Ruud van Nistelrooy celebrates scoring during the UEFA Champions League match between Manchester United and Benfica at Old Trafford, Manchester, September 2005.

An amazing Xl of players Sir Alex Ferguson allowed to leave Man Utd

Sir Alex Ferguson usually knew the right time to let players leave Manchester United – but he didn’t always get it right. 

Several big-name stars were shown the exit door during Ferguson’s 27 years at Old Trafford, and though United continued to be successful, the boss definitely regretted letting one or two of them move on.

We’ve compiled a talented Xl of players who went on to have impressive careers after being sold by Ferguson.

Tim Howard

Howard never fully established himself as United’s No.1 and moved to Everton in 2006 in search of regular first-team football.

He went on to make over 400 appearances for the Toffees over the next 10 years and even saved two penalties to help Everton beat his former side in the 2009 FA Cup semi-final.

The American also appeared in two World Cups and still holds the record for most saves in a World Cup match after making 16 against Belgium in 2014.

Phil Neville

Howard wasn’t the first player to swap Old Trafford for Goodison Park as Neville had made the switch in 2005.

The utility man became a consistent performer under the management of David Moyes, who soon appointed the England international as his captain.

He eventually hung up his boots and followed Moyes to United in 2013, spending a year on the coaching staff.

Jaap Stam

Stam helped the club win three successive league titles and the famous treble of 1999. but Ferguson surprisingly accepted a £16million offer from Lazio in 2001.

The defender went on to play at the highest level for another five years, winning the Coppa Italia in Rome before reaching the 2005 Champions League final with AC Milan.

“When I think of disappointments, obviously Jaap Stam was always a disappointment to me, I made a bad decision there,” Ferguson admitted in 2013.

Jaap Stam during the Premier League match between Leeds United and Manchester United at Elland Road, Leeds, March 2001.

READ: 9 players that were transferred against their will from Tonali to Di Maria…

Gerard Pique

Pique could not break up the incredible centre-back partnership between Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand and decided to return to Barcelona in 2008.

The Spain international has since developed into one of the best defenders in the world, winning eight La Liga titles, seven Copa del Reys and three Champions Leagues at the Nou Camp.

Oh, and he also has a World Cup and a European Championship on his CV.

Gabriel Heinze

Heinze won the Sir Matt Busby Player of the Year award in 2004-05 but angered United by trying to force a move to Liverpool in 2007.

The defender was sold to Real Madrid instead and helped them win the La Liga title in his debut season. He then had spells at Marseille and Roma before ending his career back at Newell’s Old Boys in Argentina.

David Beckham

Beckham was a fan favourite at Old Trafford, but a breakdown in his relationship with Ferguson led to him joining Real Madrid in 2003.

Madrid failed to win a major trophy during his first three seasons at the club, but he played an integral role in their title win in 2006-07.

The midfielder decided to move to LA Galaxy at the end of that season, but he would return to Europe with AC Milan and PSG.

Paul Ince

Ince won two league titles and two FA Cups in six years at Old Trafford and fans couldn’t believe it then when he was sold to Inter Milan in 1995.

But Ince himself has no complaints.

“Andrei Kanchelskis could have gone on for a while longer there and I certainly could have done, but the manager had a different idea,” Ince told us.

“What made Sir Alex so great was his ability to change the team, shake things up and continue to win things, so we can’t sit here now and say he was wrong to break up that 1994 United team because look at what they went on to win after that.

After a successful stint in Italy, Ince controversially returned to the Premier League with Liverpool in 1997 and went on to score 17 goals during his two years on Merseyside.

Juan Sebastian Veron

Veron was signed for £28.1million In 2001, but the midfielder was ultimately unable to live up to his hefty price tag during his two seasons at Old Trafford.

The Argentine had another less than impressive spell at Chelsea but later won Serie A with Inter Milan and the Copa Libertadores with Estudiantes.

Fergie always knew the talent was there, famously telling journalists critical of Veron in 2002: “He’s a f*cking great player. Youse are all f*cking idiots.”

Cristiano Ronaldo

Ronaldo was the one player on this list that Ferguson was desperate to keep and it’s not hard to see why.

The forward had established himself as one of the best players in the world at Old Trafford, but he couldn’t turn down a dream move to Real Madrid in 2009.

In Spain, his game went to a whole new level as he scored 438 goals in 450 appearances and won two La Liga titles and four Champions Leagues in nine years.

He then spent three years at Juventus before being linked with a move to controversial move to Manchester City in 2021. But Ferguson reportedly intervened and helped convince the Portugal international to return to United for a second spell.

Ruud van Nistelrooy

Van Nistelrooy’s goalscoring exploits at United couldn’t protect him from Ferguson’s wrath and the striker joined, you guessed it, Real Madrid in 2006.

He made an immediate impact at the Bernabeu, winning the league’s Pichichi award with 25 goals as Los Blancos took home the 2006–07 La Liga title.

Another title followed in his second season, and he had spells with Hamburg and Malaga before announcing his retirement in 2012.

“I never regretted it because it was finished, it was time to move on for me and the club,” Van Nistelrooy said in 2015. “If I would have stayed, it would not have been same. Real Madrid was a good move.

“Subconsciously, I was one or two per cent less hungry than I needed to be in the end at United. I was in a comfort zone, the fans loved me and I was taking it a little bit too easy. I can see that now.

“At Real Madrid, you arrive and they are saying “who are you” and you are just one of a number of names.”

READ: Remembering Ruud van Nistelrooy’s great forgotten Man Utd goal

Diego Forlan

Things didn’t quite work out for Forlan at Old Trafford, and he was shipped off to Spain in 2004.

But the striker rebuilt his career with Villarreal and Atletico Madrid, scoring 128 goals in 240 La Liga appearances over seven seasons.

He also starred in the 2010 World Cup, scoring five goals and winning the Golden Ball award as Uruguay reached the semi-finals.

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