Where are they now?
With Manchester United 3-0 up in a League Cup third round tie against Leeds United on 20 September 2011, Alex Ferguson replaced Ryan Giggs with Paul Pogba at half-time. It was the French teenager’s senior debut, but a lack of further first-team opportunities ultimately prompted the midfielder to depart Old Trafford for Juventus the following year.
Pogba’s now back at United after four successful seasons with the Italian giants, but it hasn’t worked out quite the same for many of his team-mates at Elland Road that evening. Here’s what they’re up to as of January 2018...
GK: Ben Amos
Goalkeeper Amos, who made just a single Premier League appearance for United, has become well acquainted with the loan system in recent years. Currently on loan at Charlton from Bolton, the 27-year-old has already appeared for no fewer than nine clubs in his career.
Peterborough, Oldham, Hull, Carlisle and Cardiff have also played temporary home to a footballing gun-for-hire, while a stint at Molde offered him respite from what’s fast becoming a pretty comprehensive UK tour.
Amos 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 summer 2009, Valencia has since made the right-back role his own – and this outing against Leeds was an early experiment in playing him in there. The Ecuadorian’s debut season at United – the first of the post-Cristiano Ronaldo era – was spent careering down the wing and looping crosses in the direction of Wayne Rooney.
Two things happened in 2010/11: a nasty ankle break robbed Valencia of his explosive acceleration, and Gary Neville’s retirement meant United needed 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.
CB: Michael Carrick
A deep-lying midfielder by trade, Carrick has sporadically filled in at centre-half throughout his Old Trafford career – particularly in this period, when Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand were getting on a bit.
Despite the idea being frequently floated around this time, his adventures in defence weren’t a foretaste of his latter years. Instead he was reinstated in the engine room, playing 36 games the following season as Ferguson’s side won the title for one last time.
A cerebral presence, Carrick is currently United’s club captain and will join the coaching staff when he hangs up his boots at the end of 2017/18. He will surely be remembered as one of England’s most underrated footballers – and one of the national team’s most criminally underused.
CB: Zeki Fryers
Fryers was a hugely promising 19-year-old defender back in 2011 – and this was his debut. But only now is his career getting off the ground.
Tottenham considered signing Fryers in 2012 but the defender instead moved to Standard Liege, before joining Spurs for a knock-down price six months later. Ferguson was incensed, accusing Spurs of “blatant manipulation” of the rules, but more pertinent was that Fryers only played a handful of games in north London before joining Crystal Palace, who sent him out on loan to Rotherham and Ipswich.
He’s finally found a degree of stability at Barnsley in 2017/18, making more league appearances in the first half of the campaign than in his last two full seasons combined.
LB: Fabio da Silva
Hyped as “Brazil’s answer to the Neville brothers”, Rafael and Fabio da Silva never really lived up to the early promise they showed at United. Much like the Nevilles, Fabio and his twin began life as a pair of likeable, high-energy full-backs; 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 mismanaged Premier League seasons in recent times. He’s since found cosier homes in the second tier, first at Cardiff and now Middlesbrough.
MF: Park Ji-sung
A much-loved player and one whose value to the team far outstripped his footballing talents. Park’s seven years at United were spent largely as a bit-part player, yet he was one of Ferguson’s most trusted deputies. The bigger the occasion, the stronger the chance the South Korean would be in Ferguson’s starting XI – Park was crucial in helping United maintain defensive shape in heavyweight encounters, especially in the Champions League.
This would be Park’s final season as a Red Devil. He left that summer to join QPR, before seeing out his career in Holland with a season at PSV. He’s since studied sports management at De Montfort University and returned to Old Trafford for a charity match in 2017.
MF: Ryan Giggs
Giggs’s career at this stage was ticking into a mix of sparing starts and silky outings from the bench. This was ostensibly one of the former, the Welshman pulling the strings from the centre of the park 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, although it probably helped him land the Wales job in January 2018.
MF: Mame Biram Diouf
United signed a 21-year-old Diouf from Molde in 2009 and immediately loaned him back to the Norwegian outfit. Upon his return to Old Trafford he inherited Carlos Tevez's vacant No.32 shirt and then scored on his home debut against Burnley – but that's about as good as things got for the Senegalese at United.
A puppyish bundle of energy and power, Diouf clearly didn't have the smoothness of touch to truly make it at as a Red Devil. Yet two-and-a-half successful years at Hannover delivered 35 goals, and he’s now in his fifth season at Stoke.
FW: Federico Macheda
Macheda’s resplendent injury-time winner against Aston Villa in 2009/10 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 find the net only three more times for United before being loaned 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.
The 27-year-old is now in his second campaign with Novara in the lower echelons of Italy’s Serie B, dividing his time between the starting XI and bench.
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 suffered endless injuries which 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 weren’t overly successful, but Ferguson thought he was worth a punt as a free transfer in 2009. The former Liverpool frontman’s 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 left in the summer of 2012 to see out his career as a Stoke substitute, before becoming a pundit, racehorse owner, breeder and occasional jockey.
FW: Dimitar Berbatov
Berbatov’s career at United was reaching its natural conclusion in 2011: his previous season, in which he was the Premier League’s top scorer, soured when he was left out of the squad for the Champions League final against Barcelona. Fans tend to be divided between those who purred over his slow-motion splendour, and those who saw him as a flat-track bully who stymied a pacy attack.
More aesthete than athlete, the languid Bulgarian took his cigar-and-slippers act to Fulham, before jumping on the gravy train at Monaco and then PAOK in Greece. He currently plies his trade with Indian outfit Kerala Blasters.
Sub: Paul Pogba
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, as they say, is history. Pogba moved to Juventus where, alongside 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 transfer fee. Over six years on from his debut at Elland Road, Pogba looks every inch a United club captain-in-waiting.
Sub: Danny Welbeck
Would Welbeck’s career have turned out differently if he hadn't chosen to try to dink the ball over Bayern Munich goalkeeper Manuel Neuer in 2014? Probably not, but that moment against the Bavarians – 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 have largely vindicated his former employers’ decision, even if injuries clearly haven’t helped. While the England international has been far from disastrous at the Emirates Stadium, a rough return of one goal every four games hasn’t exactly made United fans yearn for his return.
Sub: Larnell Cole
Cole’s cameo against Leeds proved to be his only senior outing for his hometown club. The midfielder joined Fulham two years later, but only ever played 10 minutes for the Cottagers (three fewer than he managed for United), eventually finding regular action on loan at Shrewsbury and Inverness.
Now 24, Cole joined Tranmere in summer 2017 and, having broken into their side over the winter, has scored two goals in 10 matches for the non-league outfit.
Manager: Alex Ferguson
The 2011/12 campaign was ultimately a disappointing one for United and Ferguson. The Red Devils lost in the FA Cup Fourth Round, League Cup Fifth Round, Champions League group stage and Europa League last 16; even more gallingly, they were pipped to the title by Manchester City in the most dramatic end to a season in Premier League history. United players – and manager – were preparing to celebrate on the Stadium of Light pitch when the news filtered through that Edin Dzeko and Sergio Aguero had scored injury-time goals against QPR to whisk the prize out of their rivals’ hands.
Ferguson reclaimed the championship crown the following season, before calling it a day after 27 years at the helm in summer 2013. The Scot is now a director at the club and can regularly be seen in the stands at Old Trafford.
Greg Lea is a freelance football journalist who's filled in wherever FourFourTwo needs him since 2014. He became a Crystal Palace fan after watching a 1-0 loss to Port Vale in 1998, and once got on the scoresheet in a primary school game against Wilfried Zaha's Whitehorse Manor (an own goal in an 8-0 defeat).