Football Features

Eight Premier League footballers you (probably) forgot had spells at Man Utd

By Squawka News

Published: 14:50, 30 March 2021

For the majority of the Premier League era, Manchester United have been a relentless machine, winning numerous major honours.

Throughout that time, the Red Devils’ squad has been packed full of world-class talent, which has made it difficult for young players at the club to make their mark.

There have been notable exceptions, of course, with Fergie’s Fledglings – Ryan Giggs, David Beckham, Gary Neville and Paul Scholes — while in recent times, Scott McTominay and Marcus Rashford have both made significant contributions.

Other highly-rated prospects ultimately failed to establish themselves at Old Trafford due to the plethora of talent blocking their path to the first-team, yet have gone on to impress elsewhere in the top-flight.

Here are eight such players who you may have forgotten ever pulled on the red shirt.

1. Robbie Brady

Manchester United appearances: 1

Current club: Burnley

Like King, Robbie Brady joined Manchester United’s academy in January 2008 after impressing the club’s scouts while playing for St. Kevin’s Boys in Ireland, a club that has produced the likes of Damien Duff, Liam Brady and Burnley midfielder Jeff Hendrick.

He was an unused substitute in the League Cup game in which King debuted and had to wait nearly two years to make his first appearance, coming on as an 86th-minute replacement in a victory over Newcastle United in the same competition.

Despite struggling to force his way into the first-team setup at Old Trafford, Brady has impressed in the Premier League for Hull City, Norwich and Burnley, as well as the Republic of Ireland national team.

2. Craig Cathcart

Manchester United appearances: 0

Current club: Watford

He might not have managed his breakthrough at Manchester United, but Craig Cathcart has forged a hugely respectable career for himself as a reliable Premier League and international centre-back with Watford and Northern Ireland.

Cathcart was called up to Sir Alex Ferguson’s first-team squad as a result of an injury to Nemanja Vidic back in 2007 and found himself among the substitutes for United’s famous 7-1 win over Roma, as well as an FA Cup semi-final win over future club Watford.

It wasn’t to be at Old Trafford, however, and the 31-year-old is now fast-approaching 200 appearances for Watford, playing a key role in helping the Hornets become a competitive Premier League force in recent years, though they’re now back down in the Championship.

3. Phil Bardsley

Manchester United appearances: 18

Current club: Burnley

Rated as a promising youth prospect when he was progressing the ranks, Phil Bardsley was handed the No.34 shirt and given a couple of run-outs in the League Cup during the 2003-04 season.

A couple of years later, he managed 15 games in all competitions, including eight in the Premier League, as Gary Neville struggled with injury problems, but he made just one more appearance after that campaign concluded.

In January 2008, Bardsley joined a host of former United players at Sunderland, where he plied his trade until a move to Stoke in 2014.

He joined Sean Dyche’s Burnley in July 2017.

4. Danny Drinkwater

Manchester United appearances: 0

Current club: Kasımpaşa (on loan from Chelsea)

A Premier League winner with Leicester City, who he joined in 2012, Danny Drinkwater began his career with United, though failed to make a senior appearance. The closest he got was making the bench against Hull City in the last game of the 2008/09 season.

He spent 13 years there and signed his first pro contract with the Red Devils in 2008, undergoing loan spells with Huddersfield, Cardiff, Watford and Barnsley before being sold to Leicester.

Drinkwater joined Chelsea in 2017 but injuries and personal issues have limited him to just 12 Premier League appearances for the Blues.

The 31-year-old spent the first half of last season on loan at Burnley before sealing a temporary switch to Aston Villa, though neither move worked out. He’s now in Turkey with Kasımpaşa, still on loan from Chelsea.

5. Michael Keane

Manchester United appearances: 5

Current club: Everton

Michael Keane was very highly thought of during his time with Manchester United but due to the depth of quality at the club at the time, was restricted to just one Premier League appearance — his other four came in the League Cup.

After numerous loan spells, Keane left Old Trafford for Burnley in 2014, temporarily at first, making the transfer permanent in 2015.

The centre-back performed so well that he not only earned his first senior cap for England, but also a £25m transfer to Everton in 2017. Despite being prone to the odd lapse in concentration, Keane remains an important member of the Toffees’ squad under Carlo Ancelotti, while he also has 12 caps for the Three Lions.

6. Oliver Norwood

Oliver Norwood

Manchester United appearances: 0

Current club: Sheffield United

He never managed a senior appearance for Manchester United and had to take the long route to get there, but Oliver Norwood has finally established himself as an impressive Premier League midfielder.

The 29-year-old left Old Trafford in search of first-team opportunities in 2012 after a number of loan spells and has turned out for the likes of Huddersfield Town, Reading and Brighton since.

It’s at Sheffield United, though, where Norwood has found top-flight success, playing a big role in earning promotion for Chris Wilder’s Blades and sustaining their bid for European football last season. Unfortunately, the Blades are almost certain to go down this campaign, suffering heavily from that dreaded ‘second-season syndrome’.

7. Tom Heaton

Tom Heaton

Manchester United appearances: 0

Current club: Aston Villa

Give that he had the likes of Edwin van der Sar and Tim Howard ahead of him in the pecking order during his time at Old Trafford, it’s no surprise that Tom Heaton failed to make his name with Manchester United.

However, after short spells with Cardiff City and Bristol City, the goalkeeper joined Burnley 2013 and really saw his career take off. Heaton was able to help the Clarets to two promotions and, then, European football, making 200 appearances for Dyche’s side as they continually punched above their weight. His reward? Three senior caps for England.

Heaton is now at Aston Villa, although he’s struggled with injury, allowing Emiliano Martinez to thrive as Dean Smith’s No.1 this season.

8. Josh King

Manchester United appearances: 2

Current club: Everton

Josh King was spotted by numerous Premier League clubs while he was playing for Valerenga’s youth team but eventually, he opted to make the move to Manchester to join United just after his 16th birthday.

The Norway international made his debut against Wolves in the League Cup during the 2009-10 season before spending time out on loan at Borussia Monchengladbach and Hull City.

King made one appearance for the club before being sold permanently to Blackburn Rovers where he played until joining Bournemouth in 2015.

Now 29, King seemed on the verge of rejoining United in January 2020 but the move never got off the ground — the Red Devils eventually opted to sign former Watford striker Odion Ighalo on loan instead. But King did get a return to the Premier League January just gone, moving to Everton on a short-term deal.