Manchester United have been represented by some of the greatest players in Premier League history – but they’ve also been graced by a collection of footballers who never got the credit they deserved.
Despite their struggles since Sir Alex Ferguson retired, United are still the most successful club in the competition’s history with 13 Premier League titles to their name.
Most of the headlines were taken by the superstars of their respective line-ups; think Eric Cantona, David Beckham, Ryan Giggs, Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney.
And football fans across the country respected the iron will of Roy Keane, Nemanja Vidic’s flawless defending and the goalkeeping exploits of Peter Schmeichel and Edwin van der Sar.
But plenty of important squad members went underpraised so we’ve put together an XI of United players that should be rated higher, lining up in a 4-4-2 formation.
GK: Raimond van der Gouw
It was tricky to select a goalkeeper here; Schmeichel and Van der Sar were never in contention, Fabian Barthez never lived up to his reputation and the likes of Tim Howard and Roy Carroll were middling at best for United.
So we’ve plumped for Van der Gouw. The back-up to Schmeichel and Barthez never let United down during his 36 appearances between 1996 and 2002, and deputised in some big matches.
His last match, against Charlton in May 2002, saw him become the oldest United player since the end of the Second World War, two months after his 39th birthday.
We loved him for his endearing personality, but United fans recognised that Rafael was a tough-tackling, overlapping defender that was an integral part of their 2012-13 title win.
CB: Ronny Johnsen
A defender that oozed class, Johnsen was often overshadowed by the likes of Jaap Stam and Steve Bruce but always seemed to put in measured performances when called upon to marshal United’s backline.
Even when called upon to do a job elsewhere, like his midfield role against Porto in 1996-97 and two years later at Juventus, Johnsen was excellent and you can see why Ferguson picked him on 150 occasions.
He’s perfect for our XI.
CB: Jonny Evans
It feels like Evans only received wider recognition at Leicester; his performances for United always seemed to go under the radar.
His eight seasons at Old Trafford between 2007 and 2015 saw Evans make 198 appearances for the club, winning three Premier League titles among other major honours.
And, while the Northern Ireland international demonstrated his class at West Brom and Leicester, United’s defence became incredibly erratic. The decision to sell him was one of United’s worst in the post-Ferguson era.
LB: Mikael Silvestre
Far from a glamour player, Silvestre was more functional than flair despite his French roots – but served United with understated dedication and consistency.
Signed in September 1999, the defender played at least 30 Premier League matches during his first seven seasons in England and is one of United’s top 50 appearance-makers.
Relied upon for the big occasion by Ferguson, we don’t think it matters that Silvestre didn’t have the razzle-dazzle of Rio Ferdinand or quick feet of Patrice Evra; he was great on his own merits.
Regularly derided for his unnecessary tricks and inconsistent end product, we reckon Nani suffered for being a Portuguese winger in the same era as Cristiano Ronaldo.
Judged on his own merits, he was pretty ace…
CM: Phil Neville
Usually derided, we’ve stuck Neville in the heart of midfield in a nod to his flexibility and dedication to the cause.
Speaking about the 1998-99 treble-winning season, Roy Keane said: “As the season progressed I began to play the best football of my life. That had much to do with the strength of the team around me.
“In what was becoming a squad game, Phil Neville, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Teddy Sheringham were all major assets when called upon.”
You don’t play 386 games for United unless you’ve got something about you, so let’s put more love on Neville’s name.
CM: Nicky Butt
Pele was met with widespread sniggers when he called Butt the best player of the 2002 World Cup – but perhaps the great man was onto something.
Tough, committed and played the game of his life in the 1999 Champions League final in the absence of Keane and Paul Scholes, Butt was exactly the kind of player you wanted on your side.
LM: Park Ji-sung
So underrated he’s probably in danger of becoming overrated, Park was a favourite of Manchester United players, fans and Sir Alex Ferguson during his seven years at Old Trafford.
Usually entrusted with man-marking the opposition’s star man, or filling in for injured team-mates in a variety of positions, the South Korean rarely put a foot wrong and was a shoo-in for our XI.
ST: Javier Hernandez
Yes, he was a poacher in an age where strikers were supposed to line-leading bludgeons that also posted Ronaldo’s numbers of goals and assists.
But Hernandez’s exploits at Old Trafford saw United fans take him into their hearts; any Premier League defence would wince when they saw the Mexican limber up on the touchline.
ST: Danny Welbeck
Welbeck wasn’t the most prolific goalscorer in United’s history, and is unfortunate that his best goalscoring season in 2011-12 was overshadowed by title heartbreak, but the striker always worked tirelessly for the cause.
He was a vital component of attack, firstly as a foil for Rooney at his devastating best and then as a quick, high-pressing winger to accommodate the individual brilliance of Robin van Persie.
Players, especially Rooney, loved playing alongside him and that’s enough for Welbeck to be included here.