Alex Ferguson mixed youth and experience to best Leeds 3-0 at Elland Road in the League Cup third round in 2011. At half-time, with Manchester United already three goals to the good and his hairdryer holstered, Fergie brought on a lanky French teenager for his full debut.
Now that player is ruling the Red Devils’ midfield – albeit after a successful spell at Juventus in between – but it hasn’t worked out quite the same for all of his team-mates. Here’s what they’re up to in 2018...
GK: Ben Amos
As would become a theme among his team-mates at Elland Road that day, Amos has become well acquainted with the loan system over the last seven years. The keeper, currently on loan at Charlton from Bolton, has already appeared for no fewer than nine clubs at just 27.
Peterborough, Oldham, Hull, Carlisle and Cardiff have also played temporary home to a footballing gun-for-hire, while a stint in Molde offered him respite from what’s fast becoming a pretty comprehensive UK tour. He has never spent two successive seasons at the same club and only at Bolton, two years ago, has he enjoyed an entire season as No 1. But he’s halfway to doing so again at The Valley – and who knows, maybe he’ll hang about this time.
RB: Antonio Valencia
Signed as a spindly winger in the summer of 2009, Valencia’s outing against Leeds was an early experiment in playing him in the right-back role he's since made his own. It seems a while back now, but Valencia’s first season at United – the first of the post-Cristiano Ronaldo era – was spent careering down the wing and looping crosses towards a revitalised, free-scoring Wayne Rooney.
The next season two things happened: a nasty ankle break robbed Valencia of his explosive acceleration, and Gary Neville’s retirement left United needing a right-back. The switch worked a treat: Valencia is now one of the Premier League’s most dependable players, and can claim to be one of United’s few steadfast performers throughout the post-Fergie tailspin. He often captains the side now.
CB: Zeki Fryers
Fryers was a hugely promising 19-year-old defender at this point – part of the Youth Cup-winning team of 2011, alongside Paul Pogba and Ravel Morrison – and this was his debut. But only now, over seven years later, is his career getting off the ground. Until the start of this season he had only made 21 league starts in a six-season career.
Tottenham eyed Fryers in the summer of 2012 but were put off by United’s asking price, so the defender moved to Standard Liege – before joining Spurs for a knock-down price six months later. Ferguson was incensed, accusing Tottenham of “blatant manipulation” of the rules, but more pertinent was that Fryers only played a handful of games in north London before being sent on to Crystal Palace, who in turn farmed him out on loan to Rotherham and Ipswich.
At none of those clubs did he hold down a place in the side, and he is now hoping to find some stability at Barnsley. Fryers has now made more appearances this season than in his last two combined.
CB: Michael Carrick
It wasn't unusual for Carrick to be deployed at centre-half during this spell of his career, as he was here. Nemanja Vidic was injury-hit, Rio Ferdinand getting on, and none of Jonny Evans, Chris Smalling nor Phil Jones were producing much impressive in terms of either fitness or form.
Carrick’s adventures in defence have since proven to be fleeting rather than a longer-term glimpse of how his latter years would pan out, as was often floated at the time. Instead he was reinstated to midfield, playing 36 games the following season as Fergie & Co. marched to a valedictory league title. He's since held down a supporting role amid the turbulent years that have followed.
A cerebral presence, Carrick is currently United’s club captain and will join the coaching staff when he retires at the end of the season. He will surely be remembered as one of England’s most underrated footballers – and one of the national side’s most criminally underused.
LB: Fabio da Silva
Hyped, inevitably, as “Brazil’s answer to the Neville brothers”, Rafael and Fabio da Silva never truly lived up to the early promise they showed at Old Trafford. Much like the Nevilles, Fabio and his twin began life as a pair of likeable, high-energy full-backs, both tenacious competitors. But unlike their Mancunian counterparts, they never developed the nous required at the top level.
Once it became clear that a future at United looked less than certain, Fabio’s first taste of life outside of Old Trafford was an alarming one: a year-long loan spell at QPR, who endured one of the most woefully mismanaged seasons in recent memory. The R's finished rock bottom of the Premier League with a squad of exorbitantly paid, completely uninterested superstars.
He’s since found cosier homes in the upper mid-table of the second tier, at Cardiff and now Tony Pulis’s Middlesbrough.
MF: Park Ji-sung
A much-loved player and, patronising as it sounds, one whose value to the team far outstripped his footballing talents. Park’s seven years at United were spent largely as a bit-parter, yet he was one of Ferguson’s most trusted deputies. The bigger the game, the stronger the chance that the South Korean would be on the teamsheet – Park was crucial in helping United maintain defensive shape in heavyweight encounters, especially in Europe.
This would be Park’s final season at Old Trafford. He left that summer to join the QPR car crash alongside Fabio, before seeing out his career in Holland with a season at PSV. He has since studied sports management at De Montfort University, with a view to a coaching career.
MF: Ryan Giggs
Giggs’s career at this stage was ticking into a familiar mix of sparing starts and silky outings from the bench. This was ostensibly one of the former, though he played only the first half, pulling the strings from the centre of the pitch and nabbing himself a goal before making way for Pogba.
His next two seasons continued in much the same vein, before the Welshman stepped into the breach when the inglorious reign of David Moyes reached an abortive conclusion. Giggs's stint as right-hand man to Louis van Gaal, while intended to groom him for bigger things, arguably did him more harm than good.
It is only recently, hired contentiously for the Wales job, that an employer has risked handing him the reins. He has plenty to prove.
MF: Mame Biram Diouf
Manchester United snapped up Diouf from Molde in 2009, when the forward was only 21, and immediately loaned him back to the Norwegian club. Upon his return he inherited Carlos Tevez's vacant No.32 shirt and then scored on his home debut at Burnley – but that's about as good as things got for the Senegalese at Old Trafford. After a mixed loan spell at Blackburn for the 2010/11 campaign, he returned to United looking to make his mark.
A puppyish bundle of energy and power (who played on the wing in this game), it was clear early on that Diouf didn't have the smoothness of touch to truly make it at United – but later, a happy two-and-a-half years at Hannover delivered 35 goals. He’s now into his fifth season at Stoke, mostly playing as a right-wing-back.
FW: Michael Owen
Owen’s time at United feels like an odd chapter in the twilight of a bizarre career. A Ballon d’Or winner a decade earlier, Owen’s endless injuries had deprived him of his main weapon – pace – at a time when defenders’ increasing athleticism was beginning to nullify that weapon anyway.
Efforts to rebrand himself as a link-man and penalty-box poacher were less than successful, but Ferguson was nonetheless taken with his finishing to have a punt on the clubless striker in 2009. His brace at Elland Road rather summed up his latter years: two perfunctory goals scored away from the limelight, and having little effect on his status in the squad (he made only one league appearance that term).
He left in the summer of 2012 to see out his career on Stoke's substitutes bench, before turning his hand to punditry and - more successfully - a racehorse owner, breeder and occasional jockey.
FW: Dimitar Berbatov
Berbatov’s career at United was heading towards its end at this stage: his previous season, in which he won the Premier League Golden Boot, soured when he was left out of the squad for the Champions League final at Wembley. Fans tend to be divided between those who purred over his slow-motion splendour, and those who saw him as a flat-track bully that stymied a pacey attack.
Rather more aesthete than athlete, he soon took his cigar-and-slippers act to Fulham, before jumping on the gravy train at Monaco (“Among the greatest strikers who have played for Monaco,” said the president after he left), and then PAOK in Greece. He now struts his stuff in the Indian Super League with Kerala Blasters – a decidedly inapt club for a player whose treatment of the ball was never less than gentle.
Rather gloriously, he took over at centre-back as this game ticked towards the end, Zeki Fryers having gone down with cramp and United having used all their changes – “like a modern-day Beckenbauer,” according to the Guardian.
FW: Federico Macheda
Never has a first impression been so misleading. Macheda’s resplendent injury-time winner over Aston Villa in April 2009 was a magnificent goal made all the more so by its importance and indeed by its scorer: a 17-year-old debutant.
Yet the Italian would only score three more times for United before being loaned out to Sampdoria, QPR and Stuttgart (total league goals: zero), then Doncaster and Birmingham. Unremarkable stints at Cardiff and Nottingham Forest completed a goal-shy trip around England’s second tier.
Macheda, 27 this year, is now in his second campaign with Novara in the lower echelons of Italy’s Serie B, dividing his time evenly between the starting XI and subs’ bench. But he’ll always have Villa.
Sub: Paul Pogba
The only player on this day to leave United and see his career move upwards. Pogba’s frustrations at Old Trafford are well documented and came to a head a couple of months after this fixture: on New Year’s Eve, when he was left on the bench as Rafael and Park made up a patchwork midfield that was torn to shreds by lowly Blackburn.
The rest is very much history. Pogba – with a little help from his agent Mino Raiola – engineered a move to Juventus where, with Andrea Pirlo and Arturo Vidal, he formed one of the most watchable silk-and-steel midfield trios of the modern era. He’s since returned to Old Trafford, where his masterful performances have largely justified an astronomical fee. Surely a United captain in waiting.
Sub: Danny Welbeck
Would life have turned out differently for Welbeck if he hadn't chosen to try to chip Manuel Neuer in April 2014? Most likely not, but that moment against Bayern Munich – Welbeck had been strictly briefed to shoot low in the event of a one-on-one – is often cited as a decisive one when it came to the United staff’s perception of a bright, athletic local boy who never quite showed an elite striker’s mean streak.
His three-and-a-half years at Arsenal, while far from catastrophic, have largely vindicated his old club’s decision. Welbeck is constantly struggling for fitness while maintaining a goal return that hovers at around one in four.
Sub: Larnell Cole
Where are they now? Fergie's first Man United title winners of 1992/93
Another product of that sparkling Youth Cup-winning side of earlier that year – he scored one and set another up in a 3-2 quarter-final win over Liverpool – Cole was a Manchester-born attacking midfielder for whom this would be his only senior appearance at the club.
He left for Fulham two years later, but only ever played 10 minutes for the Cottagers (three minutes fewer than he managed for United), finding regular football on loan at Shrewsbury and Inverness.
Now 24, Cole joined Tranmere in summer 2017 and, having broken into their side over the winter, now has two goals and 10 appearances for the non-league outfit.
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