There's been no shortage of coverage this week of Sir Alex Ferguson's sudden decision to retire at season's end. One of the common themes has been a plethora of writers chiming in with their opinion on the legendary manager's best XI from his 27 years in charge at Manchester United Football Club. This is actually something many did as well during the 25 year celebration just two seasons ago. I thought I'd change it up a bit asking: who is your favorite United XI during the Scot's reign?
If each of us made a list of what we believed to be United's best XI during this era, we'd all have very similar lists -- the only fierce debates might come at center-back and with the strikers. Picking a favorite XI, though, will likely result in more variety. We're all uniquely different and we all have our reasons for liking what we like. Perhaps you're Bebe's cousin so you'd like to include him in your XI. Or perhaps you're Bebe's cousin and you don't want anyone to know you're Bebe's cousin so you won't give that away by picking Bebe.
Anyway, I'll take the lead and offer up my favorite XI and with a brief description why in Ferguson's favored 4-4-1-1ish shape. Feel free to do the same in the comments section below.
* Peter Schmeichel (goalkeeper): I was a goalkeeper myself and when I was a child, Schmeichel was one of my idols. I used to order his Reusch goalkeeper gloves every season for my own use.
* Gary Neville (right-back): I can't think of any player that so passionately expressed his love for Manchester United Football Club more than him. I always chuckle when I remember that his father's name is Neville Neville.
* Rio Ferdinand & Nemanja Vidic (center-back): I remember watching Jaap Stam a few times but I went with Rio and Vida because I've watched nearly every game they've played. In addition, the duo was the best partnership in the world for awhile. I can appreciate the contributions of Gary Pallister and Steve Bruce, but I was pretty young during that time and they weren't showing United games live where I grew up (United States).
* Dennis Irwin (left-back): I like Patrice Evra, but his decline these past few seasons has constantly reminded of just how solid of a defender Irwin was. I might have gone with Paddy had I written this a few years ago.
* Park Ji-sung (right-winger): I'm of Korean heritage and I think for some that aren't, it's difficult to understand just how proud he makes a lot of people that are. In addition, as regular readers of this site probably know, I'm obsessed with the tactical side of the game and Park was typically tremendous in big games because of his tactical awareness and discipline. In fact, as I type this now, I'm currently wearing my 2005-06 Park shirt.
* Paul Scholes (central-midfielder): Along with Park, Scholes is my favorite footballer of all-time. His technical ability is probably unmatched by anyone who has ever donned a United shirt. I feel endless joy watching 'sat-nav' spray passes wherever he pleases, particularly the long diagonals out to the touchlines that land at the feet of a running winger. I also love the anticipation of the Old Trafford faithful when it looks like he's about to unleash a shot from distance -- his screamer against Barcelona in 2008 made me go mental.
* David Beckham (central-midfielder): Central-midfielder? Hear me out... I still feel fond of Roy Keane but his falling out with Fergie in recent years has left a bad taste in my mouth. I once got to hold the Premier League trophy with Bryan Robson (something Steven Gerrard has never done!) so that was pretty cool -- but I was too young to have watched him play. Becks was one of my favorite players from my youth and he did play in the center of the park on that fateful night at Camp Nou in 1999. I moved him here so that I could get Park in my XI.
* Ryan Giggs (left-winger): I love this quote from Fergie about Giggsy: "I remember the first time I saw him. He was 13 and just floated over the ground like a cocker spaniel chasing a piece of silver paper in the wind." I'm not sure if Fergie has flat out said who his favorite player is. However, if I had to take a guess, I say Giggs or this next player...
* Eric Cantona (secondary-striker): Again, just because I was too young, I never watched Cantona play live. However, I do vividly remember watching this amazing Nike advert: au revoir. In addition, I had this old VHS highlight tape of him in the 1990s that no longer works because I watched it too much -- I was in awe of his presence. It was King Eric who put the wheels in motion for Fergie's haul of titles. I highly recommend Phillipe Auclair's biography of the Frenchman -- it's probably one of the best football ones out there.
* Cristiano Ronaldo (striker): Quite simply, at his peak, he's the best United player I've ever watched (I never saw George Best play but I imagine this is how many felt about him during the Sir Matt Busby era). And he also was the talisman, in my opinion, for Fergie's greatest team (2006-09). Ronnie certainly prefers to play on the left in attack but Fergie often put him at center-forward when he wanted a better defensive player on the flank (i.e. Park, Wayne Rooney, Carlos Tevez). That's my excuse to get him, Park, Giggs, and Becks all in this team.
* Bench: Edwin van der Sar, John O'Shea (3rd-choice goalkeeper!), Roy Keane, Wayne Rooney (the 2004 August - 2010 March and spring of 2011 version only), Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, Ruud van Nistelrooy, Juan Sebastian Veron (he arrived a few years before United were ready for his genius)