Now that we are coming to the business end of the 2011-12 season with United fighting hard to retain the Premier League title, let’s cast our minds back a decade to the 2001-02 campaign.
While the collapse of ITV Digital plunged Football League clubs to the brink of financial ruin, United could only muster a third placed finish, behind both Arsenal and Liverpool.
Here are five players from that campaign and what happened to them since. How many do you remember?
Ruud van Nistelrooy
Dutch striker van Nistelrooy was due to join United in 2000 but a cruciate ligament injury days before he was due to arrive at Old Trafford meant his transfer was delayed until April 2001. He joined United from PSV Eindhoven for a then British transfer record fee of £19 million and went on to become United’s all-time European top goal scorer. He netted 95 goals in just 150 league games for United and 150 goals in 219 games in all competitions.
In his first season, he scored 23 goals in 32 league appearances, broke a record set by Mark Stein, Alan Shearer and Thierry Henry by scoring in eight consecutive league matches and was named PFA Players’ Player of the Year. The 2002-03 season saw him score 25 in 34 league matches and the 2003-04 saw 20 in 32. Ruud missed the majority of the 2004-05 season through injury but still scored eight goals in the Champions League. He overtook Denis Law at the top of United’s European scoring charts during a group stage draw with Lyon in September 2004.
He ended the 2005-06 campaign with 21 goals in 35 matches but after five seasons at Old Trafford, Ruud joined Real Madrid that summer for £11 million. The Dutch international had two productive seasons at the Bernebeu, scoring 25 in 37 league matches during the 2006-07 season and 16 in 24 during 2007-08 but saw the following two campaigns blighted by injury. Indeed, he managed just seven league appearances but scored five goals during this time.
In January 2010, van Nistelrooy joined Hamburg on an 18-month contract. He managed five goals in 11 appearances that season and then seven goals in 25 league appearances during the 2010-11 camapaign.
At 35-years-old he joined big-spending La Liga outfit Malaga at the start of this season but he is not finding the goals as easy to come by as he did during his days in the Premier League. He has scored just twice in 17 matches so far.
Juan Sebastian Veron
Like van Nistelrooy, Argentina midfielder Veron joined United before the 2001-02 season began but unlike his former team mate, often appears on lists of “worst transfers”.
After a successful spell in Italy, Veron did not take to the frenetic pace of the Premier League. He was awarded Premier League Player of the Month in September 2001 but his £28.1 million transfer from Lazio will not be remembered fondly. However, pundits are quick to forget his sumptuous performances in the Champions League!
United managed to convince Chelsea to pay £15 million for him during the summer of 2003 but Veron made just 14 appearances for the club before being loaned out to Inter Milan for two years. He joined Estudiantes on loan for the 2006-07 season which finally saw his contract at Chelsea run down and he joined the club permanently for the 2007-08 campaign.
Now aged 36, Veron is still at Estudientes and captain’s the side. With them, he won the Primera Division in 2006 and 2010 and the Copa Libertadores in 2009. Add these honours to a Premier League title with United in 2003 and a host of honours from his time with Inter Milan, Lazio and Parma and it becomes obvious he’s not as bad a player as was made out to be!
French defender Blanc had been a target for Sir Alex Ferguson since 1996 and he finally landed his man in August 2001 – at the grand old age of 35. Blanc was meant to fill a Jaap Stam-sized hole in the heart of United’s defence but he was criticised for poor performances during the early stages of his United career. Quite what was expected from a player now entering the “veteran” stage of his career I don’t know.
He was also the subject of an early Internet “viral” which attempted to attribute United’s first five defeats of the season to him. Take the first letter from Bolton Wanderers, Liverpool, Arsenal, Newcastle United and Chelsea to spell out “BLANC”. Spooky, until you remember Blanc did not play in either of the matches against Bolton or Liverpool.
Blanc spent two seasons at Old Trafford before announcing his retirement at the end of the 2002-03 season, where he won a Premier League winner’s medal.
In June 2007, Blanc was named the new manager of Bordeaux. He lead the team to second place in Ligue One and won the Manager of the Year award. The 2008-09 campaign was even more successful and Blanc lead his side to the title. Bordeaux won their final 11 matches of the season which set a new French record for consecutive victories. Bordeaux could only muster a sixth placed finish the following season and Blanc resigned from his position.
Blanc was unveiled as the manager of France in the summer of 2010 and his first move was to suspend all 23 players from the disastrous World Cup 2010 squad. The future looks bright for France, they won their Euro 2012 qualifying group and have earned friendly victories against the likes of England, Brazil and Germany. They are not a bad shout for a punt using free bets to win the tournament in Poland and Ukraine this summer!
After making enough appearances during the 2000-01 season to qualify for a Premier League winners medal, midfielder Chadwick saw his playing time limited during the 2001-02 campaign. He came on as a substitute during the “BLANC” defeats against Bolton and Chelsea but made just 11 appearances in all competitions that season.
He spent most of the 2003-04 season on loan at Burnley and joined West Ham United on a free transfer in August 2004. Despite making 32 appearances for the Championship club, he was sent on loan to Stoke City for the 2005-06 season and he impressed enough to make the move permanent in January 2006. In November 2006, Chadwick was loaned out again, this time to Norwich City. He made an instant impact – opening the scoring against arch-rivals Ipswich Town during a 3-1 defeat at Portman Road.
Again, Chadwick found first team football difficult to come by and joined MK Dons on loan in October 2008, scoring three goals in seven league appearances. By December he joined the team permanently and has gone on to make over 125 league appearances for the club. He won the Player of the Season award for the 2009-10 and 2010-11 seasons.
After making 135 league appearances for Wigan Athletic, Carroll joined United in July 2001 for a £2.5 million fee. He made just seven appearances in his first season at Old Trafford but 10 in the 2002-03 season which saw him qualify for a Premier League winners medal. The 2003-04 season saw him struggle for playing time following the arrival of Tim Howard but he earned a FA Cup winners medal in May 2004.
The 2004-05 campaign was both Carroll’s most productive and notorious. He played 26 league matches, including the infamous victory against Tottenham Hotspur. A long range shot from Pedro Mendes was dropped well behind Carroll’s goal line but the Northern Ireland keeper scooped the ball back into play and no goal was awarded.
Carroll was released at the end of the season and joined West Ham United on a free transfer. Injury ruled him out of the FA Cup final in 2006 and personal problems restricted his playing time the following season. After failing to make a single appearance for Rangers after joining them on a free transfer in July 2007, he moved to Derby County in January 2008. Carroll was part of the side that reached the League Cup semi final in 2008 but lost 4-3 on aggregate to former employers United.
Carroll has since played his trade around Europe, signing for Danish club Odense in August 2009, OFI Crete in August 2011 and Olympiacos this January. His first touch on his debut was a penalty save against Ruben Kazan in the Europa League.