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The ones who got away

Atletico Madrid's Forlan celebrates after scoring against Fulham during their Europa League final match in Hamburg

Piers Barber

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“The only way after United is down,” is the oft-heard warning when a big-name player at Old Trafford is tempted by a move away from the club.

Yet history has proved that it’s not always downhill for those sent packing from Old Trafford.

To prove it, here’s an XI of the most prominent former reds who have left the club, but still managed to go from strength to strength elsewhere. Clearly, it’s a side which could certainly hold its own against the very best.

(Let’s just hope that Wayne Rooney, who has experienced a phenomenal first half of the season but continues to be linked with a move to Chelsea, isn’t reading this post…).

GK. Tim Howard

Howard was signed by United in 2003 to replace Fabien Barthez, but after an encouraging start made some high profile mistakes which saw him fall out of favour at Old Trafford. Yet Howard still grew into one of the league’s best goalkeepers following a 2006 move to Everton, where he has kept over a hundred clean sheets and at one point played 210 consecutive Premier League games. His facial hair also remains unmatched.

RB. Wes Brown

Once described as “the best natural defender in England” by Sir Alex Ferguson, Brown twice won the European Cup during the 232 appearances he made for United between 1996 and 2011. Yet it has only been since moving to Sunderland in 2011 that Brown has experienced a consistent run as a first team starter. His dependable performances at the heart of the Sunderland defence have been a distinct highlight in a bleak season for the Stadium of Light side, and have even prompted calls for an England recall.

DC. Jaap Stam

Sir Alex Ferguson has identified his selling of Stam in 2001 as his biggest mistake in the transfer market. Stam, who made 80 appearances for United, remained a majestic defender after leaving Old Trafford, playing for Lazio, Milan and Ajax before retiring in 2007. His pedigree remained undisputed, an fact proved beyond doubt by his appearance in the 2005 Champions League final in a defence also including Cafu, Paolo Maldini and Alessandro Nesta.

Gerard-Pique-Barcelona-Wallpaper-BackgroundDC. Gerard Piqué

Piqué is the epitome of the Rolls Royce defender, completely assured on the ball, incisive with his forward runs and impeccable in his reading of the game. Having signed for United from Barcelona in 2004, he made 12 appearances for the Reds before rejoining the Nou Camp side in 2008. Aside from being a World Cup and Euro 2012 winner, he has since become a mainstay at the heart of the defence of one of the finest club sides ever to play the game.

LB. Phil Neville

Neville was the ultimate utility man at Old Trafford, a reliable understudy on either flank of the defence or as a defensive midfielder. Yet opportunities were limited for Phil until he made the move to Everton in 2005, where his attitude and work-rate quickly saw him promoted to captain at GoodisonPark. He went on to make almost as many appearances for Everton in eight years as he did for United in ten.

RM. Cristiano Ronaldo

What else is left to be said about the unstoppable Ronaldo success story? The subject of a world record £80 million transfer from United to Real Madrid, the Portuguese attacker’s development has been unfailing exhilarating and consistently breathtaking. Criticised for his lack of end product during his early years at Old Trafford, Ronaldo has evolved into the complete player: two footed with excellent heading technique, fast, intelligent and strong, with goal and assist statistics which are basically unparalleled. In 2013 alone he scored 69 goals, and was recently awarded for his efforts with the coveted Ballon D’Or trophy.

CM. Paul Pogba

Pogba made just three appearances for Manchester United before he left for Juventus in 2012 after declining to sign a new contract. He has since developed into a powerful, tough and exciting midfield presence with a keen eye for a spectacular strike. The winner of 2013’s prestigious Golden Boy award for the best Under-21 player in Europe, he is exactly the sort of midfielder that this current United team is crying out for.

LM. Juan Sebastian Verón

Verón displayed moments of undeniable world class quality at Old Trafford, but Ferguson struggled to fit him into a midfield already featuring Paul Scholes, David Beckham and Ryan Giggs. He suffered similar frustrations following a move to StamfordBridge, but his career picked up again during spells at Inter and Argentinean side Estudiantes. Despite his national team’s famous wealth of attacking talent, Verón was an integral cog in the centre of midfield during Diego Maradona’s 2010 World Cup project.

FW. Diego Forlán

Forlán experienced a notoriously torrid time at Old Trafford, failing to strike up an effective relationship with Ruud van Nistelrooy and famously taking 26 games to break his duck for the club. Since departing, though, he has since gone on to play for some of Europe’s finest clubs and has a reputation as one of the world’s leading strikers. He is currently Uruguay’s all-time most capped player and their all time leading goalscorer in official matches, and was also the winner of the Golden Ball at the 2010 World Cup.

1318402_soccer_champions__denik-1024FW. Guiseppe Rossi

Despite his obvious talent, Rossi struggled to break into the United first team and was sold to Villarreal in 2007, where he quickly developed into one of the finest strikers in world football. On form, Rossi offers the highest calibre of dribbling and passing technique as well as a devastating eye for goal. Unfortunately, though, the Italian has persistently struggled with injury, and after suffering a total of 16 months out with cruciate ligament damage whilst at Villarreal, he recently received similarly bad news after damaging the same knee in a recent game for Fiorentina.

FW. Carlos Tévez

Tévez formed a third of the frightening attacking triplet which propelled United to their third Champions League title in 2008, but his impressive achievements at the club were quickly pushed to the back of many United fans’ minds after he decided to move on to Manchester City in 2009. Few at Old Trafford will like to admit it, but Tévez continued his world class form at the Etihad, and has remained a world-leading attacking threat since joining Juventus last year.

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