With no live football to watch for weeks now, and none realistically on the horizon for months — we refuse to acknowledge the lunacy of the Belarusian Premier League right now — most of us have been turning to highlights and replays of old matches to get our fix. In those trips down memory lane, most of us will also have come across something that we had mostly forgotten about; being reminded of just how good (or bad) a particular player was, or maybe realizing how a brilliant result had colored your memory of a less-than-brilliant game. But of all the little joys we find in nostalgia, there’s something especially amusing about seeing the name of a player on a TV graphic that you almost forgot existed altogether, nevermind that said player actually played for Manchester United. And when an “Oh Yeah, That Guy” pops up in a Youtube video or MUTV replay with a cracking goal, well...forgive us if we let out a little squeal.
Because we still live in a society — for now, barely — there are rules to these inclusions. Michael Owen may have had a forgettable few years at United, but his signing was divisive and his one memorable goal was the winner in the greatest Manchester derby of all time. So he doesn’t meet the criteria. Ditto for someone like Ángel Dí Maria and his sensational goal against Leicester City. He didn’t contribute much, but that’s precisely why he is memorable. Some younger fans may not remember Diego Forlan’s troubled (but fondly remembered) years at United, but his brace against Liverpool at Anfield means that his name has been sung in the terraces ever since. Henrikh Mkhitaryan — aside from this sensational scorpion kick — was a waste of time, but the man we traded him in for is still on the books, so that wound is too fresh.
Bebe? Far too infamous. Dong Fangzhuo? Manucho? Zoran Tosić? They never scored.
No, the names on this list register much higher on the “Who the hell is...oh yeah, I remember him now” scale. Here are some absolute bangers from some absolute nobodies.
Chris Eagles vs. Everton (2007)
Ignore the fact that the embedded video was apparently filmed on a Texas Instruments calculator. Click here for the official MUTV highlights. Yes, there is a lot going on here. United’s starting lineup included current first team coach Michael Carrick and manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. Everton’s first goal came from a free kick won after Patrice Evra fouled current Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta, whose COVID-19 diagnosis forced the Premier League to finally suspend the season. England Women’s national team manager Phil Neville scored an own goal. Derby first team coach Wayne Rooney did score and kiss the United badge in front of the Everton fans at Goodison Park. Yes, we are old.
Chris Eagles! When was the last time you heard that name? Eagles came on to replace Solskjaer, and scored United’s fourth goal, bending a lovely shot around the goalkeeper and into the far corner (while ignoring the cries for the ball from none other than Cristiano Ronaldo). That goal would be Eagles’ first and only goal for the club, and he would only go on to make 5 more appearances for the first team.
Eagles comes from a long proud, line of United academy graduates under Sir Alex Ferguson who would pop up with an important contribution in a massive game, only to be never seen at United again, and then pop up at somewhere like Burnley or Sunderland a few years later.
Jordi Cruyff vs. West Ham United (1997)
The red flags were there all along. Jordi was the son of a legendary player, coached by his father in the youth set up of the same club where his father is about as close to god-like status as you can get (sound the nepotism alarm!). He was also signed after a few impressive showings in his first international tournament, where he was surrounded by superior players (Kleberson would later teach us that Sir Alex didn’t learn this lesson the first time). But if you are of a certain age, you may remember the initial excitement around “We’ve got Johan Cruyff’s boy!”
That excitement quickly faded, as the younger Cruyff’s career at United was hampered both by injuries and by not being very good. It didn’t help that he was competing for a place with players of his same age that happened to be the best United academy graduate class of all time. Before he disappeared from Old Trafford and most of our memories however, Cruyff picked up a few trophies (better to be a lucky general, etc.) and scored a few goals. The best of those goals is this late belter against West Ham at the end of the 1996/97 league-winning campaign.
You can take your pick of the bonus highlights of that match: Solskjaer scoring a poacher’s goal, Beckham wearing no. 10, or a young Rio Ferdinand playing for the Hammers.
Alexander Büttner vs. Wigan Athletic (2012)
On top of signing the best young British talent, promoting promising youngster from United’s own academy, and snapping up emerging stars from around the Premier League, Sir Alex Ferguson would also supplement his teams with the odd under-the-radar signing from around Europe. The successes are well known (hey there, gaffer), and some of the more spectacular failures are also burned into our brains, but for all the wrong reasons.
And then there is a whole category of player somewhere in the middle, which is where Alexander Büttner falls. Yes, an aging Patrice Evra needed competition. But would it too much to ask for that competition to not be totally useless? Büttner’s eventual departure was as much of a non-event as his arrival, but he’ll always have this stunning solo goal on his debut against Wigan in 2012.
Bonus: Keep watching that video for another debut goal, by another forgotten player. For some anyway. For me, “Powell for Mata” is seared into my memory as one of the defining moments of the Louis van Gaal era.
Mame Biram Diouf vs. Burnley (2010)
Speaking of weird minor Fergie signings, Mame Biram Diouf, everyone! Diouf was signed after an impressive campaign at Molde (hmmmm) to little fanfare, but marked his home debut in January 2010 with a bang.
At the 2:16 mark of the above video, Diouf showed great goalscoring instincts to score a looping header and cap off an emphatic 3-0 win. And what a celebration! 10/10 for sticking the landing, and also for checking almost all the boxes for raising false hopes. Diouf was loaned out that summer, and then loaned out again, before eventually being sold. Turns out that debut goal was a harbinger of...well, nothing.
David Bellion vs Everton (2003)
The years between Ruud van Nistelrooy firing Manchester United to a league title in 2003 and the beta version of Sir Alex’s last truly great United team winning their first title in 2007 were lean and hard. Not only did we have to watch Chelsea and Arsenal have all the fun, but we also had to endure some really bad football players playing some of the worst football of the Fergie era. The successful signings made in these years formed the backbone of United’s next great team (and some, even the next good one after that) — Ronaldo, Carrick, Evra, Wayne Rooney, Nemanja Vidić. But the bad signings from this era? Oh dear. They’re worthy of a series of articles all on their own.
David Bellion joined United in 2003 as part of a rebuilding effort, when Fergie took a few fliers on some young prospects rather than replacing a departed superstar outright. If David Beckham was the precursor to Ronaldo in a similar scenario years later, then that makes Bellion the proto-Gabriel Obertan. We were told he was quick, and skillful, and a goal threat. Well, he was quick, at least.
This goal violates the premise this article, as it isn’t even Bellion’s best goal at United. But who cares? It’s a decent goal (1:11:58 of that video), and this match brings up some amusing memories. Look at that midfield, for god’s sake. Nicky Butt, Quinton Fortune, and Kleberson — with Eric Djemba-Djemba coming on off the bench. And over on the other side, Thomas Gravesen (who signed for Real Madrid!) lining up alongside a very young Wayne Rooney. But the real highlight is Rooney leaving a reducer on his future teammate Ronaldo in the 58th minute. Maybe he knew something we didn’t, even then.