Man United: What happened to the four young players Ferguson signed alongside Rooney?

Ferguson, Rooney

Comparatively speaking, 2004 marked something of a lull for Manchester United. They’d just finished third for the second time in three years, albeit the remaining season ending with a Premier League title, while a befitting replacement was yet to be found for 2003 departure David Beckham.

Nonetheless, United were persevering in the transfer market and their intentions were obvious. Just as during summer 2003, the Red Devils were targeting young and hungry players who could underpin the starting XI for the years to come.

Ultimately, that transfer policy paid off as United brought in Wayne Rooney from Everton, a year after snapping up Sporting Lisbon prodigy Cristiano Ronaldo.

But in fact, the future Manchester United and England captain was just one of five players aged 23 or younger that Sir Alex Ferguson signed that summer - so what happened to the remaining four? Read their tales below…

Liam Miller

Liam Miller

There’s always been a connection between Celtic and Manchester United, so when the contract of one of the Scottish giants’ promising players was starting to wind down, the Red Devils were more than happy to take a punt on him.

The late Liam Miller had just come to the end of a solid breakthrough season in the Celtic first team, helping the Bhoys to the league title, but ultimately that momentum didn’t carry through to Old Trafford.

Miller made just 19 appearances in his first season at United before being loaned to Leeds and then subsequently sold to another club with a strong Irish heritage in Sunderland. He then joined yet another, Hibernian, following a brief spell at QPR.

The Ireland international latter’s career saw him play in Australia, his home country and America. But in 2017, after taking up a coaching role with Real Monarchs, disaster struck. Miller was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and passed away in February of the following year.

Rest in peace, Liam.

Alan Smith

Alan Smith

Some would have seen Alan Smith as a safer bet than Rooney when Manchester United snapped him up for a relatively modest fee from financially doomed Leeds. Capable of playing in midfield or up front, Smith was already a contender in the England fold and had ended the previous Premier League season with nine goals to his name.

But that netting prowess was never reproduced at Old Trafford and Sir Alex Ferguson’s attempts to retrain Smith as a Roy-Keane-esque ball-winner didn’t do him too many favours either. Those struggles were only compounded by a horrifying ankle injury suffered when attempting to block a John Arne Riise thunderbolt, and after a nine-month layoff Smith was very much stuck on the fringes of United’s squad.

Eventually Smith left for Newcastle where a deeper-lying role became his predominant position, before dropping down into League One with MK Dons and then League Two with Notts County. He retired in 2018 after deciding his body couldn’t take any more having suffered continual ankle pain.

Giuseppe Rossi

Giuseppe Rossi

A nine-goal loan spell back at Parma underlined his credentials, but United ultimately decided to sell him to Villarreal in summer 2007, where he’d go on to score 82 goals in 191 games - including 32 in a single season. But an ACL rupture in 2011 kept him on the sidelines for nearly two years and after that the American-born assassin was never quite the same.

He did register 16 Serie A goals for Fiorentina in 2013/14 but serious injury struck again and Rossi was then forced to find game-time elsewhere by going out on loan to Levante and Celta Vigo.

After a brief stint at Genoa which was later marred by a failed drugs test, Rossi returned to Manchester United’s training ground in 2019 in a bid to get fit, at this time being a free agent.
Eventually, he signed for Real Salt Lake in February 2020 and is still contracted to the MLS side.

Gerard Pique

Gerard Pique

Completing what was actually a pretty fantastic transfer window for United on the teenage signings front, a 17-year-old Gerard Pique was brought in from Barcelona’s academy and made his competitive debut only a few months later.

The centre-back showed glimpses but inevitably struggled to force himself into the team over the likes of Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic and Wes Brown, so when Barcelona came knocking in 2008, Pique was more than happy to return to his parent club.

There, Pique has since established himself as one of the top centre-backs of his generation, famed for the vigour in which he carries the ball into midfield and winning three Champions Leagues in the process, as well as the 2010 World Cup with Spain.

Now aged 33, Pique is still going strong at the Nou Camp, albeit a few shades shy of the defender who was once undoubtedly one of the world’s best. He retired from Spain duty in 2018 after their underwhelming performance at the World Cup in Russia.

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