With the decade coming to a close, Rant has selected Manchester United’s definitive team of the noughties. It’s no easy task with the club winning six Premier League titles and Champions League trophy during the decade. We chose a team in a 4-4-2 formation, using only one rule: players must have appeared for the club in the 2000s.
Goalkeeper – Edwin van der Sar: the great Dutchman finally solved Sir Alex Ferguson’s post-Peter Schmeichel goalkeeping malaise. With Fabien Barthez, Tim Howard and Roy Carrol all dispatched to the Old Trafford exit door, van der Sar signed from Fulham in 2005 for around £2 million. It proved a wonderfully astute purchase by Ferguson – if only the manager had done it six years earlier.
Right-back – Gary Neville: Neville stands unchallenged as not only United’s finest right-back of the decade but the nation’s as well. Injury has ruined the latter years of Neville’s career but between 2000 and 2008 Neville was among the very finest defenders on the planet and integral to the club’s success.
Centre-back – Rio Ferdinand: Ferdinand signed for United in summer 2002 for more than £30 million and has been proven the ‘world class’ defender Ferguson hoped he would be. Wobbly Gob has his critics of course and in recent months injury has hampered his form. The player’s refusal to sign a new contract while banned for missing a mandatory drugs test is a major blot on Ferdinand’s record.
Centre-back- Jaap Stam: The former-PSV Eindhoven player was a wonderfully talented defender whose power, pace and stamina contributed much to United over the three seasons he spent at the club. Sold to Lazio in 2001, Ferguson latterly admitted that he sold the Dutchman far too soon.
Left-back – Patrice Evra: signed by Sir Alex in January 2006 for a little over £5 million and what a buy it has proven. Evra is now the finest full-back on the planet bar-none, having been voted into the FIFPro World XI for 2009 by his fellow professionals. At just 28 Evra should enjoy many more years at Old Trafford.
Right-wing – Cristiano Ronaldo: Words fail to adequately express just how good Ronaldo was in his six seasons at Old Trafford. The Portuguese winger’s 42 goals in the 2007-8 season is one of the finest season-long performances by any United player. Ever. Credit is due to Sir Alex for transforming Ronaldo from raw teenager to the World’s best player.
Centre-midfielder – Roy Keane (captain): At his best the Irishman was two great players in one for United – a superb defender and a wonderful attacker. United’s captain of the decade, Keane eventually left the club under a cloud having revealed dressing room secrets on a candid interview with MUTV in 2005.
Centre-midfielder – Paul Scholes: How the current side misses Scholes at his very best. The Ginger Prince’s passing has been the heart-beat of Ferguson’s side for more than a decade and the midfielder’s goals – 20 in 2002/3 – essential to the club’s success.
Left-wing – Ryan Giggs: The Welshman is Rant’s player of the decade, let alone a member of this selection. In fact Giggs has been so good, for so long, that he was probably United’s player of the 1990s too! Giggs, unchallenged as the best left-winger on the planet over the past 10 years, continues to perform to an outstanding level into his 37th year.
Centre-forward – Ruud van Nistelrooy: 150 goals in 219 games for United in the early part of the decade was only blighted by injury in the Dutchman’s last two seasons at the club. van Nistelrooy’s contribution was immense, although it often coincided with Ferguson deploying a lone-striker during a period of inconspicuous success between 2002 and 2005.
Centre-forward – Wayne Rooney: The Scouser’s best days in a United shirt are ahead as he matures and takes on the mantle as the club’s talisman. Marking his debut against Fenerbache with a hat-trick, Rooney is now on course to have his best season in the final campaign of the decade. Still, 111 goals in 260 appearances isn’t bad for a player so often deployed out of position.
Substitutes bench: Using Premier League rules, Rant has selected seven substitutes for the bench. Some very good United players don’t even make this!
Goalkeeper: Tim Howard. Defender: Nemanja Vidic. Defender: Wes Brown. Midfielder: David Beckham. Midfielder: Michael Carrick. Midfielder: Darren Fletcher. Striker: Ole Gunnar Solskjaer