he was nothing short of a maestro on it. At his flamboyant best, he was like a gazelle, dancing past players with an effortless ease. With a ball at his feet, there was nothing the Northern Irishman was not capable of. Be it dribbling, creating or scoring, you name it, he had it.
Best is one of the greatest United players of all time. He came to Manchester when the club was going through a transitional phase and left, as one of the most influential footballers of his era. When “El Beatle” left United in 1974, he had more than 450 appearances to his name. During his time at the club, he won 3 league titles and the 1968 European Cup and was part of “The Holy Trinity” that consisted of himself, Sir Bobby Charlton and Denis Law.
In 2000, George Best was voted as the sixth greatest footballer of the 20th Century.
Cristiano Ronaldo (CF) – Portugal
“He does things I have never seen from any other player and it really is marvellous to watch. It takes a great player to grab the bull by the horns and make things happen, but he has done it repeatedly.” – Sir Bobby Charlton
The modern-day Cristiano Ronaldo and the Cristiano Ronaldo of yesteryear might be the same person but two entirely different footballers. For Manchester United, Cristiano was an enigma. Arriving from Sporting CP in 2003, the kid from Madeira set the world alight during his six years with United. An absolute delight to watch, he was a pacey, unpredictable winger with lightning quick footwork. Along with his dribbling, he had a hunger for goals, scoring 118 times in six seasons for The Red Devils. He had the world at his feet.
Cristiano was part of the legendary United side that won a record 3 Premier League Titles in a row and the 2008 Champions League. The same year, he won the first of his five Ballon d’Ors, scoring a ridiculous 31 times in the league and 8 times in the Champions League. If he stayed at United for the majority of his career, he could have gone on to become their greatest ever player. His departure in 2009, left a major void which United are struggling to fill even today, 11 years since he left the club.
Denis Law (ST) – Scotland
“He was the finest player that Scotland has ever produced and one of the greatest, the world has ever seen. He was my idol, as a player.” – Sir Alex Ferguson
Bought for the then British transfer record of 115,000 pounds, Denis Law was a revelation for United. At his peak, the Scot was an electric footballer. One of the greatest Scottish players of all time, Law was a freakishly good goal-scorer. His goals were crucial for United’s success in the 60s.
In the 1964-65 season, the club won its first league title after Munich. Law ended up being top-scorer in the league and subsequently, won the Ballon d’Or that year. He was nicknamed “Dennis the Menace” as he was a constant headache for opponents. He ended his career in Manchester as a winner of 3 league titles and a European Cup. He made 309 appearances for the Red Devils, scoring 171 times. Denis “The King” Law was part of Manchester United’s “Holy Trinity”. Among them, Sir Bobby was the creator, George Best was the dribbler and Law was the finisher.
This article is the first of the series “An all time XI of major European clubs with no two players from a country.”