Manchester United have had some world-class talent play for them in the 21st century.
Paul Scholes, Ruud van Nistelrooy, Edwin van der Sar, Cristiano Ronaldo, Robin van Persie, David De Gea, some of the Premier League’s finest and most adored players since the dawn of the new millennium have worn the red shirt to great acclaim. Even the players considered to be underrated, like Dimitar Berbatov, Ashley Young and Daley Blind, are actually rated about fair for their ability.
But that is not to say everyone gets the praise they deserve. Some players, in fact can spend years playing for the Red Devils and never get the credit due them. Obviously Paul Scholes used to be like this, but the general public has now admitted how wrong they were about him. And Ryan Giggs is in a permanent state of being underrated but also getting a fair shake when it comes to praise.
The following 10 players, however, are still waiting to be given the right amount of praise for their quality and contributions to Manchester United Football Club. Who makes up this list? Who are the most underrated players United have had since 2000? Read on a find out!
10. Jonny Evans
Games played: 198
Titles won: Community Shield (4), 2008 FIFA Club World Cup, Premier League (3), League Cup (3)
“Jonny the Killer” is often criticised because Sir Alex Ferguson famously felt comfortable selling Gerard Piqué as he had Evans on the books. But that’s an enormous disservice to Evans who was a wonderful defensive talent who excelled with the ball at his feet. His ability to defend ruggedly and switch the play elegantly brought defensive power to some disorganised United sides. Never given the full trust of any manager, he nearly always delivered when called upon and sadly his time at the club came to an end just when the ideal coach for him (Louis van Gaal) arrived. Sure, his post-United career hasn’t been great, but he was really great in red.
9. Antonio Valencia
Games played: 329
Titles won: Community Shield (3), League Cup (2), Premier League (2), 2015/16 FA Cup, 2016/17 UEFA Europa League
The Ecuadorian was signed to “replace” Cristiano Ronaldo so was a disappointment from the start. But in truth, for the job he was asked to do, Valencia was superbly suited. Played a huge part in Rooney’s excellent performances as a no. 9 and helped Dimitar Berbatov and Javier Hernandez too. A rugged performer who has won two titles for United from two different positions, first as a winger and then as a full-back; a genuinely reliable full-back, too. His form has fallen off a cliff since the summer and he is now atrocious, but one cannot let that overshadow how relentless and reliable he was for a long time.
8. Wes Brown
Games played: 362
Titles won: Premier League (5), FA Cup (2), UEFA Champions League (2), Community Shield (3), League Cup (2)
Everyone always talks about what could have been with Spurs defender Ledley King if only he had avoided injuries. But Wes Brown is just as big a case. A superbly gifted natural defender the equal of Rio Ferdinand (and far superior to Nemanja Vidic) he just could never stay fit enough to get any rhythm going. The exception being 2007/08, of course, when he played a full season and Manchester United won a European Double as perhaps the best team in the world.
7. John O’Shea
Games played: 393
Titles won: Premier League (5), Community Shield (4), 2003/04 FA Cup, League Cup (3), 2007/08 UEFA Champions League, 2008 FIFA Club World Cup
Where to start? A multi-functional defensive presence who excelled at right-back, centre-back, left-back (where he nutmegged Louis Figo) and even defensive midfield. Is known as a cult figure for his incredible goals at Anfield and Highbury, but through all his time at United he was actually a really solid defender and a competent attacking presence. Was a key defensive presence as United came within one game of retaining their European Double in 2009.
6. Darren Fletcher
Games played: 342
Titles won: 2003/04 FA Cup, Premier League (4), Community Shield (3), 2007/08 UEFA Champions League, 2008 FIFA Club World Cup, League Cup (2)
For years Fletcher was regarded as “teacher’s pet” who was only in the side because he shared a nationality with Sir Alex. No one believed the boss when he said Fletcher could be as important to the team as Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo. But then, in 2007 he just sort of, was? In truth Fletcher had been dominating big games for years (he was an expert at subduing the magnificent Patrick Vieira) but in 2007 developed into a genuine top-tier talent whose rise and rise was only ended by a cruel illness. How far could he have gone otherwise? Who knows, but he did pretty damn well regardless and set a blueprint out for youth prospects who lacked a bit of razzle dazzle.
5. Park Ji-Sung
Games played: 205
Titles won: League Cup (3), Premier League (4), Community Shield (4), 2007/08 UEFA Champions League, 2008 FIFA Club World Cup
A cult figure because Sir Alex Ferguson always called on him to add defensive energy in big games, but Park was so much more than just a legs man. He was a brilliant attacking midfielder with genuine quality. His appreciation of space and where to find it and how best to exploit it was supreme and his ability to punish lax defending is one of the reasons he would always torment Arsenal. An incredibly underrated player and a key part of the Title win and Champions League final run of 2010/11, neither of which would have been possible without him.
4. Wayne Rooney
Games played: 559
Titles won: League Cup (3), Premier League (5), Community Shield (4), 2007/08 UEFA Champions League, 2008 FIFA Club World Cup, 2015/16 FA Cup, 2016/17 UEFA Europa League
Manchester United’s record goalscorer finally left the club at the end of the 2017 season having lifted the club’s first-ever Europa League, but that he does so under something of a cloud is a shame because for damn near a decade Wayne Rooney was a world-class presence at the heart of the Red Devils attack. A frenetic dynamo whose only enemy, whose only true rival, was his own in-built capacity for self-destruction.
The last five years of his career have led people to forget just how brilliant, just how supreme, he used to be. Teams the world over feared Wayne Rooney because he wasn’t just skilled, he was relentless. He was physical and determined and afraid of absolutely nothing. When he took the field against Bayern Munich in 2010, playing on a twisted ankle terrifying Bayern to such a degree that United raced into a 3-0 lead, that should have been his Willis Reed moment. The exact time we canonised him.
But then his injury flared up, his team-mates let him down, and United lost. His moment was gone. Brief resurgences in 2011 (who can forget the hat-trick vs. West Ham or the goals vs. City and Barcelona?) and again in 2012 where he led a ramshackle United side to cruelly lose the Title on goal difference were phenomenal, but while the decline sped up in 2012 it began in earnest that day in 2010.
Obviously he can’t be the most underrated. There’s still an army of fans who consider him world-class, and many coaches believe he hasn’t spent the last half-decade wandering around the United pitch looking more like a contest winner than a professional footballer.
But there’s an equally large contingent of people who wilfully ignore all the moments of magic simply because he declined so quickly. Forget the goalscoring record (well, don’t forget it) and just look at all the magical moments he’s delivered. The sheer number of them, from his show-stopping debut all the way through to that uproarious record-breaking strike against Stoke.
Games played: 230
Titles won: Community Shield (4), Premier League (4), 2007/08 UEFA Champions League, 2008 FIFA Club World Cup, League Cup (2)
Regarded as a bit of a joke because of the way he left the club in ignominy and his lackluster career since (he can now be found in the MLS). But from 2010 to 2012 Nani was superhuman (including a masterclass against Bayern Munich in the 2010 Champions League, and even before that was an incredibly decisive figure with an absolutely wicked celebration. A wonderful crosser of the ball, an old-school two-sided winger who could create, dribble and score. There’s a reason Sir Alex Ferguson brought him on for Wayne Rooney in the 2008 Champions League final: Nani was a big game specialist.
2. Louis Saha
Games played: 124
Titles won: 2005/06 League Cup, Premier League (2), 2007/08 UEFA Champions League
The best strike partner Wayne Rooney has ever had. Louis Saha was signed in January and no one thought too much of it, but he instantly proved to be more than capable of stepping up to perform at the level United would want.
As United transitioned away from the orthodox style of play with Ruud van Nistelrooy up-front to the fluid war machine they were in 2008 and 2009 (with Rooney, Cristiano and Carlos Tevez up-top), Saha was the key middle-man, melding the two styles splendidly.
Had he not been so good, Sir Alex would have been unable to evolve his team. Saha was an absolutely essential play to the modern Manchester United. Such a shame that injuries ruined him, as there was surely more to give from this fabulous Frenchman.
1. Michael Carrick
Games played: 463
Titles won: Premier League (5), Community Shield (6), 2007/08 UEFA Champions League, 2008 FIFA Club World Cup, League Cup (3), 2015/16 FA Cup, 2016/17 UEFA Europa League
Manchester hadn’t won the Premier League in three years. Then they signed Michael Carrick and won it three years in a row, also bagging the Champions League along the way. Obviously it’s more complicated than that, but since the very moment of his arrival Michael Carrick has been a key part of the Red Devils.
That it took Robin van Persie openly exclaiming how good he was in 2012 for Carrick to finally get the widespread appreciation he deserves is baffling. Moreover, it still didn’t extend to his pre-2012 United career. Carrick has had some ropey moments, as all footballers have, but his brilliance and importance to Sir Alex Ferguson’s final great side cannot be understated. He was that midfield, the metronome that made it all work whether he played with Scholes, Fletcher, Anderson or Owen Hargreaves.
Carrick hung up his boots in the summer, ending a 12-year playing career with United in which he won five Premier League titles. He moved on to instantly become a well-loved and well-respected coach at the club, taking a position of prominence first under José Mourinho and then under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. United fans should expect to see plenty more of Carrick on the touchlines, could he one day get the big job? Don’t rule it out!