Manchester United – The Old Guard

Yesterday we looked at Manchester United’s future – a group of exciting young players that are expected to take their places in the Manchester United first team in the next couple of years.

Today, we’ll look at some of the players they are expected to replace – the players that are expected to retire or be phased out by 2008.

Gary Neville

As Manchester United’s captain, Neville is guaranteed a starting berth in the team. However, his diminishing pace plus regular ‘injuries’ mean that the right-back is not expected to last more than 1-2 years at the top – and that’s coming from a hard-core United fan. What Neville brings to the side is his experience, although as Joe Cole showed at Stamford Bridge in April, Neville can be beaten by sheer pace alone.

Neville will be missed for his leadership qualities as well, but United are lucky enough to have a crop of younger stars in the team who can lead from the front. In addition, the captain is not irreplaceable as you might think – Phil Bardsley has been Neville’s understudy for some time now and is tipped to gain more first-team exposure in a bid to help him get enough experience to comfortably replace Neville down the line. And if that wasn’t enough, we have Danny Simpson in the reserves and O’Shea in the first team who can slot in at right-back.

I have previously talked about Manchester United’s need for a new captain and the options we had for that post here on Soccerlens.

Edwin van der Sar

The answer to Peter Schmeichel will be 36 this October, and is not expected to last at the top level with Manchester United beyond 2008. Luckily, Ferguson has anticipated his keeper’s departure in advance and has recruited the services of Ben Foster and Tomasz Kuszczak as eventual successors to van der Sar.

The thing is, Ferguson needs to blood his keepers in United colours quickly – which means that Kuszczak will get more chances this year than Howard got last year. We have Howard at Everton and Foster at Watford on season-long loans – hopefully they can come back and by next year we will have an idea of who van der Sar’s successor will be. My money’s on Foster, but then I’m biased towards England.

Paul Scholes

Along with Giggs and Solskjaer, Scholes has been entrusted with the most important responsibility for the coming season – to score goals AND to setup goals for the younger lot (Rooney, Saha, Ronaldo, Rossi). The youngsters (barring Saha, who is 28) could be forgiven for failing to score this season – for Scholes and co. the failure would mean clearing out their lockers and leaving the club.

Ferguson has put a positive spin on having Scholes and Solskjaer fresh for the new season, but the bottom line is that if Scholes does not perform to the levels we have become accustomed to, Ferguson will look to replace him. Scholes potentially has a longer career at United than Giggs or Solskjaer, but he also has the biggest responsibility on his shoulders owing to his position on the playing field.

Verdict? Sweet goals, sweeter assists and dangerous tackles – the Scholes of old days will return for this season, even if it is for a brief period.

Manchester United have a replacement ready in David Jones they have a box-to-box midfielder who can take over in two years. Plus there is Darren Gibson…

Ryan Giggs

Old aged pensioner? Giggs may not be as effective on the left wing as he was five years ago, but the man has added a new dimension to his game by shoring up Manchester United’s midfield last year. It is a mark of the player’s quality that he was better in that position (in creating AND breaking up moves) than midfielders Ferguson had bought specifically for that job.

When all is said and done though, Giggs is running out of time. Richardson is maturing as a fine midfielder and could be ready to take over in an year’s time, while United also have Park who can play in that position.

What Manchester United don’t have, is a player of his quality. He should stay with the squad for the next two years, but the club’s biggest headache will not be in when to let him go – it will be about how to replace him.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer

Old, experienced, talented and surprisingly effective compared to the younger lot. Ole’s injury meant that he was never able to ‘properly’ replace Beckham on the right wing, although his lay-off has meant that he can realistically play for two more years at the top level. However, Solskjaer is fast reaching an age where Ferguson (and United) would be tempted to sell him. With Rossi pushing for a regular starting berth, Smith being converted back into a striker AND United looking to bring in a new striker this season or the next, Ole’s days at United as a player are numbered. He should be the first one to go of this lot.

Up Next

A look at the stars of Manchester United who are expected to carry the team in the next 5 years.

This article is Part 2 of our 6-part Manchester United 2006/2007 season preview coverage at Soccerlens.

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