Manchester United’s current crop will do well to carve out a career as glittering as Wes Brown’s.
The former United defender won every major honour between 1996 and 2011 before eventually moving to Sunderland.
That period also allowed him to feature in some of the best Premier League sides of all time, whether that was in his early days with the treble-winners of 1999, or alongside the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney in 2008.
Brown has been speaking to GIVEMESPORT from the Marriott Hotels Seat of Dreams at Old Trafford and he insists the Red Devils outfit of 1999 will never be surpassed, not even as Liverpool race towards the title at breakneck speed.
When asked if United’s 1998/99 squad were the finest the modern era has ever seen, even compared to the current Liverpool side, Brown told us: “Yeah. I’ve got some Liverpool mates and we have jokes but honestly that team in that era, against the teams that we played against as well, some fantastic teams not just in the Premier League but obviously in Europe, the teams we had to beat to get to the final, it was unbelievable.
“We were doing it with less subs on the bench as well. You’re not going to get better than that, I’ve been asked many a time and the treble is nearly impossible to do.
“There’s special teams that do it and that ’99 team was one of them. There’s a lot of games and to keep everyone fit and up to standard it would be difficult.”
That special generation featured several giants from the Class of ’92. Among them was Paul Scholes, who stood out as the most gifted midfielder of a generation, even against the likes of Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard.
“He was so good, there were some times [in training] when I would try and mark him and just give up after a bit, because he was too clever!” Brown added.
“He knows what he’s doing, doesn’t matter if it’s first touch, second touch, he was a very clever player, and he’s had the highest respect of the best players that the world has ever seen along the years and it’s totally deserved.
“For England, there was a situation where whoever was the manager, there was three great players at the time and they couldn’t just find the right positions for everyone. It happens sometimes and that’s the way it goes and you just move on.”
The Portuguese’s rise from a shy, little-known winger from Sporting Lisbon to Ballon d’Or winner might seem a distant, almost unthinkable memory now. But for Brown, there is one characteristic that he’s never forgotten about Ronaldo.
“First of all, he didn’t defend so he didn’t help me out! But he was a special player. He was one of those players where the team might not be playing well, but he’d bring something special out the hat and get the three points and we’d move on.
“And he’s been doing it ever since. He’s one of the most talented people I’ve seen, the drive he has, the ability, the way he works hard and he’s shown that not just at United, but every club he’s been at.
“He was a good lad, obviously he was a young lad, funny, always making jokes. But the determination you could see from the beginning, that he was trying to improve and get better and better and he’s certainly done that at Manchester United and the other teams. But he was a special guy who wanted to be the best and became the best.
“He’s managed to change his game over the years, very clever. Not use a lot of energy all the time, he runs at the right times, he runs into the right spaces. And we know that he can score goals, so he’s learned how to adapt to that side of it as well.”
From the signing of one promising Lisbon midfielder to a man – in some quarters at least – who has been dubbed the next Ronaldo, Brown has also been suitably impressed with Bruno Fernandes.
“He’s lifted the whole team, you can see the confidence in him and it’s also running through the team. He’s one of those players that he always wants to be on the ball and make things happen. It’s obviously very early but you can see the lift he’s given to the team in general.”
The impact of Fernandes’ arrival has been bolstered by impressive performances from those who already have a sense of United’s identity, whether that is lifelong fan Odion Ighalo or recent Academy products Marcus Rashford, Mason Greenwood and Brandon Williams.
“When they’ve come in, as a manager I’m guessing you probably don’t expect a lot. For the young lads, it’s just getting a little bit of experience and letting them learn and making them understand what it’s like to play in the first team on a big occasion and I’ve got to say the three of them have all excelled really.
“Even Mason, at such a young age coming in and scoring some of the goals he has done. Williams again has probably come in filling in for [Luke] Shaw when he was injured and then he was making it very hard for the manager not to pick him every game.
“The fact that [Ighalo] has always supported the club as well. That just shows he’s always going to give 100% when he’s on the pitch and he’s scored now and I’m sure he’s going to get a lot more opportunities. I’m sure at the time he probably would have been as shocked as most of us. He’s got very good Premier League experience. He knows the players, he knows the teams. And that little bit of experience will definitely help the team.”
Following his Europa League and FA Cup goals, Ighalo’s task will now be to ensure United make the top four, a feat which would further ease the pressure on Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
While their recent progress will, as always, be noted with caution, Brown believes the Norwegian has at least showed more signs than the other post-Ferguson managers of being on the right track towards success.
“I’ve not been in the changing rooms but I know that we all learned a lot of Sir Alex,” Brown said.
“People talk about ‘is he strong enough, does he get into the players?’ and I know he does because I’ve heard him when I was at Sunderland and he was at Cardiff.
“He’s trying to build something here, he’s got some brilliant players in over the last season. We’re still in contention of getting the Champions League spots, we’re still in Europe, still in the FA Cup.
“You never know 100% but we’ve had some fantastic managers in, world-class managers who have won lots of stuff but at the club it’s not quite happened. Maybe not the right fit.
“And I just think Ole is. He does understand the club. When Sir Alex finished, maybe we didn’t think that’s what it needed, maybe it does. You can see progress in what he’s doing.”
United may no longer be striving for the same kind of accolades as under Ferguson, but the next few weeks could be telling of how Solskjaer’s project is going to pan out.
Marriott Hotels, Official Hotel Partner of Manchester United, is upgrading three fans at each home Premier League match to the Marriott Hotels #SeatOfDreams. Fans will watch the match from the best seats in the house at Old Trafford and be joined on the sofa by a Manchester United legend.
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