Since the arrival of Alex Ferguson all those years ago, Manchester United have gone from strength-to-strength and have made light work of the Premier League.
Sir Alex has made a number of world-class signings that have added to his side, but their progress at Old Trafford has been stifled due to long-term injury lay-offs.
This Manchester United XI is in recognition of those players who could have achieved so much more with the Red Devils, had it not been for a prolonged spell on the sidelines that saw them become more accustomed to the Old Trafford treatment table.
Goalkeeper: Ben Foster
Ben Foster arrived at Manchester in 2005 and had a couple of seasons on loan at Watford. A serious cruciate ligament injury in his knee postponed his debut until 2008. The following season, he picked up an ankle injury beginning a recurrence of injuries, including a broken finger and an aggravated ruptured ligament in his thumb. Injuries continued to rule him out of England squads, and although he wasn’t the first-choice goalkeeper, Foster was predicted to be Edwin van der Sar’s replacement. He left United in 2010, and is now one of the best goalkeepers in England.
Right-back: Quinton Fortune
Brought in as cover for Ryan Giggs in the summer of 1999, Quinton Fortune became capable of playing in numerous positions. He stayed at Manchester until 2006, but injuries restricted his appearances and he never managed enough games in a title-winning season. However, his strength in defence was invaluable for Ferguson in the times he played and he is now an ambassador for the club.
Centre-back: David May
The understudy of Steve Bruce, David May was brought in by Alex Ferguson as a future star. He became a regular in 1996/97 season after Bruce left the club, and put in a string of good performances. His next two seasons were blighted by injury and the arrival of new defenders reduced any chance of a first-team comeback. May was loaned out to Huddersfield in 1999, but picked up an injury and returned to Old Trafford where he spent another three injury-plagued years. However, May left with an iconic status and the popular chant: "David May, superstar! Got more medals than Shearer!"
Centre-back: Wes Brown
Wes Brown made his debut in 1998 before making his breakthrough in United’s treble-winning season in 1999. He missed the entire 2000 season with an injury, before making a great comeback in the years that followed. However, regular injuries kept Brown on the sidelines more often than not. Although there was nothing wrong with his abilities, he dropped down the pecking order as an unremitting string of wounds kept him from playing. Brown eventually joined Sunderland in 2011, and still has injury problems which stopped him from becoming a United legend.
Left-back: Gabriel Heinze
Gabriel Heinze joined United in 2004, and quickly established himself as the first-choice left-back. He was voted the club’s best player in 2004/05 season. With high expectations for the next season, Heinze was sidelined from September to the end of the season. Minor injuries halted his return, but he later found form at centre-back. However, he became disillusioned with the manager and left for Real Madrid in the summer of 2007.
Defensive midfield: Owen Hargreaves
Still only 32, Owen Hargreaves is described as a hard-working and solid defensive midfielder who works tirelessly to win the ball and provide his teammates with possession. He is what Manchester United need right now; that holding midfield role which has been incumbent for a number of years. Ferguson had tried to sign him on numerous occasions and eventually did in 2007 following a brilliant showing in the 2006 FIFA World Cup. In his first season he was restricted to minor injuries, but the three seasons that followed were as good as career ending. Hargreaves managed just five appearances in three years before moving.
Central midfield: Darren Fletcher
Perhaps the man with the most distinguished United career, Darren Fletcher had become an integral part of the United midfield. He often popped up to score crucial goals, and it wasn’t until 2011 when he began his extended break due to health problems. Nevertheless, Fletcher is still highly-regarded by the United faithful, and was greeted with a standing ovation when he appeared in a testimonial game against Aberdeen. Fingers crossed 'Mr. Reliable' can return to action and bolster a midfield that lacks ball-winning credibility. He is missed immensely by all United fans.
Central midfield: Alan Smith
Having impressed at Leeds, Alan Smith joined United in the summer of 2004 and was converted from a striker to a holding midfielder due to his high work rate and hard-tackling. Another player which United should pine for in the midfield, the forgotten man suffered minor injuries during his first two season. It was in the 2006/07 season where he suffered mostly from a long-term absence, but gave 110% in the games he played.
Forward: Louis Saha
Louis Saha scored seven goals in his first ten starting appearances, having joined in the winter of 2004. He became an instant hit, however, his first full season at the club was plagued by injuries with a stop-start trend. He returned to action in November 2005 and pushed legendary striker Ruud van Nistelrooy out of the starting XI. In 2006, he enjoyed a good start and was the Premier League’s top scorer until subsequent injuries kept him out. He featured on the odd occasion from there on, as injuries disrupted this fine striker.
Forward: Michael Owen
The hero of the Manchester derby, Michael Owen was destined for greatness at United after less than impressive spells at Real Madrid and Newcastle. However, his injury troubles, which began at Newcastle, prevented the England striker from being the legend he was supposed to be. Despite rarely ever featuring, Owen will go down in history following his stoppage-time winner against Manchester City in an epic game in 2009.
Forward: Ole Gunnar Solskjaer
The hero of the 1999 UEFA Champions League, with a remarkable 13 winners’ medals and 126 goals in 366 Manchester United appearances, Solskjaer has a record to be proud of.
The 'Baby-faced Assassin' is a United legend, yet, without injury troubles, he would have been one of the greatest of all-time. From 2003 until his retirement in 2007, Solskjaer was sadly plagued by injuries. He did however manage little resistance in 2006, and was the club’s top scorer before the injury nightmare continued. He scored 28 goals coming off the bench, and has that perfect sentiment which United fans will never forget.
There you have it - a team which on its day, when all fit, will probably take any team to the cleaners. A strong defence, a hard-working midfield and a trio of strikers who were as prolific as they come in their prime! Do you agree with this selection? Get in touch and let us know.
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