Manchester United: Team of the Decade (2000-2010)

Paul Scholes celebrating a goal at Craven Cottage earlier this season, and reminding me to put him on my Manchester United Team of the Decade. (Photo by Phil Cole/Getty Images)

Sid Lowe, who covers La Liga for various media outlets, recently gave his all decade team for Real Madrid Ronaldo, Zinedine Zidane lead Real Madrid's Team of Decade - Sid Lowe - SI.com , Barcelona Ronaldinho, Lionel Messi lead Barcelona Team of Decade - Sid Lowe - SI.com , and La Liga as a whole Lionel Messi, David Villa lead La Liga Team of Decade - Sid Lowe - SI.com . Using his creative idea, I thought it would be fun to discuss the team of the decade for Manchester United. If the 1999-2000 season is included, United can claim 6 Premier League championships, 3 League Cups, 1 FA Cup, and 1 UEFA Champions League from the past decade. 

GK: Edwin Van der Sar (2005-present)

For 6 seasons, Sir Alex Ferguson failed to find a suitable replacement for United great, Peter Schmeichel. Van der Sar, who joined the Red Devils in 2005, became that man and solved any goalkeeping woes that Fergie had. Despite his height, the Dutchman displayed incredible agility and has no glaring weakness. Even at the age of 40, he has shown very little signs of slowing down. Since arriving in 2005, Van der Sar has won 3 Premier League titles, a Champions League, and was in the lineup for the 2006 League Cup final victory. In 2008-09, he set a single season world record after going 1,311 minutes without conceding a league goal. He also went onto win the 'Best European Goalkeeper' that season.

My favorite Van der Sar moment came in the penalty shootout of the 2008 Champions League final vs Chelsea. Chelsea's first 6 penalty takers all shot to the Dutchman's left. As Nicolas Anelka stepped up to take his, Van der Sar played minds games with the Frenchman and pointed to his left which undoubtedly rattled him. Anelka shot right, Van der Sar saved it, and United were once again champions of Europe! YouTube - CHAMPIONS LEAGUE FINAL 2008 PENALTY SHOOTOUT (HD) (about the 9:30 mark in this video Anelka pisses himself). 

More after the jump...

RB: Gary Neville (1992-present)

This one club man is beloved by United supporters and..... uhhhhh, not so much by many others. Neville has been reliable, courageous, and an absolute bulldog; yet that still doesn't adequately describe him. Age and injuries have caught up with him these past few years, but he's had a glorious and trophy laden career. He's undoubtedly one of the all time greats for United and England. Neville was very strong in the tackle, supportive in the attack, and was able to whip in dangerous crosses. His biggest strength may lie in his will to win and his leadership. He was given the captain's armband after Roy Keane departed from the club in 2005. He also once had this epic quote...

"I can't stand Liverpool, I can't stand Liverpool people, I can't stand anything to do with them."

 

CB: Rio Ferdinand (2002-present)

After a rough start to his Manchester United career, the current England skipper has rebounded and gone on to have an illustrious time at United. His partnership with Nemanja Vidic the past 4.5 seasons has arguably been the best in the world. Individually as well, he has been one of the best center-backs in football. Although he is rightfully lauded for his ability on the ball, I'd argue his biggest strength lies in being so sound positionally. He has a remarkable record for lack of fouls and bookings, and much of this stems from that and his ability to intercept passes. He also is very good at quickly starting the counter attack with his ability to distribute from the back. He is also a Twitter-holic. Rio Ferdinand (rioferdy5) on Twitter 

 

CB: Nemanja Vidic (2006-present)

Since his time at United, the current United skipper has been as indispensable as any player on the squad. With his imposing style, Vida has absolutely pulverised the Premier League and other unfortunate foes in Europe. It could certainly be argued that he is the best defender in the world, world class at the very least. If you combine the talent of Vida and Ferdinand, and then consider their amazing chemistry, you have a big part of the foundation to 3 Premier League titles and a Champions League title in the past 4+ seasons. 

Some call him "The Terminator." Some say "He's not so much a rock as a mountain range." Some United supporters sing that Vidic will "murder you." Vidic hilariously replies "I really thank them for their support, but I am not a killer." I think this sums him up nicely. 

 

LB: Patrice Evra (2006-present)

After a shaky debut in the derby match vs City in 2006, many were prematurely critical of the signing. However, since then, Evra has gone on to establish himself as one of the best left-backs in the world. Evra has been a core contributor to the trophy haul in this past half decade. His pace and sensational attacking sense allow him to terrorize teams with his runs forward on the left. He's also more than adequate in the tackle. In addition, he's provided width in the attack in recent seasons when Fergie elects to go with 3 central midfielders. He's been named to the Premier League Team of the Year in 3 of his seasons at United. Furthermore, his bromance with Park Ji-Sung has provided unintentional comedy for all. Carlos Tevez tried to be a 3rd wheel, but it just got awkward. Maybe that's why he got upset and left for 'Citeh." 

 

RM: Cristiano Ronaldo (2003-2009)

The only things that appear to be able to stop Ronaldo are sturdy blades of grass that trip him up, or mysterious and invisible sniper bullets that make him go down when a foul isn't evident. He scored a mind-boggling 117 goals in all competitions during his 6 seasons with United, including an incredible 42 goals in 2007-08. In 2008, he won the Ballon d'OR, FIFA World Player of the Year, and also Player of the Tournament for United's Champions League title run. I can't think of a single weakness for him (besides awful acting on some dives); he has pace, footwork, finishing ability, strong in the air, incredible free-kick taker, trophies, and he is imaginative. He may potentially go down as one of the greatest players of all time. He was a central figure for 3 straight Premier League titles and for the winning 2008 Champions League side. After a few years of speculation for a move to Real Madrid, he finally left the club in 2009 for a record transfer fee. 

 

CM: Roy Keane (1993-2005)

A warrior. He captained United from 1997-2005, nearly half of this past decade. The aggressive central-midfielder was ultra-competitive and intense. Ask Patrick Viera YouTube - Roy Keane Vs. Patrick Vieira . Despite being confrontational and controversial, no one denies Keane's contribution. His tenacity and leadership led United to a haul of trophies, including this decade as captain to the 2000/01 and 2002/03 Premier League titles. He was an absolute destroyer in the center part of the pitch (see: Alf-Inge Haaland). He was the only Irish player selected on the 'FIFA 100' list. I would rather step on a rusty nail than challenge Roy Keane to a fight.

 

CM: Paul Scholes (1994-present)

I'll let Zinedine Zidane kick this off by saying "Paul Scholes is the complete midfielder. He is undoubtedly the best midfielder of his generation." Also, when David Beckham joined the 'Galacticos' of Real Madrid, he was asked by many of his new 'mates what it was like to play with the 'ginger maestro' every day. Furthermore, Sir Bobby Charlton praised Scholes as "the embodiment of all that I think is best about football." 

After that, I'm not sure what else I can say. Scholesy is immensely gifted, and maybe the best sprayer of the ball I've ever seen. He still makes me rise from my seat in anticipation every time he gets ready to belt the ball from distance, these goals show why  YouTube - Scholes Top 10 . His only real weakness has been his propensity to get booked, due to poor tackling. Even at age 36 and after 659 appearances for United, he is still a first team choice for all big games when healthy. I don't generally trust gingers (well, women mostly), I trust this man. 

 

LM: Ryan Giggs (1990-present)

The word "legend" gets thrown around a little too easily these days in my opinion, but Ryan Giggs is the embodiment of a Manchester United legend. Recurrent hamstring problems hampered him a bit this decade, but he's still been an immense contributor to the 6 Premier League titles. Also, he came on as a substitute in Moscow during the Champions League final and calmly converted a penalty in the shootout. He then triumphantly lifted the trophy with Rio Ferdinand. The Welsh Wizard still gets featured out wide to the left, but he has also played in the supporting role to a striker. His sensational runs have trademarked his career  YouTube - Giggs Fa Cup semi final 99 (yeah, I know its not this decade but who can ever tire of watching this goal?!), but his pace has waned in recent years. However, he is still tireless and his creative ability in the attack still gets him first team appearances in big games. Giggs has made a record 854 appearances thus far in his United career. He even won the PFA Player of the Year at age 35. I hope the upcoming decade involves Giggs in some sort of coaching capacity with United after he hangs up his boots.

F: Ruud Van Nistelrooy (2001-2006)

An incredible 150 goals in 5 seasons for United. 150! This includes 44 in the 2002-03 season in all competitions. He also won the PFA player of the Year that first season. While in college, I remember gathering with others on many hungover Saturday and Sunday mornings, catching whatever Premier League game we could get on our soccer TV package. I vividly remember that when any time Ruud got even a half chance, my hangover would go away for a few instant moments as I always anticipated that he was about to score. I wanted those goals, I needed those goals... because I was sick of everyone around me being a Gooner. Then I remember on one stunning summer evening in Seattle, when I finally got to watch him score in person vs Celtic in an exhibition. Seattle Manchester United Vs Glasgow Celtic | Flickr - Photo Sharing! . These are some of the memories of him I'll carry with me... it was also my first chance to see United in person. 

 

F: Wayne Rooney (2004-present)

Since his arrival from the Merseyside club of Everton, Rooney has matched, and maybe even exceeded all lofty expectations (for United, sorry England supporters). As a central figure to the attack along with Cristiano Ronaldo, the duo helped lead United to 3 Premier League titles in their time together and to kings of Europe in 2008. After Ronaldo's departure, Rooney took some of the scoring burden onto himself and put away 34 goals in 42 matches this past season. Despite the controversy of this past Fall, I fully expect Wazza to be on this list a decade from now. Now that his contract situation is in the past, United supporters are hoping/expecting him to cement himself as a legend at this historic club. A complete, and versatile player.... improvement in temperament might be his only weakness. 

 

Formations:

I picked these players with a 4-4-2 in mind.

---------- Rooney ---Van Nistelrooy-------

-Giggs ---Scholes -- Keane --- Ronaldo-

- Evra ----- Vidic---- Ferdinand--Neville--

------------------Van der Sar--------------------

 

One of the beauties in selecting these players, they offer tactical flexibility. These XI could work in a 4-3-3/4-5-1 hybrid or a 4-2-3-1.

 

4-3-3/4-5-1

--------------- Van Nistelrooy--------------

--Rooney------------------------Ronaldo-

------------ Giggs-----------------------------

-----------------------Scholes----------------

------------------Keane-----------------------

- Evra----Vidic-----Ferdinand-- Neville-

------------------Van der Sar-----------------

 

4-2-3-1

----------------Van Nistelrooy ----------------

--Rooney------Giggs-----------Ronaldo---

------------Scholes------Keane---------------

-Evra-----Vidic------Ferdinand--Neville--

-----------------Van der Sar -------------------

 

Anyway, this is all just one man's opinion. I'd love to open up the discussion and hear your thoughts as well! 

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