Manchester United’s Classic XI

Every club has its heroes. But equally, there are players who you might have forgotten about. These are the players that we love at Forgot About Him, and this feature is dedicated to them. Now for Manchester United.

GK: Ricardo

Spaniard Ricardo signed for Manchester United in 2002, on the back of his selection in Spain’s 2002 World Cup squad. Though he didn’t feature in the tournament – Iker Casillas had, and still has, firm grasp of the number one jersey – Sir Alex Ferguson paid £1.5 million for the Valladolid stopper, as back-up for Fabien Barthez and Roy Carroll. In three years at Old Trafford, he only made four appearances – four in the Champions League and one in the Premier League against Blackburn – a game in which he conceded a penalty that he went on to save. After spending the 2003/04 season on loan to Racing Santander, the arrival of Tim Howard virtually ended his time in Manchester. He left for Osasuna in 2005, where, aged 40, he is on the verge of making 200 appearances.

RB: John O’Kane

Nottingham born O’Kane spent five years at United between 1993 and 1998, having been a product of the club’s now infamous youth system. Firmly in the shadows of fellow right back and hot prospect, Gary Neville, who O’Kane once claimed “stole his position”, he found his first team appearances limited to just two, amongst brief loan spells at Bury and Bradford. He left for Everton, where he had a bit better luck, making 14 appearances in the 1998/99 season before being released at the end of the season. Spells at Bolton and Blackpool came next for O’Kane, who finally found his level in 2003 when he signed for non-league side Hyde United. He made over 100 appearances in three years with the Tigers, before retiring in 2006, aged 32. He now works as a support worker.

CB: Chris Casper

Another product of the United youth system, and one whose career could have turned out very differently if it wasn’t for the career-ending injury he suffered at just 24 years old. The young Casper was part of a formidable central defensive partnership with Gary Neville in the United youth side, and was captain of England youth team. However, just two league appearances alongside loan spells at Bournemouth, Swindon and Reading saw him released in 1998, when he signed for Reading permanently. He suffered a double leg fracture against Cardiff in 1999 – an injury that forced him to retire at just 26. He used the recuperation facilities at the University of Bath and ended up coaching the university’s affiliate club, Team Bath, to the FA Cup First Round Proper in 2002. He later had managerial and coaching spells at Bury, Grimsby and Bradford, before becoming a Premier League club support manager in 2010.

CB: William Prunier

Writing Manchester United’s classic XI was difficult, but cultured Frenchman Prunier was undoubtedly the first name on the team sheet. Signed during the much-discussed Old Trafford centre back crisis of 1995, the 28-year-old Bordeaux defender was brought in on an emergency loan, and was required to slot straight in for a debut against QPR. A 2-1 win for United, in a game in which Prunier generally impressed, was considered fortuitous given Ferguson’s makeshift back line. Prunier made his second, and final, appearance in the Manchester red in the club’s next game – a humiliating 4-1 defeat against Spurs – and it’s generally considered that the Frenchman was at fault for all four conceded goals. He left England sheepishly, and had spells in Denmark, France, Scotland, Belgium and finally, Qatar, before retiring at 37 in 2004.

LB: John Curtis

After attending the FA National School of Excellence at Lilleshall, Curtis signed trainee terms with United in 1995 and earned a reputation as a competent full back, winning the club’s Young Player of the Year award a year later. Despite being deemed a capable back-up to the likes of Gary Neville and Denis Irwin, Graeme Souness managed to prize Curtis away from Old Trafford to sign for Blackburn for £1.5 million in 2000. He was ever-present in Rovers’ promotion-winning season, 2000/01, but saw his first campaign back in the top flight dogged by injury. Despite eventually recovering, he never managed to regain his first team spot, and went on to play for nine English league clubs in seven years. Now 33, he was last playing in Australia with Gold Coast United.

RM: Ben Thornley

Taking his place alongside the likes of Beckham, Giggs and the Neville brothers, Thornley was one of the less successful of ‘Fergie’s Fledglings’. After initially impressing as an out-and-out winger at the club, Thornley’s development was impaired by a succession of serious injuries. The most notable injury came in 1997 when a tackle from Blackburn reserve defender Nicky Marker kept him out for a year with knee ligament damage. Thornley sued Marker for loss of earnings. After making just nine first team appearances for the United first team, he left for Huddersfield in 1998, making over 100 appearances in West Yorkshire. The once England under-21 international went on to sign for Aberdeen, Blackpool and Bury before rounding off his career in the lower leagues.

CM: Kleberson

After lifting the World Cup with Brazil in 2002, Kleberson was lauded by then-national team manager Luis Felipe Scolari. “He was the first name on the team sheet, ahead of players like Ronaldo…he will have no problem adapting to the Premiership,” said the future Chelsea boss. A ringing endorsement – but one that did not ring true. United snatched Kleberson ahead of Newcastle, Leeds and Celtic as a replacement for Juan Sebastian Veron at an apparent bargain of £6million. But he failed to adjust to the hurly-burly of the Premier League, made just 16 league starts, and was then shipped off to Beskitas in August 2005 for a could-have-been-worse £2.5million.

CM: Ronnie Wallwork

A Manchester-born lad and another to come through the ranks at United, it looked as if Ronnie Wallwork’s career was set to soar alongside the more illustrious names. By 1997 he had become a regular in the United reserve side and was loaned out to a number of clubs to gain first team experience. Whilst at Royal Antwerp on loan, Wallwork grabbed referee Amand Ancion by the throat, prompting the Belgian authorities to ban Wallwork from football for life. Despite the fact that the ban was reduced on appeal, he never established himself as a first team regular at Old Trafford and left with only a handful of league starts under his belt. He played for West Brom for over five years after leaving the club and found success as the Baggies won promotion to the Premier League. In 2006, Wallwork was stabbed while on a night out in Manchester and, despite making a recovery, his career has stalled since. In December last year, he was jailed for 15 months for selling on parts from stolen high performance cars.

LM: Bojan Djordjic

Djordjic joined United in 1999 at the tender age of 16. He was highly thought of as a youngster, winning the Jimmy Murphy Young Player of the Year Award, for the club’s best youth player, on two occasions. That promise never materialised though and, after just two appearances for United and a number of loan moves, Djordjic left Old Trafford for Rangers. Injuries scuppered his opportunities at Ibrox and he departed for Plymouth Argyle in the summer of 2005. The Swedish midfielder was relatively successful on the south coast, apart from a short period when he was transfer listed by Ian Holloway over an alleged bad attitude. Djordjic went on to play for AIK and Hungarian side Videoton before rejoining Holloway at Blackpool this summer.

ST: Dong Fangzhuo

Signed as a blatant marketing ploy by United in 2004, Dong was sent out on loan to Royal Antwerp until he was eligible for a work permit. He spent four seasons in Belgium and impressed, particularly in his final season when he found the net 11 times in 15 appearances. After finally receiving a work permit in 2007, Dong returned to Manchester United and made his league debut against Chelsea in a drab, end-of-season 0-0 draw. That appearance could have implied a future role for Dong but that was his only Premier League appearance, and he left United in the summer of 2008 to find first team football. He returned to China with Dalian Shide before embarking on something of a European glamour tour which took him to Legia Warsaw in Poland, Portimonense in Portugal and Mika in Armenia.

ST: David Bellion

A lightning quick forward who won France’s National Indoor Youth Championship 60 metre final, Bellion signed for Sunderland from Cannes in 2001. In the 2002-03 season, Bellion was a key member of the Black Cats first team, but it was not a successful side as it convincingly suffered relegation to the second tier. With Sunderland looking likely to experience the drop, Bellion went AWOL in an attempt to secure a move to United. Eventually he got his move but United had to pay £3million in compensation, despite the fact Bellion was out of contract. He was rarely involved at Old Trafford, and made only 23 league appearances in three years – most of those from the bench. He left to join Nice in 2006 and is currently a little-used squad player at Bordeaux.

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