It’s been a funny old decade to support Manchester United. The first third of the decade was a continuation of the trophy-laden Sir Alex Ferguson era, while the rest of it has been characterized by a series of false dawns, poor signings, and almost unrelenting disappointment. Sure, there has been the odd trophy (and José Mourinho’s proudest career achievement of 2017-2018’s 2nd place league finish), but in the summer of 2013, Manchester United entered their own #BanterEra, and are yet to come out on the other side.
The successes of the early part of this decade are reflected in our writers’ choices for their team of the decade. For each of these chosen XIs, half of the the players chosen would likely be in the team of the decade for 2000-2009 as well. The unanimous choices of David de Gea, Patrice Evra, Michael Carrick, and Wayne Rooney are all club legends who deserve their inclusion — as well as popular selections like Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidić — but each of those players aside from De Gea arguably peaked in the previous decade. The lack of serious competition for places is an indictment of the fallen standards that have characterized the last several years. But for all the recent collective disappointment, there are some damn fine players in these hypothetical XIs.
Here are our picks for Manchester United’s Team of the Decade, 2010-2019. - BM
Putting this team together was a sobering experience. In either of the two previous decades, the internal debate would be centered around which of the multiple title-winning cores would make up the bulk of the all-decade starting XI. For 2010-19 though, well, the pickings were slim. The entire back four had already left United by the midway point of the decade.
I chose to reward players who showed brief, title-winning excellence (e.g., Robin van Persie, Nani, and Rafael da Silva) rather than alternatives with greater — and more mediocre — longevity (e.g., Antonio Valencia) or players whose inclusion would have been based on world-class potential rather than world-class form (e.g., Marcus Rashford). Nani’s inclusion may come as a surprise, but there was an eighteen month period around the start of the decade where he was not just the best player at United, but maybe the best player in the country.
In midfield, it was a toss up between Paul Pogba and Ander Herrera, and while the Frenchman has been the best midfielder at the club since his signing, his is a career that has still never really arrived at United, and may never do so.
There’s nothing too controversial here — I don’t think the world is ready for my first draft with Romelu Lukaku leading the line — but making these picks was not easy. The last ten years of Manchester United football aren’t exactly overflowing with worthy candidates. Glancing over this XI explains a lot about how and why the Reds have fallen off of late.
A quick word on Robin van Persie: what his United career lacked in length, it more than made up for in impact. Sir Alex Ferguson shocked the football world in 2012 by prying the prolific Dutchman away from Arsenal, offering him a long-awaited chance at Premier League glory. RVP didn’t even try to hide his ambitions — choosing to wear #20 because United stood just one league title away from that number.
And he delivered. Van Persie’s 26 goals in 2012/13 made all the difference in taking the Premier League crown back from our noisy neighbors. Manchester United needed every one of those goals, too, as RVP scored in ten different one-goal victories and four draws. No garbage time goals here.
Sure, injuries curtailed the rest of van Persie’s United career, but he did manage to add another 22 goals in that time. 48 goals in 86 PL matches — many of them instrumental in the club’s twentieth league title — more than earns him a spot in my All-Decade XI.
I’m sure what sets my XI apart, and where your eyeballs are going, is my selection in the center of defense. I just couldn’t put Ferdinand and Vidić out there together. This just wasn’t their dominant decade and, thanks to injuries to both of them, they really didn’t play together that often.
Chris Smalling made 323 appearances for United this decade. He scored 18 goals. He scored in multiple derbies including the winner at City when United came back from 2-0 down. He had the whole “Mike” Smalling thing which will always be funny. In 2015/16 when paired with Daley “I’m definitely not a center back” Blind he was the best defender in the league for the first half of the season.
He won two league titles, the FA Cup, the Europa League, and captained the team at Wembley in their League Cup triumph over Southampton. Bar the 2011 Champions League final, he started every Cup final United played in this decade. He wasn’t nearly as bad as many made him out to be over the last two years. Smalling was an ever-present for United over the past decade and deserves to be included.
The front three felt pretty obvious, though Robin Van Persie and Zlatan Ibrahimović each had individual seasons nearly brilliant enough for me to include them. Rashford and Martial have been some of the more consistent members of the squad since they first broke through in 2015/16, and they’ve done so despite being teenagers when they first began leading the line. Wayne Rooney spent much of this decade on the decline from the form that made him a legend, but still scored 122 goals for Manchester United in the 2010s, which took him over Sir Bobby Charlton’s long-standing record of 249 total for the club.
The midfield and back line also felt straightforward. The Vidic and Ferdinand pairing is perhaps the most effective in club history, especially with Evra patrolling the left flank. It’s not been a great decade at right back for the Red Devils, and I think there’s a serious argument that Wan-Bissaka is already the best the club have had at the position since Gary Neville, though Rafael Da Silva deserves at least an honorable mention for his services under Sir Alex.
My starting XI was like taking a trip down memory lane while simultaneously harboring a bit of sadness that these players never had a chance to play together at once.
At the back, I couldn’t omit the obvious choices like Patrice Evra, Wes Brown and Rio Ferdinand. As a trio, those three truly made me fall in love with United, as their tenure at Old Trafford occurred at a point in my life where I began to truly understand the game of football. Evra left the club in 2014, yet his inclusion on this list says a lot about his impact until this day.
Given how United’s midfield has been as of late, Herrera’s summer departure for Paris Saint-Germain still triggers feelings of acrimony toward Ed Woodward and company. The Spaniard was only 30, and still had a few seasons left to dazzle.
Any lineup that overlooks Wayne Rooney is a list no one should even bother taking seriously. Despite leaving in 2017, he is still the face of this club and remains a catalyst behind some of United’s most memorable performances. Though his form dwindled in his last couple seasons at Old Trafford, he still managed to pick up the Europa League title in his final campaign under José Mourinho and score this stellar free kick to surpass Sir Bobby Charlton as United’s all-time top scorer.