9th March – Juan Sebastian Veron

Manchester United have spent a lot of money over the years and a lot of this has been on Argentinean midfielders, including Juan Sebastian Veron.

Obviously Angel Di Maria has been grabbing all the headlines lately for his somewhat average performances after a massive money move and to a lot of the Old Trafford faithful it must feel like déjà vu. Veron came to Manchester United with a reputation of being one of the best players in the world and he will forever go down as one of Alex Ferguson’s biggest flops as he struggled to adapt to life in England and failed to produce the goods while in the Premier League.

Now 40, Veron started his career in Argentina with Estudiantes, where he is currently chairman, in 1993. During his second season at the club he became a valuable member of the team and helped the club get promoted to the top flight. After 60 league games he would leave and join Argentinean giants Boca Juniors. While there he lined up alongside Diego Maradona but he would only last 17 league games before moving on to try his hand in Europe.

JSV Estudiantes

In 1996 he joined Italian side Sampdoria, who were managed by Sven Goran Eriksson at the time, and was an instant success. This convinced Parma to splash out on the midfielder after an impressive 1998 World Cup and he was once again one of the first names on the team sheet as the club won the Coppa Italia and the UEFA Cup. Despite this success he would only stay the one season and was signed once again by Eriksson, this time for Lazio and he would go on to even better things.

JSV Sampdoria

During the 1999-00 season he was the driving force and it was not a surprise that they were so successful as Veron was one of the best attacking midfielders in the world at that point and would create numerous chances for the strikers. Lazio ended the season winning Serie A, the Coppa Italia and the Italian Super Cup as well as lifting the European Super Cup. His second season was not quite as productive as he was involved in a lot of off field matters that seemed to affect his performances.

On the 12th July 2001 Veron was signed by Manchester United for £28.1 million which was a new British transfer record. But the midfielder never lived up to this price tag and despite some impressive performances in the Champions League, he never quite showed his talents in the Premier League. Injuries also didn’t help his situation but he did manage to pick up a Premier League winners medal at the end of the 2002-03 season. After 51 fairly disappointing league games, Veron somewhat surprisingly moved to another English club, signing for Chelsea for £15 million.

JSV MU

At Chelsea he got off to a good start by scoring a winning goal against Liverpool at Anfield but not a lot went right for him after that and he only ended up playing 15 times in total for the club. When Jose Mourinho was appointed manager he loaned Veron out to Inter Milan for two seasons and his performances were better in Italy as he helped the club win the Coppa Italia twice. He did return to Chelsea but it wasn’t for long as he was quickly loaned back out to Estudiantes until the end of his contract. He was back to his best in his homeland and played for a further six seasons and was even voted South American Footballer of the Year in 2008 and 2009 as well as best player of the 2009 Copa Libertadores as his side went on to win the competition.

The final word can go to Alex Ferguson. “He is a marvellous player. He brings a nice pace to the team. What we have done is bring in a really top player, one of the best in the world. He’s a fantastic footballer and will bring a personality to the team.”

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26th February – Ole Gunnar Solskjaer

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer might have been known as a super sub during his time at Manchester United but he was a lot better than just that and arguably could have scored even more goals in his career.

Now 42 he is trying to become known as a good manager but after getting relegated with Cardiff City from the Premier League and not being able to challenge for promotion he now has some rebuilding to do after a successful spell in charge of Molde in Norway. ‘The Baby Faced Assassin’ was feared whenever he was on the sidelines as a player and he will be hoping that in the future other teams and managers will have that same fear when he is giving instructions from the dugout.

Solskjaer started his career in Norway with Third Division side Clausenengen and as a 17 year old impressed in the Otta Cup with 17 goals in just six games. In his five years at the club he averaged more than a goal a game and in 1994 he scored 31 of Clausenengen’s 47 goals in the Second Division. Ahead of the 1995 season he signed for Molde and scored 20 times in his first season in the top flight and then followed this up with 11 goals in the first 12 games of the following campaign which led to a lot of speculation about his future.

OGS Clause

On the 29th July 1996 Solskjaer joined Manchester United and would quickly become known as one of the best Premier League bargains ever. After coming on as a substitute he scored six minutes into his debut against Blackburn Rovers and would go on to finish the season with 18 league goals. The striker was lethal off the bench and was always capable of grabbing important and memorable goals, especially during the 1998-99 treble winning season. Famously the Norwegian scored the stoppage time winner against Bayern Munich in the Champions League and will forever be a Manchester United legend because of that moment.

OGS Molde

Despite a fantastic goals to minutes ratio he never became a regular until the 2001-02 season but this was really the only time he was first choice as a striker as afterwards he was either dropped back to the bench or played on the right wing. He proved to himself as a right winger and was intelligent enough to still score a lot of goals from this position. At the start of the 2003-04 season he was first choice in this position but an injury against Panathinaikos kept him out for several months. When he returned he helped the club win the FA Cup but had to undergo surgery in the summer and missed the entire 2004-05 season.

More injuries would keep him out of action and when he scored against Charlton Athletic on the 23rd August 2006 it was his first league goal since April 2003. He went on a decent run of goalscoring form afterwards and ended the 2006-07 season with 11 goals which was quite impressive. However, his career ended on a slightly negative note as his final game was the 2007 FA Cup final which they lost to Chelsea 1-0.

Leeds v Man Utd/Solskjaer

As a manager he won the Norwegian Premier League title twice with Molde as well as the Norwegian Football Cup. Solskjaer will be hoping that he gets another chance in England and can show everyone his ability.

The final word can go to Alex Ferguson. “It was obvious that his desire was to be a coach but more than that it was a desire to be the best you can be. I’m very lucky that he never complained. I don’t think any other player of that quality would have stood for it. He had that fantastic patience.”

5th February – Cristiano Ronaldo

5th February is a day that all football fans will be thankful for as many great players in this generation were born today, including Cristiano Ronaldo, Carlos Tevez and Neymar. This is a pretty special list as it stands but it is backed up even more by the quality of Giovanni Van Bronckhorst and Vedran Corluka who are also big names in the game. Going even further down the list of birthdays today, you will find other recognisable names such as Jesper Blomqvist and Jordan Rhodes. For those of an older generation they can remember Gheorghe Hagi who was in his own right and incredible player.

So it is very difficult to choose who to write about on this day but the one that stands out from that list still is Cristiano Ronaldo who has been one of the best players ever to step foot on the football pitch. There will always be a debate about who the best in the world is but Ronaldo has earned every plaudit and is very deserving of all the praise he gets.

Ronaldo started his career at Sporting and his talents saw his rise very quickly as he became the first player to play for their under 16, under 17, under 18, B team and the first team all within one season. To make this rise even more impressive he scored twice on his league debut against Moreirense. After being linked with moves to Arsenal and Liverpool, Ronaldo eventually joined Manchester United in 2003.

CR Sporting

A lot of people seem to forget that in his early days at Old Trafford he was criticised and many felt that he wasn’t quite ready for the Premier League. In his first three seasons he scored just 18 goals but every year he improved and was determined to get better. Then in the 2006-07 season his career really took off and he began showing everyone that he could turn his potential into real quality and in the following three seasons he scored 88 goals in all competitions. During his time at the club he won the Premier League three times, the FA Cup, the League Cup twice and also the Champions League.

CR MU

On the 26th June 2009 it was confirmed that Ronaldo would be joining Real Madrid for a world record fee of £80 million. Since being at the club he has got even better and his goalscoring is just incredible and he has actually scored more goals than he has played for the Spanish giants which even by their standard is incredible. 288 goals is good enough for most strikers in the world during their whole career but he has done it in just 277 games. This season so far he has just been unstoppable with 28 league goals in 18 games.

CR RM

Unfortunately for him though, it doesn’t matter how good he is or how impressive his performances are, he will probably never achieve anything on the international stage with Portugal.

The final word can go to Alex Ferguson. “I have nothing but praise for the boy. He is easily the best player in the world. His contribution as a goal threat is unbelievable. His stats are incredible. Strikes at goal, attempts on goal, raids into the penalty box, headers. It is all there. Absolutely astounding.”

2nd February – Gerard Pique

Gerard Pique has won everything in the game and it is always surprising when he gets criticised by pundits and has to go down as one of the most consistent central defenders in the last 10 years.

Yes it could be argued that the defender, who turns 28 today, has always been in great teams and therefore has never been tested fully but nobody can take away all his winners medals, including the World Cup, European Championship, four La Liga, two Copa Del Rey, two Club World Cup, three Champions League and a Premier League title. It could even be argued that he is one of the few mistakes Alex Ferguson made, letting him go so early in his career.

Pique MU

The defender actually started his career as a holding midfielder at Barcelona but signed his first professional contract with Manchester United and made his debut in October 2004 as a substitute in a League Cup win over Crewe Alexandra. His performances for the reserves earned him an extended contract and would go on to make his full Premier League debut on 29th March 2006 against West Ham as a right back.

During the 2006-07 season Pique went out on loan to Real Zaragoza and formed a solid partnership with Gabriel Milito in the centre of the defence. After 22 games he returned to Old Trafford and was told he would be part of the first team squad and in the 2007-08 season he made enough appearances to pick up a Premier League winners medal but it was in the Champions League where he showed his true potential. He scored on his first start in the competition against Dynamo Kiev and added another against Roma as the club went on to lift the trophy.

Pique RZ

On the 27th May 2008 the defender joined Barcelona and his first season could not have gone much better as he helped the club win a treble, including beating former club Manchester United in the final of the Champions League becoming only the fourth player in history to win the competition two years in a row with different teams. His other Champions League win with Barca was also against his former club and although he has stated he enjoyed his time at Old Trafford it must have made it even sweeter to lift the trophy.

Pique Barca

Throughout his time at the club he has always been first choice and with former captain Carles Puyol retiring he is now seen as the best defender at the club and although things haven’t been so easy for Barcelona in recent years, Pique’s performances have still be very good. With over 300 games at two of the biggest clubs in the world and being first choice for Spain while they were dominating the international stage just proves that he should be considered as one of the best of his generation, especially when there aren’t a lot of great central defenders around at the moment.

The final word can go to his former manager at Barcelona, Pep Guardiola. “I do not believe that there is any other player in Europe playing at his level. He is very competitive and ambitious. He is strong in the air and dominates at set pieces.”

31st October – Denis Irwin

Denis Irwin may not spring to mind when thinking of Manchester United greats but there is no denying that he is one of the club’s most dependable and consistent full backs ever.

The 49 year old had a very good career and has been called Alex Ferguson’s pound for pound greatest ever signing which is a huge honour and just shows how important he was to the side during the 1990s. Irwin also got the honour of being named in the first Premier League Overall Team of the Decade and represented his country, Republic of Ireland, 56 times and was part of the World Cup 1994 squad.

Irwin started his career at Leeds United in 1983 and went on to make 72 appearances in the Second Division for the club, including 41 games in the 1984-85 season. But in 1986 he moved to Oldham Athletic on a free transfer and barely missed a league match over the next four seasons, featuring in 167 games and scoring four goals.

In his final season at the club he helped the club reach the semi final of the FA Cup and the final of the League Cup before moving to Manchester United in 1990 for a fee of £625,000. He would spend the next 12 years at Old Trafford and would win seven Premier League title along the way, which is an incredible achievement. He can also add three FA Cup, a League Cup, a Cup Winners’ Cup and a Champions League winners medal to his collection before he left the club.
Sport.Football. pic: 24th February 1990. Denis Irwin, Oldham Athletic defender, who won 56 Republic of Ireland international caps 1991-2000, while playing at Manchester United.
During his time at the club he also became a reliable goalscorer from the penalty spot and also was a real asset from free kicks, delivering great balls into the box. He would score 22 goals in the league all together for the club with his first coming on the 7th September 1991 in a 3-0 home win over Norwich City. Irwin’s best goalscoring season came in the 1992-93 season, as the team went on to lift the first ever Premier League trophy, hitting the back of the net five times.

He continued to be Manchester United’s first choice until his mid thirties and was rewarded with a testimonial against Manchester City on the 16th August 2000 but this was the beginning of the end of his time at the club as he was no longer an automatic first choice. Irwin made his last appearance for the club in a 0-0 draw against Charlton Athletic on the 12th May 2002 and was given the captain’s armband by Alex Ferguson on his 529th appearance for the club.
Irwin MU
After the 2001-02 season the Irishman joined Wolves and was a crucial part of their promotion to the Premier League, playing in 43 of the 46 league games and scoring goals against Burnley and Grimsby. Wolves then struggled in the top flight but on Irwin’s return to Old Trafford he received a warm reception but this was a personal high point in a poor season as the club were relegated. Irwin announced his retirement from the game at the end of the season.
Wolverhampton Wanderers v Tottenham Hotspur
The final word can go to the former Manchester United captain Bryan Robson. “We called him the quiet assassin. He was a left back and he was taking penalties in a team full of Man United players. He’d take all of the free kicks – it just shows what a class player he was. He was tough and quick.”

29th October – Edwin Van Der Sar

It is difficult to list who Alex Ferguson’s greatest signings were in his time at Manchester United but one name that should never be missing is Edwin Van Der Sar because he came in at a time when they were desperate for a top quality keeper.

Having the quality to play in goal for Manchester United is only half the battle but to be successful they also has to have a presence about them and deal with the mental pressure of barely being in a match and then having to pull off a world class save. Van Der Sar is rightly considered one of the greatest of all time.

The 44 year old started his career at Ajax under current Manchester United manager Louis Van Gaal and made his debut for the club in the 1990-91 season. He would have to wait until the 1993-94 season to become the number one at the club and he proved that he deserved the position as he was named Dutch Goalkeeper of the Year award and would hold on to the trophy for the next three seasons. Van Der Sar also helped the club win the Champions League in the 1994-95 season and was voted the Best European Goalkeeper. In total he played 226 games for the club and won four Eredivisie titles and three KNVB Cups and he even scored a goal from the penalty spot in a 9-1 win over De Graafschap.
VDS Ajax
In 1999 he left Ajax and joined Juventus. He made his debut in a 1-1 draw with Reggina and was the first non-Italian to play in goal for the club. He would be the first choice keeper for the next two seasons but on both occasions they missed out on the title. In the summer of 2001 the club bought Gianluigi Buffon and Van Der Sar was unwilling to sit on the bench.

He then made a surprising move joining newly promoted to the Premier League Fulham on the 1st August 2001. He made his league debut in a 3-2 defeat against Manchester United. The goalkeeper stayed at Fulham for four seasons and was easily one of the best keepers in the Premier League meaning that every transfer window he was linked with moves away.
VDS Fulham
After 154 appearances for Fulham he left for Manchester United on the 10th June 2005 and was an instant success at the club. He didn’t miss a league game in his first season and in his second he would be a key player as they lifted the Premier League title with the goalkeeper being named in the PFA Team of the Year. The following season was even better as he helped the club retain the title and win the Champions League final against Chelsea after saving Nicolas Anelka’s penalty.

Van Der Sar signed a new contract at the club and was getting better the older he got and set a new club, Premier League and overall English league record by not conceding a goal for 1311 minutes before Newcastle United striker Peter Lovenkrands scored past him. At the end of the season he had kept 21 clean sheets, lifted another Premier League title and was named the Best European Goalkeeper for a second time, 14 years after he first received the award.
VDS MU
Injuries limited his playing time in the 2009-10 season but he bounced back in the following campaign and helped the club reach another Champions League final. In his last game, they would unfortunately lose against Barcelona and in May 2011 he retired after 820 career appearances.

The final word can go to Alex Ferguson. “We had a bad period trying to replace Peter Schmeichel. It wasn’t until we brought in Edwin that we got back to the level we had with Peter. Edwin was a great buy for us, absolutely brilliant. There was a magnificence and calmness about him and he was great for our players.”

24th October – Wayne Rooney

Wayne Rooney will divide opinion as he had the potential to become one of the best in the world and some say he has reached that in his career whereas others say that he has failed to live up to expectations.

The striker is 29 and if he doesn’t pick up any serious injuries he will become Manchester United’s all time top scorer and also beat Bobby Charlton’s 49 goals at international level. With 43 goals for England in 99 games it is a good record but he has largely failed in the main competitions which has left England fans more frustrated with him than any other.

He started his career at Everton and made his debut against Tottenham Hotspur in 2002. His breakthrough moment was when he scored a last minute winner against Arsenal on the 19th October and followed this up by scoring the winner against Leeds United. In December he was named BBC’s Young Personality of the Year, scored another winning goal against Blackburn Rovers and then received his first red card against Birmingham City. He ended his first season with eight goals and in the following campaign and he remained very consistent, scoring nine times throughout the season.
Rooney Everton
Rooney signed for Manchester United in August 2004 but had to wait to make his debut and he scored a hatrick in a win over Fenerbahce in the Champions League. Despite scoring 17 goals and being named the PFA Young Player of the Year, the club did not win a trophy. Rooney would go on to win his first trophy in the following season as they beat Wigan Athletic 4-0 in the League Cup final, with him grabbing two. The 2006-07 season was an interesting one for Rooney as he went 10 games without scoring but managed 14 goals and picked up his first Premier League winners medal. In June 2007 he was given the number 10 shirt and despite missing game time in the opening half of the season he recovered to help the club retain the title and also win the Champions League.
England v Ireland - International Friendly
He was never prolific until the 2009-10 season. On the 22nd August 2009 he became the 20th player to score 100 goals for the club when he scored twice in a win over Wigan. During the season he was particularly good at scoring with his head and did this in the final of the League Cup against Aston Villa to help his side win the game. An injury against Bayern Munich slowed him down but he finished the season with 34 goals. After the season there were reports that Rooney wanted to leave but he made a U-turn and signed a new deal.
Despite not hitting the same standard as the previous season he still scored his 100th Premier League goal and helped the team win the title. He returned to his brilliant best in the 2011-12 season and started fantastically, scoring consecutive hatricks in the early weeks against Arsenal and Bolton. By the end of the season he had scored 34 goals.
Rooney MU7
After the signing of Robin Van Persie, many felt that Rooney was no longer the main man and despite them combining well and helping the club win another title, Alex Ferguson revealed that Rooney had handed in a transfer request. New manager David Moyes convinced the striker to stay and he did his best for the manager, scoring 17 goals and providing 10 assists but it was a disappointing season. Under Louis Van Gaal, he was named the club captain and scored on the opening day against Swansea City but a red card against West Ham has put doubt on whether he is the right man for the job.

The final word can go to former captain Peter Schmeichel. “What I really like about Rooney is his attitude towards playing for United. Wherever the manager tells him to play he will do that with a smile on his face. He realises his importance to the team. So I think he’s the obvious choice for the captaincy.”