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Underrated Manchester United XI – 30 years of the Premier League

1992/93 was the first year of the newly rebranded Premier League and this new season signals 30 years, for Manchester United it has been a very good 30 years as a whole but the last few not so much.

So, I have thought about what players have gone underrated from their time in the 30 years of Premier League, this is not about what they did in anything other than the League.

My rules for this are:

  • Formation for this team must be 4-4-2 or 4-3-3
  • Players must be underrated so be honest with yourselves, no slipping Beckham or Irwin in for example as we all know how great they were. This is for the ones that flew under the radar or didn’t quite make it/get the love they deserved.
  • Contributions in the Premier League only, Juan Sebastien Veron played great in the Champions League but not the Premier League for example.

Goalkeeper:

Fabien Barthez:

So, I have gone for the eccentric World Cup and European Championships winning goalkeeper from France. United had so much trouble trying to replace the great Peter Schmeichel and it became a massive problem position for many years.

Barthez should have been the man to fill his shoes, he certainly had the talent for it but his four years at the club were erratic to say the least. However, United won the league twice in his four years at the club.

He dropped some clangers infamously against Arsenal allowing Thierry Henry to score twice in a 3-1 loss, but also some truly stunning saves from Dietmar Hamann against Liverpool at Anfield.

For me, he was a risk taker and for most people that is an admirable quality in a player but not in a goalkeeper. He was a player who came to United too soon. He would be more acceptable in the modern era, with how goalies play as there’s more emphasis on playing out from the back.

Right Back:

Rafael:

Another problem position for United to fill in the Premier League era was right back after Gary Neville retired. For me, the only one who really did that was Rafael.

The Brazilian along with his twin brother Fabio joined in 2008 and reminded me of the Neville brothers for being able to play in multiple positions, so it was ironic that Rafael replaced Gary Neville.

He was a very attacking full back who didn’t need an invitation to cross the halfway line. The Brazilian could defend well for his attacking qualities. Also, he was tough tackling and had a bit of fight about him which always endears a player to fans.

Also scored some very memorable goals for the club, some great strikes against QPR and Arsenal but a stunning curling effort in a win at Anfield will always be my favourite memory of him.

Centre Backs:

Henning Berg:

My first choice at centre back is Henning Berg who signed from Blackburn in the 1997/98 season for £5m, Berg won the title at Blackburn and was a very important part of that team that pipped United to the title in 94/95.

Berg was a very consistent and versatile player whilst playing for Blackburn and it was those qualities that led Sir Alex Ferguson to sign him. He was always a strong centre back who was good with the ball at his feet.

In the 98/99 he lost out as first choice centre back to new signing Jaap Stam, but he still played a big part of United pipping Arsenal on the final day as the first part of the treble.

He gained his place back as Ronny Johnsen couldn’t avoid injuries and United would win the league again this season. However, this would be his last season at the club as in the 2000/01 season he joined Blackburn on loan then permanently the next season.

Ronny Johnsen:

Signing for £1.2m in the summer of 1996 alongside Ole Gunner Solskjaer, Karel Poborsky and Jordi Cryuff, the Norwegian quickly establishing himself in the middle of the defence and taking the role vacated by club legend Steve Bruce seamlessly.

In his first three years at the club, it became clear that he was a fantastic defender but also very versatile and good with the ball at his feet, something most centre backs in England weren’t.

During his time at United, he won the league twice and was a vital cog in the treble win in the 98/99 season. Sadly, for Johnsen he picked up too many injuries and couldn’t stay fit and it curtailed his time at the club until he was given a free transfer in 2002 after six seasons with the club.

If he hadn’t had been as injured as he was then I believe he would be more highly regarded than he was but sadly his time at the club is remembered for his injuries instead of the great player he was.

Mikael Silvestre:

In 1999, Silvestre joined from Inter Milan for £5m, he played the majority of his career at United at either left back or centre back. He came in at a time when Denis Irwin was still starting left back but sadly advancing in years, Silvestre soon established himself as United’s left back over the next few seasons which showed his quality as replacing Irwin would have been a tough act for any player.

An 8 month ban for Rio Ferdinand forced Silvestre to play at centre half for United in the 03/04 season alongside Wes Brown, both players made mistakes in that season but still beat Millwall to win the FA Cup.

Nemanja Vidic and Patrice Evra’s signings both signalled less game time for Silvestre when they joined to play centre back and left back respectively, nevertheless he signed a new contract with Ferguson acknowledging his importance to the squad.

In 9 years at the club, he made 249 appearances and won 10 honours including 4 league titles and the Champions League in 2008. His versatility made him a great squad player for United and he often popped up with numerous assists more often than not for Ruud van Nistelrooy in his time at the club.

Ji-Sung Park:

I will be honest, when I did my rough draft of this side, I didn’t include him. Not because I decided to go with someone else, no more I forgot all about him.

This is in a way the reason he must be in here in that he would go completely unnoticed by most fans but if you think for a second then you realise just how crucial he was from 2005-2012.

United dominated the years in which Park was at the club and his intelligence, hard work and quality to add to his ability to adapt to whichever position he played made him a key player in the squad.

He made 134 appearances, and 19 goals were invaluable where he won the Premier League 4 times during his tenure. Very easy to overlook as I proved before but a man who when pulled on the jersey never disappointed.

Darren Fletcher:

An often-derided figure in his time at the club and since he has come back to the club as well but a brilliant player no doubt.

Fletcher came in the 03/04 season and was a big part in United’s resurgence in the Mid 00’s in winning domestically and abroad.

He became a big part of the team utilising his work rate and running, in his younger days he was often accused of being Ferguson’s Pet. Someone who only got in the team because he was the same nationality as the manager, but he soon proved his worth.

Fletch was a young player, who matured as that team matured in title winners, he was a strong dependable player who had his health concerns towards the end. But as United succeeded during his time he was often than not only the pitch doing the hard yards for the forwards to go and do their thing.

Paul Ince:

Hear me out on this one, so we all know Ince left us with the ‘Big Time Charlie’ allegations from Sir Alex Ferguson then he departed to Inter Milan to only rock up at Liverpool when he did return a few years later.

But and I do stress this that Ince was a very good player whist at United and is one of the most important reasons why in his three seasons in the Premier League he only lost out on one league title to Blackburn on the final day of the 94/95 season.

Ince had effectively helped United move away from relying on an ageing Bryan Robson and solidifying United’s midfield. When Roy Keane joined in 93 those two together made United an absolute force of nature.

He was a midfielder who could do it all and was a key reason behinds United’s ascent to dominance in the early 90’s. Much so that when he left in the summer of 95 to go to Inter that many fans felt as if Ferguson had lost the plot.

We all know that history vindicated Ferguson but for a time this was a baffling decision, his tenure at Liverpool tainted many fans opinion towards him. He is stuck in a purgatory amongst the two club as United fans don’t forgive him for going to Liverpool and Liverpool fans never took to him because of his association with United.

Nevertheless, a truly talented midfielder who if we strip away all the external stuff about him and focus on the playing side, he was a big part of the club having the legacy we do now and it should be remembered.

Andrei Kanchelskis

When the Premier League began a foreign player was a rare thing, fast forward to today and it’s the norm. Kanchelskis was one of 13 foreign players to play on the opening day of the 92/93 inaugural Premier League season.

Kanchelskis was a lightning quick winger who was every full back’s nightmare, with amazing pace and explosive acceleration he was a key part of United’s attack in the first years of the Premier League.

He was only at the club for just three Premier League seasons, but his impact was massive, alongside Ryan Giggs on the other side United had two of the toughest wingers in the country for any defence to contend with bar none.

His best season at the club was unfortunately his last, in the 94/95 season where Blackburn pipped United to the title on the final day, he scored 14 goals in 30 league games. He missed the last few weeks of that season with a hernia, and this was a key blow to United’s chances of the title that season coupled with Eric Cantona’s suspension.

In the 95/96 season he along with Paul Ince and Mark Hughes were moved on by United in a move that shocked fans at the club as all 3 were key players in the team. Now we know United replaced him with David Beckham and the rest is of course history but at the time the whole country doubted Ferguson’s decision making.

If he was in this team now then he would be lauded as one of the great wingers in the country easily, he was only at United for just over 4 years but another player who contributed so much to the club and also is the answer to a great pub quiz question of a player to score in a Manchester/Liverpool/Glasgow Derby.

Teddy Sheringham:

One of the fun things about writing this is getting to basically watch a lot of old highlights and one thing about Teddy was he really was a brilliant footballer.

In the 90’s there was a plethora of brilliant English strikers from Shearer to Fowler to Wright and even more that get overlooked but for me Teddy is right up there with them, a very technical and skilful player.

He joined in the 97/98 season with the toughest job in English football in replacing the void left by Eric Cantona, Teddy struggled in his first season in fact his first game was against Spurs at White Hart Lane after moving from there to United for £3.5m and he missed a penalty in 2-0 United win.

His contributions were big in the 98/99 as United won the Treble and in the 99/00 where United successfully defended their league title, but his finest moment came in the 00/01 season.

Sheringham top scored for United with 15 goals in 29 league games and helped United to a third title in a row. Not only that but he was named Footballer of the Year by both the Players Association and the Football Writers Association.

He returned to Tottenham the next season as United signed Ruud Van Nistelrooy, but his contribution was very big in those four seasons. One of the best strikers this country has produced and someone who really is deserving of a lot more praise in general.

Louis Saha:

Louis Saha was a signing I remember being very excited about when he signed from Fulham in January 2004, I had seen his brilliance as Fulham had come to Old Trafford and beat United 3-1 and he had scored 15 goals in that season so far.

In his first 10 starts he scored 7 goals and it looked like another Ferguson masterstroke but sadly his time at United was marred by injury. When he was fit and firing he was a brilliant player and added a lot to United’s forward options but with Carlos Tevez coming in for a year on loan in 07/08 he moved further down the pecking order at United.

Even with his injuries he still scored 28 goals in 86 league games for United over 5 seasons that saw him win two titles in 06/07 and 07/08 to go with an FA Cup and a Champions League.

For me it was a case of what could have been for him in his time here but when he was fit and playing, he was superb but I suppose that everyone has that player we wished could have stayed fit while he was United and he is mine.

More Stories Andrei Kanchelskis Darren Fletcher Fabien Barthez Henning Berg Ji-Sung Park Louis Saha Mikaël Silvestre Paul Ince Rafael Ronny Johnsen Teddy Sheringham

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