The Manchester United record books list masses of players from at home and abroad who have pulled on the shirt. The discussion of the best individuals to have ever stepped out on the pitch is one that supporters from all clubs tend to have on occasions. Every United fan has their list of favourites, whether it is the domestic icons Sir Bobby Charlton, Paul Scholes or Ryan Giggs, or the overseas stars from Andrei Kanchelskis and Eric Cantona to Cristiano Ronaldo and Robin van Persie.
What if the greatest ever overseas Reds could take on the best of those to have come through the youth team? Well just imagine the first-choice line-ups were unavailable that day, which players might be taking to the turf in their place?
Overseas Reds XI
(Goalkeeper) Ron-Robert Zieler
At 16 years of age, Zieler moved to United from Köln and he got experience on loan with Northampton Town in the 2008/09 season. Besides gaining two Manchester Senior Cup winners medals the bench was as far as he got in his Old Trafford days. Since returning to Germany with Hannover in 2010 the 24-year-old has built up a reputation as one of the best in the Bundesliga, also winning two international caps and making the Germans’ Euro 2012 squad with Manuel Neuer and Tim Wiese. After seeing off competition from Massimo Taibi, Ricardo, Raimond van der Gouw and Mark Bosnich for this place, Zieler will certainly make it difficult for the homegrown strikers.
(Right-back) John Sivebaek
Playing the full game as his unfancied Denmark side beat Germany 2-0 to win Euro 92 ranks as the standout achievement of Sivebaek’s career. The ex-Monaco and Saint-Etienne right-back will however never forget his solitary goal as a United player – the winner from a free-kick against Queens Park Rangers and the very first Reds goal of the Ferguson era.
(Centre-back) Nikola Jovanovic
A Yugoslavian international, Jovanovic came to England from Red Star Belgrade in 1980. After four goals in 21 appearances his struggles with chronic back pain contributed to his departure in 1982. A Dave Sexton signing, he was unable to re-establish himself under Ron Atkinson but he goes down as the club’s first player from outside the British Isles.
(Centre-back) William Prunier
A one-time youth teammate and first-team colleague of Eric Cantona’s at Auxerre, French defender Prunier’s career at Old Trafford was quite different to that of his distinguished compatriot. An international player (with one cap anyway), Prunier joined United towards the end of 1995 and after getting his chance and impressing on his debut against QPR it all went wrong in his next outing. The absence of Gary Pallister, Steve Bruce and David May had given him his opportunity but in a defence alongside Paul Parker, Gary and Phil Neville he was undone as Spurs won 4-1 at White Hart Lane on New Year’s Day 1996.
Making the safe assumption that Patrice Evra would get the place in the foreign first eleven there really aren’t too many competitors for the left-back position in this line-up. Right-back Rafael has so far made over twice as many first-team appearances at the club as his twin Fabio and the left-back has a relegation with QPR to his name. At 23 however and status as a Brazilian international it is perhaps somewhat premature to be writing the obituary of Fabio’s Old Trafford career just yet.
(Right-midfield) Karel Poborsky
Four major international tournaments, the all-time leading appearance holder for the Czech Republic (118 caps) and an outrageous and unforgettable lobbed winner in the Euro 96 quarter-final. There can be no suggesting that Poborsky was a bad player by any stretch of the imagination but his time in England didn’t scale the heights expected. He was at United for two years, joining off the back of a great tournament with Euro 96 runners-up Czech Republic, but left in early 1998 for Benfica with David Beckham established as a standout on the right.
(Centre-midfield) Kennedy Bakircioglü
It would be far too easy to go with Kleberson and Eric Djemba-Djemba so just stealing a place from once highly regarded midfielder Jonny Rödlund is fellow countryman Kennedy Bakircioglü. Even United fans could be forgiven for forgetting his liaison with the club but the future Sweden international, Ajax midfielder and Championship Manager favourite briefly appeared for the reserve team in the 1998/99 season.
(Attacking-midfield) Jordi Cruyff
Having a famous father to help guide your football career can certainly help but when it happens to be all-time great Johan Cruyff it is understandable to find it hard to emerge from his shadow. ‘Jordi’, as his shirt simply read, made a promising start at the club in 1996 but he was never really able to make his mark, with injuries disrupting him considerably. Although Liverpool won in extra-time he did level for Alaves at 4-4 in the 88th minute of their 2001 UEFA Cup final in his first season after leaving United.
(Left-midfield) Arnold Mühren
A 1981 UEFA Cup winner with Sir Bobby Robson at Ipswich Town, Mühren won two FA Cups with the Reds after signing in 1982, although he was not included in the squad in 1985. The Dutchman’s left foot was undoubtedly gifted and although Reds who saw him at the time will testify that he was slightly past his best he is remembered well. The two Jespers, Olsen and Blomqvist, were the ones to miss out on this place in the team.
(Striker) Erik Nevland
A promising Norwegian striker who United took a chance on in the 90s – where have you heard that before? The only league game Nevland played for the club was as a sub in the 1997/98 season against Southampton but he did hit the back of the net in the League Cup against Bury in the treble year. He left in 2000 after loan spells with Viking and Göteborg but he returned to the Premier League with Fulham in 2008, showing his assured touch in front of goal on a few occasions for Roy Hodgson’s team.
(Striker) Jovan Kirovski
Many might have expected this place to go to David Bellion, Mame Biram Diouf, Manucho, Giuseppe Rossi or even Diego Forlan but how often do you see Jovan Kirovski named in a classic United line-up? The Californian eventually got his chance in the English game with Crystal Palace and Birmingham City and was part of the Borussia Dortmund squad who won the Champions League in 1997. A USA international of 62 caps and ex-LA Galaxy teammate of David Beckham, Kirovski caught the eye as a youth player at United but work permit problems forced his departure.
(Goalkeeper) Kevin Pilkington
Most football enthusiasts are aware of the 1992 FA Youth Cup-winning team but alongside Beckham, Butt, (Gary) Neville and Giggs were of course a few others. In goal was Kevin Pilkington who after appearing as a sub for Peter Schmeichel in the league in 1994 had to wait until September 1995 for his first start. It was not a happy experience as York City of the fourth tier won 3-0 in the first leg of the League Cup second round. Pilkington was with the club until 1998, playing eight times before later being established at Mansfield Town and Notts County.
(Right-back) Mike Duxbury
With Gary Neville nailing down the right-back place in the first-choice Homegrown Reds XI another ex-England international to play in the youth side at United is chosen. Originally at Everton as a schoolboy, Duxbury signed for the Reds in 1975 and made his first-team debut in 1980. Duxbury won the FA Cup in 1983 and 1985 but was not in the team for the first game in the 1990 final against Crystal Palace or the replay and he subsequently left for Blackburn Rovers on a free.
(Centre-back) Simon Ratcliffe
Davyhulme-born defender Ratcliffe was named the club’s Denzil Haroun Young Player of the Year for the 1985/86 season and was deemed worthy of a professional contract by Ron Atkinson. Ultimately, he never got his chance in the first team but he went on to play a bit-part in a successful Norwich City side before helping Brentford to the Third Division title in 1992 and winning promotion to the third tier with Gillingham in 1996.
(Centre-back) Michael Clegg
An FA Youth Cup winner in 1995, Clegg lifted the Manchester Senior Cup as reserve captain in May 1999. He was thought of highly enough by Sir Alex to make 24 appearances in total, getting his debut as a sub in the league game at Middlesbrough in November 1996. After loans with Ipswich Town and Wigan Athletic he left permanently in 2002, spending two years at Oldham Athletic before retirement at 27.
(Left-back) Clayton Blackmore
Although born in Neath and a Welsh international, Blackmore joined at 14 before making his debut at 19 in May 1984. Plenty of his appearances came further forward but he was at left-back in the Cup Winners’ Cup final win over Barcelona in 1991, playing behind Lee Sharpe in the 2-1 victory in Rotterdam. He was an FA Cup winner in 1990, coming on for the last few minutes of normal time in the 3-3 extra-time draw with Crystal Palace before being an unused sub for the replay. He made 245 appearances, scoring 26 goals before joining up with Bryan Robson who had taken over as player/manager at Middlesbrough in 1994. Admittedly, he can feel slightly aggrieved at not making the first-choice Homegrown Reds team but his know-how will certainly benefit this line-up.
(Right-midfield) Terry Cooke
In the 1995 FA Youth Cup final, Phil Neville captained the Reds to a win over Tottenham and the man who converted the winning penalty was Terry Cooke. Cooke was a 19-year-old when he made his first-team bow, setting up Ryan Giggs in a 3-0 win over Bolton at Old Trafford in September 1995. He scored in the 3-1 League Cup win at York City the following month as a very strong line-up was unable to overturn the first-leg deficit, going out 4-3 on aggregate. Cooke featured eight times before later helping Man City to promotion from Division Two in 1999 and featuring for the likes of Sheffield Wednesday before playing in America, Australia and Azerbaijan.
(Centre-midfield) Ben Collett
A talented left-footed central midfielder, Collett was named the Jimmy Murphy Young Player of the Year in 2003. Sadly, his progress was stopped in its tracks when a challenge from Middlesbrough’s Gary Smith in a reserve fixture left his leg broken in two places. Collett was awarded around £4.5million in compensation in 2008 after his potential career earnings based on his huge potential were calculated. It was said in court that he could have earned over £13,000 per week, meaning he would have made over £16million had he played until 35.
(Centre-midfield) Richie Wellens
Not making the breakthrough with Beckham, Scholes, Giggs, Keane etc. in the team is no disgrace and Richie Wellens certainly wasn’t the only talented midfielder at the time who had to go elsewhere. He played once, in October 1999 in the League Cup against Aston Villa, before establishing himself as one of the most productive players outside the top flight. Wellens is currently in a second spell with Championship Doncaster Rovers at the age of 33 following successful stints with Blackpool, Oldham and Leicester.
(Left-midfield) Ben Thornley
With Lee Sharpe ineligible for this line-up due to being a first-teamer at Torquay prior to joining United the place goes to one of the triumphant 1992 FA Youth Cup side. Thornley netted in the 6-3 aggregate win over Crystal Palace and many remember him to this day for the promise he showed. An England Under-21 international, he played 14 times for the club but injuries took their toll on his Reds prospects. He later represented Aberdeen, Blackpool and Bury amongst his clubs, working under the management of former teammate Steve Bruce in three years with Huddersfield.
(Striker) Danny Webber
A prolific scorer through the youth ranks, Webber signed professionally in 1998. He played twice in the League Cup and also came on as a sub in the Champions League away to Deportivo in March 2003, replacing Diego Forlan. Also making his way up at the club at the time was Webber’s best friend and fellow frontman Jimmy Davis, who died in a car crash at the age of 21 in August 2003 while on loan with Watford where Webber had signed permanently. Having won promotion to the Premier League with Sheffield United in 2006, Webber has also played for Portsmouth, Leeds and Doncaster since leaving Old Trafford and he is now with League Two Accrington Stanley.
(Striker) Colin McKee
Another of the ‘Class of 92’, Scottish forward McKee headed in a Ryan Giggs cross in the second leg of the Youth Cup final win over Palace. Although his three years with Kilmarnock were the most noteworthy of his career McKee was once United’s number 17, just ahead of Andy Cole taking it the following season (1994/95). McKee played just once under Sir Alex, alongside the likes of Cantona, Robson, Dublin and McClair in a goalless draw with Coventry at Old Trafford in May 1994.
www.togasports.co.uk has provided a comparison of overseas reds XI vs home-grown United players. Which side do you think would have been the best?