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Who was Sir Alex Ferguson’s most mediocre signing for Manchester United?

Not bad, but definitely not good

Manchester United Premier League Winners Parade Photo by Matthew Peters/Manchester United via Getty Images

COVID-19 has postponed all the matches so there’s nothing to breakdown from this past weekend. But that doesn’t change the fact that there’s a large group of us who have a chronic need to argue with strangers on the internet. So what do we do?

Manchester United are unbeaten in their last 11, keeping clean sheets in 9 of them. That’s pretty much put the #OleIn vs #OleOut debate to rest. Paul Pogba? Really? Are we not bored of that yet?

These crazy times require us to get crazy too. Let’s find something really important. Something crucial and definitive, something that we can really argue about.

Who was Sir Alex Ferguson’s most mediocre signing?

We’re not talking busts here (sorry Bebe, Gabriel Obertan, and Nick Powell) — though anyone who was merely mediocre is to some degree a bust. Since I’m making the rules here, we’re also ruling out anyone who has a standout moment in United lore. If we’re still singing about it today, you don’t qualify (sorry Diego Forlan).

No, we’re talking about players who were just... there. They weren’t bad enough to merit moving on from them in just one to three years. They weren’t good enough to really be massive contributors either. Even though they weren’t really match-changers, you never really groaned when they were in the starting XI either. Again, they were just... there.

Let’s take a look at some of the contenders:

Tim Howard

Ok, it’s hard to say a goalkeeper was just “there,” after all, if he wasn’t, that would leave a pretty big hole. But Howard’s United career was about as average as you can get.

Signed in 2003 to replace Fabien Barthez, Howard made 77 appearances for United, keeping 31 clean sheets including the 2004 FA Cup Final. He made one colossal mistake in his United career, and that saw him get dropped for backup keeper Roy Carroll. There wasn’t really any noticeable drop in play from United when that happened, which doesn’t say much for either of them.

Alan Smith

This might be a little harsh on Smith, whose United career was decimated by injuries, but he sort of fits the bill. He played during what was mostly a down time for United. Up front United had Ruud van Nistelrooy, Wayne Rooney, and the newly signed Louis Saha. Ferguson moved the former Leeds striker Smith back to midfield, where they had Paul Scholes, Roy Keane, Phil Neville, and Nicky Butt (as well as some less heralded guys like Kleberson, Eric Djemba-Djemba, and a young Darren Fletcher).

If Smith hadn’t picked up any injuries would United have done any better from 2004-2007? Probably not. If Smith had never signed would United have been any worse? Also probably not.

These two guys may qualify, but in my opinion they don’t take the cake. The winner of Fergie’s most mediocre signing is...


For five years Anderson was just there. Yes, he scored a penalty in the shootout of the 2008 Champions League final. Yes, he started the 2009 Champions League final. But other than that, what was he?

Anderson is the textbook definition of a mediocre player. You were never mad when his name popped up on the team sheet (at least for the first few years). Scholes-Anderson? Anderson-Carrick? Fletcher-Carrick-Anderson? None of those combos made you swear to the heavens. But take Anderson out and would we be any worse? Hard to say for sure that we would.

Anderson was (supposed to be) an attacking midfielder, but he couldn’t really attack. In six years at the club he scored nine goals and had 21 assists in all competitions. Frankly though, the 21 assists even surprised me — eight of them came in the League Cup (that makes more sense) — and he never had more than three in a Premier League campaign.

Even his biggest moment — bagging a brace in the second leg of the 2011 Champions League semi-final against Schalke — came in what was easily the most forgettable Champions League semi-final United ever partook in.

When I think back on Anderson, the two most prevailing images of him are: 1. his hair, and 2. Anderson shooting from the top of the box, only the ball just goes wide (to the right) of the goal and it never actually left the ground.

Anderson did a lot of things well enough that he stuck around for six years, and his trophy haul is quite impressive (four Premier League titles, League Cup, Champions League, Club World Cup), but he ultimately was never more than just a mediocre player. A cog in Ferguson’s machine.

Am I wrong? Did I miss someone? Sound off in the comments section because again, sometimes we just need something, anything, to uselessly argue about.