Lover them or loathe them, adore them or detest them, Manchester United are one of England’s top dogs. Deny such a fact, and, well, you’re in denial.
Old Trafford was initially built on old money, given their position as one of the country’s traditionally successful clubs, but they also managed to usher in an era of domination just as the fortunes began to flow into the Premier League. The lucky devils.
Well, it wasn’t luck really, was it? It was a youth team that boasted a ridiculous amount of talent – and Phil Neville – combined with the managerial prowess of a certain Sir Alex Ferguson. Plus, a cracking amount of commercial clout.
Meanwhile, if the Theatre of Dreams comes-a-knocking, you answer the door. Plying your trade at an outfit whose size is as sheer as United’s is an opportunity few players can afford to miss. All it takes is a whiff of interest from the Old Trafford and players are handing in transfer requests, issuing come-and-get-me-pleas, or going on strike to force through a move.
However, getting there is just the half of it. Staying there is another challenge altogether. Not everyone can make the grade. After all, the standards are pretty high.
Plenty of players have had to walk away from Old Trafford with their tails between their legs but can now return with their heads held high.
Likewise, many have left amidst predictions that they would not amount to anything elsewhere, whilst others have simply gone on to exceed expectations after embarking on a new challenge.
Squawka has done a bit of digging and is pleased to present seven players that left Manchester United but have gone on to prove their worth elsewhere, and enjoyed the calibre of career not everyone thought they were capable of.
Winners never quit and quitters never win. Amen to that.
1. Diego Forlan
A £6.9 million arrival in 2002, the then 22-year-old was tipped for big things in English football, only Ferguson almost missed out on the Uruguayan’s signature as Forlan was remarkably close to a switch to Middlesbrough until the Red Devils weighed in with a bigger offer.
Forlan was woeful for the first 10 months of his career in the Premier League and took what seemed like an eternity to score his first goal. Then he couldn’t remember how to put his shirt on.
Three unsuccessful seasons later he joined Villarreal and got rather good. Then he went to Atletico Madrid and got even better. He even picked up the Golden Ball at the 2010 World Cup after becoming the only player who worked out how to hit the Jabulani. (That was a PR disaster, wasn’t it Adidas?)
It was a case of too much, too young for Forlan at United. He called it a day in 2018 after a brief spell in Hong Kong with Kitchee SC.
2. Gerard Pique
No-one really batted an eyelid when Pique re-signed for Barcelona for £5 million in 2008. The defender had made just a handful of first-team appearances and failed to break into the first team on a consistent basis.
But that was due to the partnership of Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand – yeah, they were pretty handy.
However, given the manner in which he had failed to acclimatise to English football, Pique was not expected to make the grade at the Nou Camp either. But he did. In emphatic fashion.
A linchpin in the Catalan’s back line for several years, his performances may have dipped somewhat in recent years but at least he can take solace in the fact he can go home to Shakira every night.
3. Wilfried Zaha
It all seemed to be ‘coming up Zaha’ after he caught Ferguson’s eye and promptly joined United before returning to Crystal Palace on loan and helping his boyhood club secure promotion to the Premier League at the expense of their fierce rivals.
But David Moyes clearly didn’t fancy the midfielder and he struggled to get the game time he craved.
With United being engulfed by a post-Ferguson crisis, Zaha opted to cut ties and return to Selhurst Park – via Cardiff – to prove his worth.
He’s certainly done that and has carved out a solid Premier League career, despite being seen as a serial diver in some parts.
Zaha also opted to represent the Ivory Coast instead of England, which serves as yet more proof that he’s not been afraid to tread a new path along the road to success.
4. Carlos Tevez
Carlitos has always been a player who has flirted with controversy. Whether it was incurring the wrath of Neil Warnock or swapping the red half of Manchester for the blue half and becoming public enemy number 1 at Old Trafford, the Argentine has flown in the face of adversity on many occasions.
Tevez was an essential member of the great United side that lifted the 2008 Champions League, forming a potent attack with Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo.
His spell at the Etihad wasn’t too bad either but bust ups with manager Roberto Mancini and refusing to play in crucial European ties didn’t do much to cleanse his image in England.
Life at Juventus proved to be much sweeter though. He picked up two Serie A titles and was unfortunate not to add another Champions League trophy to his cabinet, proving that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. But who needs to when that old dog was good enough in the first place?
Tevez currently plays for hometown club Boca Juniors, having also enjoyed a brief holiday at Shanghai Shenhua during his twilight years.
5. Ben Foster
Sir Alex Ferguson thought he had found the answer to his goalkeeping problems when he spotted a young Foster playing for Wrexham in the Football League trophy in 2005. It turns out he hadn’t.
Yet a £1 million fee was agreed with parent club Stoke City and Foster had his shot at the big time. Loan spells with Watford helped the shot stopper gain valuable experience in the top tier but he failed to bridge the gap to United’s first-team fold.
That was mainly due to the presence of the pesky Edwin van der Sar; the big Dutch wall. Foster helped the club claim the Carling Cup trophy in 2009 by saving a penalty in the final, although his ipod also deserved partial credit.
However, he soon accepted that he had to leave the Red Devils to play regularly. He has been a solid stalwart at Birmingham City, West Brom and Watford in the years that have followed.
Yes, he’s still got a mistake in him, but he can be very proud of his eight England caps. Saving a Steven Gerrard penalty in front of the Kop might be the moment United fans remember him for though.
6. Memphis Depay
The Dutchman arrived at Old Trafford in the summer of 2015 amid huge expectations, having torn the Eredivisie to shreds during his spell at PSV.
An immediate impact was widely predicted, but never came to pass and Depay struggled to adapt to the Premier League – despite appearing to be tailor made for the English game.
He left United empty handed and was branded a flop for failing to hit the heights that he had been tipped to reach.
But, still just 25, he’s settled into life at Lyon and another big move may not be beyond him if his upwards trajectory continues.
7. Tim Howard
The America international was part of the perennial goalkeeper problem that United struggled to address following the departure of Peter Schmeichel. Like so many others, he failed to provide the answer.
Signed in 2003 to rival Fabian Barthez for the number one jersey, he usurped the Frenchman but his confidence went to pieces after his error cost the club a Champions League fixture against Porto. Roy Carroll replaced him and Howard continued to make mistakes whenever he was given the nod to play.
Everton gave him another chance and he fitted into life at Goodison Park like a glove. Considering he was bought for a paltry £3 million, we’d say that was money well spent by the Toffees given the Tourette’s Syndrome sufferer became one of the division’s best goalkeepers.
He also bossed the 2010 World Cup in South Africa and performed admirably for the Colorado Rapids. What a glorious beard, too.
Bonus Ball: Paul Pogba
He’s not all that. He’ll never make it. His attitude’s all wrong. Well, if you ever uttered one of the sentences about the French midfielder it’s about time you helped yourself to a generous slice of humble pie.
Pogba was adamant he was good enough to play for United’s first team, Fergie wasn’t. The Scotsman played Rafael there instead, which proved to be the straw that broke the camel’s back. It is a bit of an insult to be fair, the Brazilian isn’t even good at right back, let alone central midfield.
Juventus snapped the combative midfielder up on a free contract and he quickly became one of the most highly-rated young players in the world. How do you like them apples, United?
A lot, it seems, as United paid a world-record fee to bring the midfielder back to Old Trafford. And now, after being released from Jose Mourinho’s shackles, he’s absolutely tearing it up.