Manchester United fans are desperately longing for the stable, trophy-laden days of the Sir Alex Ferguson era.
Since his retirement in 2013, the club has been in a steady decline and completely unable to function as a footballing operation without his genius at the helm, pulling all the strings.
Many have tried, but most have failed miserably. Erik ten Hag is the latest to take on the poison chalice that is the manager’s job at United post-Ferguson, and again has a mammoth task on his hands.
Not only are United’s recent failures a clear sign of a seriously poor ownership finally taking its toll on the club after years of neglect since 2005, it is also a reflection on Ferguson – and truly how incredible he was.
Taking charge in 1986, it took him a while to settle – much longer than any manager would ever be given in today’s game – but when he did, he turned the Red Devils into a force once again.
After winning the inaugural Premier League in 1992/93, that was it. They were off.
That initial win set the tone for an era of complete and utter dominance. Ferguson bowed out having won 13 Premier League crowns, five FA Cups and two Champions Leagues, one of which was one in a historic, continental treble in 1999.
It was always going to prove near impossible to replace Ferguson. Even with the most stable, forward-thinking owners in the world, United more than likely would’ve struggled.
But considering the team the legendary Scotsman left behind and the lack of backing David Moyes received in the transfer market after taking the job, it’s no surprise he fell so flat on his face.
By the end of his tenure, Ferguson was working with a severely fractured squad. He somehow bowed out by winning the 2012/13 Premier League, but it’s a marvel considering the team he was working with.
His genius papered over the cracks that were emerging due to the ownership regime, and that shows massively when you go back and look at the final starting XI he fielded, away to West Brom in a thrilling 5-5 draw.
So, without further ado, let’s take a look at that XI, and see what happened next for each player.
GK – Anders Lindegaard
The Danish stopper signed for United in 2010 from Aalesund, with Ferguson having one eye on Edwin van der Sar’s retirement. He failed to make the spot his own, though, and was relegated to number two duties following David de Gea‘s arrival.
He stuck around at United until 2015, but wouldn’t receive a cap for the Denmark national team again after 2012. After United and a one-year stint at West Brom, Lindegaard dropped down the English divisions. Now 38, he’s played for Swedish outfit Helsingborg since 2019.
RB: Antonio Valencia
Valencia was an incredible servant to United in the post-Ferguson era, but was never quite the same after a leg break suffered in 2010.
Still, though, he managed to forge a fine career at the club, shifting into a right-back during the 2010s and proving a dependable dressing room leader and captain, up until his 2019 departure. He retired in 2021 after a season in Mexico.
CB: Phil Jones
At this point, Jones was considered one of United’s brightest prospects, and was even touted as having the potential to become United’s greatest ever player – by Ferguson himself.
We all know how that’s worked out. Almost a decade on and Jones is somehow still at the club, having had his career ravaged by injuries. He really has seen it all at United. Hopefully he can enjoy the senior years of his career with more regular football.
CB: Jonny Evans
It was a tough gig for Evans at United, but after a while, he found a vein of consistency and earned the trust of Ferguson, stepping up as Nemanja Vidic broke down with injuries.
He clearly wasn’t United standard, though, and left in 2015 for West Brom. Since then, he’s carved out a career as a more than capable Premier League defender, and serves as the experienced head at Leicester City.
LB: Alexander Buttner
United fans will have fond memories of Buttner debuting that season, with a goal and an assist in a 4-0 win against Wigan. The guy looked electric. Until it became apparent that he wasn’t.
The Dutchman wasn’t up to the task and left in 2014, embarking on a journeyman career. He’s since played in Russia, Holland, Belgium and the United States. He now plays his football in the Dutch second tier, aged 33.
CM: Michael Carrick
Carrick was absolutely pivotal to United in the years after Ferguson. Fans began to realise his ability and importance as he grew into a leader at the club, at the base of midfield and even in defence.
He completed the feat of winning every domestic honour in the English game by lifting the FA Cup in 2016 and would play for two more years before retiring and becoming a coach. That culminated in Carrick stepping in as interim manager in 2021, following Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s sacking. He left the club after the brief spell.
CM: Tom Cleverley
Another player who was clearly not up to the required level but was dragged up there by Ferguson, Cleverley was on borrowed time after the Scot’s retirement.
He stuck around under Moyes, but left for Everton on a free transfer in 2015, where he spent two rather underwhelming years. Now an experienced head, he’s found his stride in the Championship with Watford.
Oh, Anderson, By 2013, the Brazilian was a far cry from the young starlet who won the Golden Boy award in 2008. He left on loan in 2014, and permanently in 2015, returning to Brazil and infamously was pictured needing oxygen in his second game for Internacional.
He headed to Turkey with Adana Demirspor in 2018, but again underwhelmed and eventually retired in 2020. Still a Premier League and Champions League winner, though.
CM: Shinji Kagawa
Kagawa arrived at United at a difficult time. Ferguson signed the attacking midfielder from Borussia Dortmund, and he rotated with Wayne Rooney behind the striker throughout 2012/13.
Moyes simply didn’t see the same level of talent in the Japanese midfielder, though, as he fell down the pecking order and re-joined Dortmund in 2014. He’s since played in Turkey, Spain and Greece, but currently plays in the Belgian top flight for Sint-Truden.
ST: Javier Hernandez
Developing a knack for goals from the bench, ‘Chicharito’ proved an invaluable super sub for Ferguson, but didn’t kick on in the era following his retirement.
He left United in 2015 after a loan to Real Madrid – yes, really – but returned to the Premier League in 2017 with West Ham. Again, though, he couldn’t make it stick and is currently plying his trade for LA Galaxy. He recently admitted he’d play for free if United asked him to return.
ST: Robin van Persie
The man who dragged Ferguson and a broken squad to the Premier League title in his final season at the helm. Van Persie signed for that reason, and delivered on his promise – famously donning the number 20, too.
One top season was all United got out of Van Persie, as injuries and inconsistency unfortunately crept in afterwards. He left in 2015 after falling out of favour, heading to Fenerbahce. He closed out his career with a one season return to Feyenoord in 2018/19, and now coaches at the Dutch club.