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Ferguson’s greatest ever XI?

Before I go into explaining who is in my Sir Alex Ferguson XI and why, I just want to express my feelings on Sir Alex reign at Manchester United coming to an end at the end of the season.

My feelings the morning of the decision were of shock, confusion and not knowing where to turn.

Ed Draper commented during the reaction show on Full Time Devils that it was like ‘waking up a woman’ and he hit the nail on the head.

I woke up knowing Ferguson wouldn’t be our manager having had him as part of my life ever since I was born. Ever since I can remember following United, I would be sitting in the Theatre of Dreams and you’d glance over to the South Stand knowing you’d see him there – either perched in his seat at the back row of the dug out or standing, hands on hips, bellowing instructions out to the players on the field. You felt safe under his guidance, Fergie had our back.

It’s hard to fathom life without him at Manchester United and we are taking a massive leap into the unknown.

In a time when reality TV stars are glorified and the likes of Kim Kardashian are idols to some it is refreshing to see a period of celebration and glorification of a man that has not only built a legacy at one of the biggest sport institutions in the world over a period of twenty seven years but a man that has proven that hard work pays off and chasing your dreams is possible – no matter who says you can’t do it or how many setbacks you have along the way.

Sir Alex is THE boss and in my opinion, the greatest manager of all time – he’s built team after team, squad after squad of extremely talented players and has kept himself moving with the times in order to keep up with the competition.

Not only that he hasn’t just ruled with an iron fist, he’s kept himself approachable and made himself a father figure to players who are multi millionaires. His kept Manchester United as a family club and allowed our traditions to blossom in a time where football clubs have lost their values as they chase the dollars.

When you think of the great teams he’s built over the years, you could probably come up with two or three teams you could say are THE best of his reign and not have to repeat many players.

I’d like to take my time to go through the team I think would come out on top over all.

I’ve left out some amazing players, I’ve left out my favourite United player of all time, my childhood hero, David Beckham and that says it all about the players we’ve seen come through our club.

Leaving out the likes of Edwin van der Sar, Bryan Robson, Steve Bruce, Nemanja Vidic, Patrice Evra, Andy Cole, Dwight Yorke, Wayne Rooney, Teddy Sheringham, Ole Solskjaer et all shows you the calibre of player you have to be to make Ferguson’s best XI and the amount of legends he has created at the club.

Goalkeeper – Peter Schmeichel

When you have to pick a goalkeeper, it’s a great example of the Big Dane’s greatness that a world class name like Edwin van der Sar doesn’t even make me think twice.

Peter Schmeichel was a wall, he made some outstanding saves, he kept his defence in check, he gave them the confidence required to feel comfortable in possession and how often did we see his long throws from the back begin counter attack and allow us to keep the opposition pegged back.

It’s fitting that he bowed out as captain of the Treble winning side in the Nou Camp and he’ll long go down as not only Sir Alex’s greatest goalkeeper but in my opinion, THE greatest goalkeeper of all time and all for half a million quid.

Right Back – Gary Neville

Easy peasy.

Gary Neville was deemed too short to be a centre back by Sir Alex Ferguson, he once joked that Neville Neville should check the milkman due to his lack of height but Sir Alex utilised his positional sense, his desire to play for the club and his grit and determination to turn him into the greatest right back our club has had.

Gary was a great leader, strong in the tackle, positionally astute and whether it was David Beckham or Cristiano Ronaldo ahead of him, he’d use his over lapping skills to great effect coming up with countless assists.

Not only that but Gary Neville IS a red and the fans loved him.

Left Back – Denis Irwin

A lot of fans would probably plump for the more popular name of Patrice Evra, who don’t get me wrong has been a great servant to the club but this is an easy choice for me.

Not only was Irwin a fantastic defender, he supported Ryan Giggs down the left wing with great effect and was capable of popping up with crucial goals whether from the penalty spot or direct from a free kick.

He was an unassuming man who just went about his business before clocking off and going home to his family, the type of character Fergie loves and a big factor as to why he’s not given as much credit for his time as left back at United.

For me though, he’s Sir Alex’s best.

Centre Back – Rio Ferdinand

This is where the difficult decisions begin to come into play, who at centre back?

The first name for me was Rio Ferdinand.

Rio Ferdinand’s time at United has been up and down, from the contract problems to the drug ban but eventually he’s taken to this club like he’s been here forever and I would love to see him end his career at the club.

He approaches his tenth year as United’s first choice centre back and it’s been a period of time glittered with silverware. Six Premier League titles and a European Cup stand out but not only that Rio is a great footballer with his ability to carry the ball from defence, gaining an extra yard on his attacker to nip the ball and set United on the way.

Rio is great to watch and is a defender of the Maldini or Beckenbauer mould. A true great and Fergie’s best centre back in my opinion.

Centre Back – Jaap Stam

It was difficult to leave Nemanja Vidic, Steve Bruce and Gary Pallister out but in Jaap Stam we had a mixture of Rio Ferdinand’s footballing ability and Nemanja Vidic’s leadership and bravery.

He left the club under a huge cloud after Sir Alex made what he describes as his biggest mistake in letting him join Lazio, it’s been denied since but it was obvious the autobiography played it’s part in the decision to let him go but it was a decision that left a gaping hole in our defence that was embarrassingly filled by Laurent Blanc who was approaching his final years.

It took until the season after to truly fill the hole but we missed Jaap Stam – a true warrior at the back.

Right Wing – Cristiano Ronaldo

Arguably the greatest player to pull on the Red shirt of United, a player who went from being a one trick pony to the World’s best player, breaking record after record under Sir Alex’s guidance.

The first man to win the Ballon D’or while playing for United since George Best, he broke Denis Law’s goalscoring record and he lead us to another European Cup trophy in 2008 despite missing his penalty in the shoot out.

Ronaldo’s name is still sang by United’s support and it’s a true representation of how he’s regarded by Manchester United fans who’ve stuck by the lad through thick and thin.

For me Ronaldo is a one-off and it was an honour to see him reach his unstoppable peak at Old Trafford.

Put him on a plane, bring him home from Spain….

Left Wing – Ryan Giggs

Do I really need to explain?

Centre Midfield – Paul Scholes

One of Sir Alex’s most natural talents, ‘Sat Nav’ he’s known as for his ability to pick a pass and stick it on a six pence.

Scholes was far more than just that though, in his box-to-box peak he was a great goalscorer who had the knack of popping up on the edge of the box to fire home or nod in at the front post but then as he aged he moulded himself into the man that made us tick.

Similar to Xavi at Barcelona, he sat in the middle and allowed his feet do the talking, his passing was perfect and although he lost the ability to score a great number of goals he was still a scorer of great goals and crucial goals.

His volley at Villa Park, his winner against Barcelona and his winner at The Etihad are just a couple of examples.

At the time, it’s unconfirmed but tomorrow could very well be his last game at Old Trafford too and he’ll be missed greatly and he is without doubt a permanent fixture in anybody’s Sir Alex XI.

Centre Midfield – Roy Keane

His influence on United was epitomized in his performance in Turin, 1999.

You know how the story goes – he picks up a booking which means he’ll miss the final IF we get there, we’re 3-1 down on aggregate and the rest is history…

That night will stick with us all but Roy Keane was forever keeping United’s players around him on their feet and demanded the very best from his team mates.

He was Sir Alex’s image on the pitch and is the greatest leader I can remember us having. His greatness is probably defined by us not having properly replaced him yet and I don’t think we will have another player in that mould.

He wasn’t just a great leader though, he was a decent footballer too and although it was difficult leaving out Bryan Robson and Michael Carrick there is no doubting that Roy Keane is a true United legend despite the acrimonious way he left the club.

Striker – Eric Cantona

Le Roi, the King.

The image of him standing collar up, with a look of ‘I’m the man’ will long stick with us all but Eric Cantona’s signature was the catalyst for a period of unparalleled success for Manchester United.

He lead the team that was told they were too young to win anything and he helped mould them from boys to men.

Of course, we had the likes of Bruce, Pallister, Hughes, Schmeichel, etc but Cantona was an enigma to the players, one they did not want to let down and one that helped them stand up in the face of adversity.

He was a different type of captain to Roy Keane but he was the representation of Sir Alex on the pitch.

Not only that but he scored goals that were equally as beautiful as they were vital and the date of his retirement is probably the last time I felt so shocked and bewildered as I did when Fergie called it a day.

Striker – Ruud van Nistelrooy

For me the greatest goalscorer we’ve had since Denis Law.

Ruud van Nistelrooy’s record for United was phenomenal 150 goals in 219 appearances for the club, most of his goals come from inside the box but he was incredible at having the knack to pop up in the right spot at the right time.

He made a habit of confusing linesman with his runs starting in an offside position and he manipulated the rules to great effect.

The only regret I have from Ruud’s time at the club is he did not win as many trophies here as a man of his stature deserved, his time at the club was overshadowed by the brilliance of Thierry Henry at Arsenal but that doesn’t detract from the abilities of the Dutchman.

It’s a shame he left the club under a cloud, like Keane, like Stam and like Beckham but that doesn’t take away from how good he was.

RUUD! RUUD! RUUD!

So that’s it, Sir Alex’s greatest team.

With the likes of Edwin van der Sar, Patrice Evra, Nemanja Vidic, Steve Bruce, Gary Pallister, Bryan Robson, Michael Carrick, Paul Ince, David Beckham, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, Teddy Sheringham, Dwight Yorke, Andy Cole, Mark Hughes and co. wondering why they’ve been left out of the squad or in the stands which is the true testament to Sir Alex’s ability to build great teams, manage great players and not only that maintain a great relationship with players who still call him ‘The Boss’.

In years to come, we will see many of Fergie’s Boys becoming managers and coaches all around the World and it’s partly to do with the values and work ethic that Sir Alex drilled into them.

Tomorrow will be an emotional day, the most emotional of my time as a Manchester United fan.

I’ll be hoping for as many minutes of Fergie Time as possible as I’m dreading the full time whistle.

Thank you and good bye, Boss.

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Follow Adam McKola on Twitter.

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