Monday, November 19, 2007

27. Mikael Silvestre

Mikael Silvestre

Mikael Silvestre

Mikael Silvestre

Birthdate: 09 Aug 1977
Birthplace: Chambray-les-Tours, France
Position: Defender
Joined United: 02 Sep 1999
United Debut: 11 Sep 1999 v Liverpool (A)
International France

Mikael Silvestre is one of the most experienced members of Sir Alex Ferguson’s squad. In fact, at the end of the 2006/07 season, only four members of the current side had played for United more times.

This impressive record owes much to Mikael’s ability to play in two different positions: centre-back and left-back. As such, he’s survived the threat posed by new acquisitions and been invaluable to the manager when others have been suspended or injured. In the latter stages of 2005/06, he was the one patrolling Gabriel Heinze’s patch on the left flank while new-boy Nemanja Vidic partnered central lynchpin Rio Ferdinand.

The return to left-back, where he’d once been resident, enabled Silvestre to show off some of his attacking skills, including a pinpoint cross for Wayne Rooney’s goal against Arsenal in April 2006. He later described that 2-0 win for United as the best match of his career.

"I was up against Alexandr Hleb and Emmanuel Adebayor, but I achieved the objectives I set myself. I had a huge amount of determination. It was a benchmark game for me,” he said.

Silvestre then went to the 2006 World Cup, where he played in France's 2-0 win over Togo.
He started United's 2006/07 season in sparkling form, playing in the first six matches and scoring the opener in United's 2-1 victory at Vicarage Road. But an injury sustained against Arsenal in September saw countryman Patrice Evra step into his shoes and he never truly won back his spot in the team. It wasn't until November that Silvestre enjoyed his next spell of regular football, where top performances against Portsmouth, Everton and Aston Villa appeared to do wonders for his confidence.

Yet Silvestre played just four times over the next two months. February saw him get a few more games under his belt, including both

FA Cup ties against Reading, before a strong showing at Anfield guaranteed him a place when Lille visited Old Trafford in the Champions League. Disaster struck, however, when Silvestre landed awkwardly in injury time and dislocated his right shoulder.

It was a cruel blow for the French international and for Sir Alex, who could have done with Silvestre's defensive cover in the tense title run-in.


Sunday, November 18, 2007

33. Chris Eagles

irthdate: 19 Nov 1985
Birthplace: Hemel Hempstead, England
Position: Winger
Joined United: 08 Jul 2002
United Debut: 28/10/2003 v Leeds United (a)

With excellent dribbling skills, impressive control and a vicious shot, Chris Eagles is rightly held in high esteem by many at Old Trafford.

The young right-sided midfielder caught the eye of fans as soon as he was given his first taste of first-team action - a 3-2 Carling Cup win at Leeds in 2003. Eagles was, at that time, a reserve team regular and in the following season, 2004/05, he helped the second string to collect a quadruple of trophies.

However, Eagles had to be patient for his Premiership breakthrough. With competition for senior midfield places forever fierce, Sir Alex

Ferguson sent the London-born youngster out on loan. He gained good experience of life below the top flight with Watford and Sheffield Wednesday and also had a stint on loan with Dutch Eridivisie side NEC Nijmegen in Holland.

After spending the best part of two years away from Old Trafford, Eagles started to forge his way into the first-team reckoning in the run-in to the 2006/07 title. The squad was hit by injuries but nevertheless, Eagles deserved his promotion as he demonstrated by firing home United's fourth goal - a superbly controlled curling effort - in a stunning second-half comeback at Everton on 28 April. It was a fine way to mark his Premiership debut, having come on as a sub for Solskjaer in the 86th minute.

Eagles then confirmed his status as a fully fledged member of the first-team squad with his first Premiership start on 9 May 2007 at Chelsea, where he enjoyed the experience of playing against his boyhood inspiration Joe Cole.

32. Carlos Tevez

Carlos Tevez

Carlos Tevez

Birthdate: 05 Feb 1984
Birthplace: Ciudadela, Buenos Aires
Position: Striker
Joined United: 10 Aug 2007
United Debut: 15 Aug 2007 v Portsmouth (A)
International Argentina

Argentina striker Carlos Tevez is one of the game's most lethal finishers. A clinical striker of the ball, Tevez also has the confidence and skill to take on opponents, and is capable of playing as a deep-lying forward or lead striker.

At just 5ft 7in he's not the tallest centre forward to pull on a Red shirt, but his low centre of gravity aids acceleration and enables him to shield the ball from defenders and turn his marker with great speed. Tevez, once dubbed the "Argentine prophet for the 21st Century" by Diego Maradona, has also demonstrated a knack for curling free-kicks past some of the world's top goalkeepers.

Tevez is already idolised in South America after successful spells at Boca Juniors in his homeland, and Brazilian side Corinthians. Initially he had to win over fans in Brazil, but eventually he captained Corinthians to the title and became the first foreign player to collect the league's Player of the Year award in almost 20 years.

And he's no stranger to life in the Premier League, having spent the 2006/07 season with West Ham. After a slow start where he went 19 games without finding the net, Tevez scored the Hammers' second in a dramatic 4-3 loss to rivals Tottenham. He then embarked on a goalscoring spree that saw him net seven times in just 10 matches as West Ham battled to avoid relegation.

Perhaps his most memorable goal for West Ham arrived on the final day of the season, ironically against United at Old Trafford. Tevez showed relentless commitment to charge down a Wes Brown clearance, reach the looping ball ahead of Edwin van der Sar and calmly tuck home a half-volley and ensure the visitors' top-flight survival.

His impressive displays aren't limited to club football, either. He propelled Argentina to gold in the 2004 Olympic Games by netting an incredible eight times

and he's now a regular member of the senior squad. He notched in the 2006 World Cup against Serbia & Montenegro and then turned in a man-of-the-match performance against Holland in the final Group C clash.

Despite claims to the contrary, Sir Alex Ferguson believes Tevez and Wayne Rooney will link up wel for the Reds. "Tevez and Wayne can play in the same side together," he said. "I know people say they both like to drop deep, but I see Wayne's future up on his own. Tevez has shown when he plays right up he is a threat because he can beat a man. He is a real threat."


30. Lee Martin

Birthdate: 09 Feb 1987
Birthplace: Taunton, England
Position: Winger
Joined United: 15 Dec 2003
United Debut: 26 Oct 2005 v Barnet (H)
International England

Lightning fast, driven and full of boundless energy, Martin is an absolute nightmare for opposition defenders.

Coveted by many Premiership clubs, Lee signed for United in December 2003. His first full season at Old Trafford brought six Reserve goals as he was quickly fast-tracked from the Under-18s.

An integral part of Ricky Sbragia's Quadruple-winning side in 2004/05, Martin's fine form continued into the 2005/06 season.

In January 2006 Lee was one of five United youngsters sent out on loan to Royal Antwerp, where he quickly caught the eye with his energetic


Although the Belgians’ bid for promotion ultimately failed, it wasn’t for lack of trying on the young winger’s part, and he was named the fans' Player of the Season for his efforts.

Sadly he was unable to have a similar impact in his next loan move, at Scottish giants Rangers. The Ibrox side's poor form, together with a niggling knee injury prevented Lee making his mark on the SPL.

Upon returning to England Lee attracted the interest of a host of clubs, with Championship side Stoke taking him on loan until the end of the 2006/07 season.
Martin turned in consistently fine form with the Potters, although Tony Pulis' side ultimately failed to reach the playoffs. Buoyed by the experience, Lee returned to Carrington a far more experienced player.

26. Phil Bardsley

Birthplace: Salford, Manchester
Position: Defender
Appearances: 18
Joined United: 01 Jul 2001
United Debut: 03 Dec 2003 v West Brom (A)
International England

Tough-tackling Phil Bardsley is proud to fly the local flag in United's cosmopolitan squad. He was born in Eccles and bred in Salford, not far from the football pitches at Littleton Road and The Cliff where United used to train.

His aspirations were fostered from an early age as he watched players like Bryan Robson and Roy Keane going through their paces. By the time Phil started his three-year scholarship in July 2001, the club had moved its training HQ to Carrington. There, all the scholars, not just the Salfordians, could be inspired by seeing the senior players at close quarters.

Bardsley completed his journey from the Salford playing fields to the senior United ranks with a League Cup trip to West Brom in December 2003. The Reds lost 2-0 but it was still a successful night on a personal level. Sir Alex described his performance at right-back as "outstanding." He can also play at centre-back, the position he occupied in his first season with United's youth team. In his second season, 2002/03, he helped the club to win the FA Youth Cup in a feat he described as "massive for a young footballer."

He is perhaps unfortunate to be competing with club skipper Gary Neville. However, a natural successor.


25. Daniel Simpson

Birthdate: 04 Jan 1987
Birthplace: Salford, England
Position: Full-Back
Appearances: 5
Joined United: 07 Jul 2003
United Debut:

Dipped into the Reserves' triumphant Pontin's League campaign late in the 2004/05 season, Danny Simpson's United career took sizeable steps during the 05/06 and 06/07 campaigns.

The pacy right-back notched 16 pre-Christmas appearances for the second string in 2005 and demonstrated a great ability to get forward in addition to his defensive duties.

Danny's form earned him a loan move to Royal Antwerp alongside Tom Heaton, Sylvan Ebanks-Blake, Adam Eckersley and Lee Martin in January 2006. The Salford-born defender quickly established himself in the starting line-up and his standing with

the Belgian fans was aided immensely by a scorching long-range goal against Tubize.

A starring role in United's pre-season tour of South Africa catapulted Danny into the limelight among United fans, and he continued his fine form into a second four-month loan at Antwerp which ended in December 2006.

Upon returning to Old Trafford, Danny was snapped up by Sunderland in his second loan of the season. Simpson joined up with fellow United loanee Jonny Evans, and both players became integral parts of the Black Cats' back line as Roy Keane's side clinched promotion to the Premiership.

23. Jonny Evans

Birthdate: 02 Jan 1988
Birthplace: Belfast, Northern Ireland
Position: Defender
Appearances: 3
Joined United: 01 Jul 2004
United Debut:
International N. Ireland

Belfast-born Jonathan Evans is a tall and agile centre-back. An intelligent defender, Evans combines an uncompromising physical approach with the ability to pass the ball out from the back.

He has proven himself to be strong in the tackle and dominant in the air at youth level, and in 2005/06 he made significant inroads into United’s Reserves, playing 14 matches and contributing two goals.

He was also handed a European squad number at the start of the season and has trained and travelled with the first team squad, and was in the group that went to Paris to face Lille Metropole in November 2005.

Jonny's unquestioned promise led to a shock international call-up to Lawrie Sanchez's senior Northern Ireland side at the start of the 2006/07 season.

His outstanding displays on the world stage, together with some phenomenal performances on loan for Royal Antwerp, lend credence to the whispers that Evans has what it takes to forge a career for himself in United's first team.

Evans' development certainly caught the eye of his boyhood hero Roy Keane. The Sunderland manager snapped up the youngster within days of his Antwerp loan ending.

Jonny spent the rest of the 2006/07 season at the Stadium of Light, and tasted defeat just once in 19 appearances as the Black Cats stormed into the Barclays Premier League as champions.

Evans' fine form on Wearside caught the eye of many clubs, but he looks set to spend the 2007/08 season at Old Trafford as Sir Alex looks to afford him some valuable first team football at United.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

29. Tomasz Kuszczak

Birthdate: 20 Mar 1982
Birthplace: Krosno Odrzanskie
Position: Goalkeeper
Joined United: 10 Aug 2006
United Debut: 17 Sep 2006 v Arsenal (H)
International Poland

The latest edition to United’s goalkeeping ranks arrived at Old Trafford knowing exactly what is required to produce an outstanding performance at the Theatre of Dreams.

With West Brom’s Premiership survival at stake, the Polish international was called upon against United in May 2005 when Russell Hoult went off injured after just 22 minutes. The Baggies had just gone 1-0 down to a Ryan Giggs goal, but Kuszczak pulled off a series of saves in only his fourth outing to keep United out for the rest of the match. Robert Earnshaw’s penalty eventually earned Bryan Robson’s men a vital Premiership point in their ultimately

successful bid to avoid the drop. The following season saw Tomasz become first-choice keeper and his performances, despite West Brom’s relegation, didn’t go unnoticed.

The Reds duly embarked on a relentless pursuit for his services throughout the summer of 2006 and, having already turned down three offers, the Midlanders finally relented on 10 August, fulfilling a childhood dream for the 6ft 3in stopper.

He made an instantly favourable impression at Old Trafford, turning away Gilberto Silva’s penalty against Arsenal on his debut in mid-September. Though he failed to qualify for a 2006/07 Premiership winner’s medal, having played only six games, his efforts didn’t go unrewarded – he received one of three extra winner’s gongs awarded after a successful application to the Premier League.

Tomasz is highly thought of in his homeland. His international debut for Poland, against Malta in December 2003, came at the age of 21 after during 14 appearances at Under-21 level. He was also part of Poland's 2006 World Cup squad, where he was understudy to Artur Boruc, but did not play in the tournament.

If you have trouble with the sheer number of Zs in his name – he has a scrabble score of 53

– the pronunciation of his name is ‘Tomash Koosh-shack’.


Tuesday, November 13, 2007

24. Darren Fletcher

Darren Fletcher

Darren Fletcher

Birthdate: 01 Feb 1984
Birthplace: Edinburgh, Scotland
Position: Midfielder
Appearances: 159
Joined United: 03 Jul 2000
United Debut: 12 Mar 2003 v FC Basel (H)
International Scotland

Darren Fletcher was one of a host of players who scooped their first ever Premiership winners’ medal in May 2007.

Despite seeing his chances limited in the centre of the park by the burgeoning partnership of Paul Scholes and Michael Carrick, the Scottish international still made forty appearances, netting three goals including a vital winner in the 2-1 victory at Middlesbrough in December 2006.

But it was his mature midfield displays in the Champions League victories over AS Roma and, most notably, AC Milan at Old Trafford which really caught the eye and prompted praise from players and pundits


In May 2000, Fletcher was set to be included in the Reds’ squad for their trip to Villa Park, but FA rules - and his schoolboy status - denied him the chance.

He joined United officially as a trainee in July 2000, but injuries stymied his progress. He eventually made his debut against Basel in March 2003, but it was in the following season that Fletch made his mark, notching 35 appearances.

The maturity of his game impressed, and in United’s 4-3-3 system he became the legs and lungs of Roy Keane, all the while learning his trade from the master.

By this stage, Fletcher was established as one of Scotland’s leading lights: he scored the solitary goal against Lithuania that earned them a play-off for Euro 2004 and, later that season, at the age of 20, became Scotland’s youngest captain for 118 years.

The 2004/05 campaign brought Fletcher’s first goal for United, in a 2-0 win at Middlesbrough on New Year’s Day. His most famous strike to date was the one against Chelsea in November 2005 when he headed the goal that ended the champions’ 40-game Premiership unbeaten run. He’ll be hoping to significantly add to his goal tally during the 2007/08 campaign.


Saturday, November 10, 2007

28. Darron Gibson

Birthdate: 25 Oct 1987
Birthplace: Derry, Northern Ireland
Position: Midfielder
Joined United: 01 Jul 2004
United Debut: 26 Oct 2005 v Barnet (H)

Northern Ireland U21 international Darron Gibson is a powerful and athletic midfielder, who can both attack and defend.

His accurate and broad range of passing has made him an integral part of United’s youth team in the last two seasons, and his performances in the Reserves also earned him a chance at first team level.

Gibson’s United debut arrived a day after celebrating his 18th birthday in the Carling Cup victory over Barnet in October 2005. He was a second half substitute for fellow youngster Lee Martin in the 76th minute.

In his second season as an Academy

scholar, Gibson proved he was ready to make the step up to Reserve level. He was a regular fixture in Rene Meulensteen’s Treble-winning side during the 2005/06 campaign. He made 19 appearances, scoring twice.

Highly rated inside Old Trafford, the decision was taken to send Darron to Antwerp for the duration of the 2006/07 season to further his development in a competitive arena.

Although initially hampered by a troublesome knee injury, it didn't take the young midfielder long to make an impact in Belgium, and he was an integral part their push for promotion.
Despite Antwerp's eventual failure to reach the top flight of Belgian football, there's no question that Gibson benefited hugely from his time at the Bosuil Stadium.