Manchester United have been blessed with some incredible players in the Premier League era – and former captain Roy Keane has tried to name their best overall XI.
Speaking to Sky Sports, Keane ultimately named his ultimate Xl of: Peter Schmeichel; Gary Neville, Jaap Stam, Gary Pallister, Denis Irwin; David Beckham, Bryan Robson, Paul Ince, Ryan Giggs; Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney.
This got us thinking of the best XI of players he excluded and we present them to you in a 4-3-1-2 formation. Note: it can only include players from the Premier League era.
GK: Edwin van der Sar
After Keane picked Schmeichel, we were only really left with two options. And we’re not talking about Massimo Taibi and Roy Carroll.
David de Gea has been United’s standout performer in the post-Sir Alex Ferguson era, but we couldn’t ignore the merits of Edwin van der Sar.
The former Netherlands international kept 135 clean sheets in 266 United appearances and holds the record for most consecutive minutes without conceding a Premier League goal.
He also won four league titles and played an integral role in United’s Champions League success in 2008, saving Nicolas Anelka’s penalty in the final.
It’s been 29 years since Edwin van der Sar made his professional football debut 🧤
Throwback to when he saved Nicolas Anelka’s penalty to win the Champions League for Manchester United 🤩pic.twitter.com/fJrlnscRTQ
— GOAL (@goal) April 23, 2020
Right-back was a difficult position to fill here – Antonio Valencia was good, but something held us back from putting him in this best XI.
We ultimately decided on Rafael, who managed to usurp Gary Neville as their first-choice right-back and helped United win three Premier League titles.
The Brazil international also scored a stunning goal in a win at Anfield and there aren’t many United right-backs that can say that. Not even Neville.
READ: A tribute to Rafael, an embodiment of Man Utd’s Sir Alex Ferguson era
CB: Rio Ferdinand
“I got the ball and passed to Gary [Neville], who was on my team,” Ferdinand said when reflecting on his first training session at United. “In a normal game that was a great ball – pass to your team-mate, go up the pitch.
“And then Keane turned around and just started going, ‘Pass the f**king ball forward, take risks, you’re not at Leeds or West Ham now, you’re at Manchester United!’
“I got home later that day and thought, ‘This guy is nuts, how am I going to deal with him on a daily basis?’”
Despite the difficult start, Ferdinand went on to enjoy a brilliant career at Old Trafford, winning six Premier League titles and a Champions League.
But that one pass clearly left a lasting impression on Keane and the former England international has to settle for a place in our team.
CB: Nemanja Vidic
With Keane selecting Stam and Pallister, it makes sense to include the other half of the Vidic-Ferdinand defensive wall in our line-up here.
Vidic joined United a few weeks after Keane’s departure and quickly established himself as one of the fearsome players in the Premier League, helping fill the void left by Keane.
He became renowned for his full-blooded approach and was always willing to put his head where most players were afraid to put their feet.
The former Serbia international also won two Premier League Player of the Season awards and his partnership with Ferdinand was the cornerstone of United’s success in the late 2000s.
“He became a defender that was feared,” Ferdinand said in 2016. “He could fight with the most physical, he crunched into tackles, he attacked the ball better than anyone I’ve ever seen.
“But as he will tell you with a smile, he could also play with the ball too, which made him complete and a great defender.”
LB: Patrice Evra
While his weird antics on Instagram won’t have impressed Keane, Evra is undoubtedly one of the greatest left-backs in Premier League history.
The full-back didn’t ignore his defensive responsibilities but was mainly renowned for his attacking prowess, making him a pivotal part of Ferguson’s last great United side.
After Neville was named in Keane’s XI, we also felt like we needed to include a player who absolutely loved antagonizing rival fans.
READ: How Patrice Evra succeeded Gary Neville as Man Utd’s hated hero
CM: Roy Keane
Keane may be unwilling to blow his own trumpet, but his former team-mates are more than happy to do so.
The former Republic of Ireland international helped fill Bryan Robson’s boots at Old Trafford and established himself as one of the greatest captains in Premier League history.
He also produced one of the most iconic performances in United’s history, famously dragging Ferguson’s side to a Champions League semi-final victory over Juventus in 1999.
CM: Michael Carrick
After Keane’s acrimonious departure from Old Trafford in 2005, United needed a replacement and they spent £18.6million on Carrick.
While Carrick is a completely different character to Keane, he won over the doubters and brought him a brilliant range of passing.
The midfielder didn’t always get the credit that he deserves but you have to be pretty special to make over 450 appearances for United and win 17 trophies.
READ: ‘Hard to believe it’s not Scholes’: An ode to Carrick’s sublime 12-13 season
CM: Paul Scholes
Despite making over 300 appearances alongside Scholes at the heart of United’s midfield, Keane surprisingly omitted him from his XI and picked Paul Ince instead.
“It was tough leaving Scholesy out and [Nicky] Butt, brilliant players and brilliant characters,” Keane told Sky Sports. “But I just thought Incey in that first season I was there, when we won the double, he was brilliant in midfield.”
Scholes started his career as a goal-scoring midfielder before later turning into a deep-lying playmaker who dictated the tempo of the game, winning 11 Premier League titles, three FA Cups and two Champions Leagues in the process.
Having also earned high praise from Pele, Zinedine Zidane, Xavi and many others who played with and against him, the former England international probably won’t be losing any sleep over his omission from Keane’s XI.
CAM: Eric Cantona
One of the most iconic figures in Premier League history, Cantona left Leeds United and joined the Red Devils in a £1.2million deal in November 1992.
The former France international registered 82 goals and 62 assists in 185 appearances in all competitions for United, including that iconic chip against Sunderland.
But more importantly, his arrival provided the catalyst for a new era of success at Old Trafford, with United winning four league titles and two FA Cups in the following five years.
ST: Andy Cole
The third-highest goalscorer in Premier League historyCole just about edged out Manucho and Radamel Falcao to take a coveted spot in our line-up.
While we could tell you what made the striker so special, his record of 121 goals in 275 United appearances, five league titles, two FA Cups and a Champions League probably speaks for itself.
ON THIS DAY: In 1995, Andy Cole scored FIVE goals in the biggest win in Premier League history when United best Ipswich Town 9-0! 👹⚽️💪🏼🔥 pic.twitter.com/48PdZLVHYr
— Manchester United (@ManUnitedWorld) March 4, 2019
ST: Ruud van Nistelrooy
While United have had some brilliant strikers in the Premier League era, Van Nistelrooy is arguably the most prolific player to grace Old Trafford.
He rivaled Thierry Henry as the best striker in the Premier League during the early 2000s and scored 150 goals in 219 appearances for United.
But it still wasn’t enough to earn his place in Keane’s XI, and the former Netherlands international may have a headband to blame for that.
“He was direct, everybody knows that and in the beginning, I had to get used to that directness,” Van Nistelrooy said when talking about Keane on Ferdinand’s Vibe with Five podcast.
“I had this hairband, you know? For three months, every day he was talking about that hairband: ‘get that thing out of your hair! What the fuck are you doing with that thing? You’re in the Premier League now!’
“That was banter in the dressing room, but he kept you on your toes, do you know?”
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