By Liam “Wrestlemania” Brown
Upon the anniversary of Martin Edwards changing the history of Manchester United the internet has been awash with “Fergie’s Greatest Xi” and “Fergie’s Greatest Signings” and it has got me thinking about some of the unsung heroes, the few that Fergie spent modest amounts on and achieved understated, almost workman like returns on his investment.
Perhaps may favourite of the bunch, plucked from Besiktas for a mere £1.2m in 1996, he joined alongside fellow Norse hero and bargain signing Ole Gunnar Solksjaer, underrated favourite Rai Van Der Gouw and two others that didn’t do so well. Ronny’s game was tough, uncompromising and brave. Blessed with wonderful physical presence, (when fit) efficient Scandinavian consistency and the icy calm nerves that keeps the whole Scandinavian stereotype alive. His ability to be shifted in to the midfield with ease made him a powerful asset, particularly in Europe against Juventus, came in handy, allowing the less versatile Henning Berg to take place next to the imposing Jaap Stam. Sadly, injuries got the better of Ronny, his last league medal was handed out by way of special dispensation at the end of 2001-2002. He left for Aston Villa on a free after 99 games, scoring 8 goals.
Post treble, the squad was looking good, perhaps in anything though, looking a little thin. I have been of the opinion for a long time, that we were very lucky injury wise in 98/99. A bad injury to Stam, Keane, Giggs or Beckham and we could have been in real trouble. That is where Quinton came in, who knows what his best position, left back, left wing, defensive midfield? He was signed from Athletico Madrid in ’99 for around £1.5m and went on to spend half a decade at the club. He was a tough, combative player, neat and tidy on the ball and never afraid to try to win the ball, it was these qualities and also his lack of pace that made me believe he was most at home as a blueprint for Darren Fletcher, rather than a full back or winger. After 76 games and 6 goals for United he moved on to pastures new at Bolton, in 2006.
Raimond Van der Gouw
Much discussion has been made of the efforts we went to in order to bridge the gap between Schmeichel and Van der Sar. But very little is mentioned about Schmeichel’s (albeit older) understudy. Signed in 1996 on a free from Vitesse Arnhem, he didn’t have to wait long for his first start in the United goal, starting against Villa in mid September. Most famously was his performance against Borussia Dortmund, stepping in at the last minute for Schmeichel, and suffering a horrendous slice of misfortune as Tretschok’s speculative effort deflected off Pallister and out of reach for the big Dutchman. For two years Raimond even deputised as goalkeeping coach, until the return of Tony Coton relegated him back to number 2 goalkeeper only, until he was off to East London after signing for West Ham on a free transfer. A model professional, always prepared, trained well and well liked, Raimond Van der Gouw made 37 appearances for United between 1996 and 2002.
Park Ji Sung
If ever the words “cult hero” could manifest itself within a footballer’s body, it would have to be for everyone’s favourite South Korean. Signed after a successful European campaign with PSV Eindhoven, in 2005, Fergie shelled out a “modest” £4m for Ji. Originally accused of being a marketing ploy to further take advantage of our far eastern cousin’s wallets, in the next 7 seasons, Park would prove he is much more than the pin up boy for South Korean football. Compared to a whippet by Wayne Rooney, Park is admired for his lung busting work rate, clever runs off the ball and modest and reserved nature. The likes of Chelsea, Liverpool, Arsenal (several times) and AC Milan have fallen victims to a crucial and customary “Big Game Park Goal” and the chant in his honour regarding scousers, rats and council houses has been engrained into the tapestry of the Stretford End. Wasted in a 442 but adept as either wide or central in 433, Park’s work rate and unselfish nature offer perfect cover for full backs, yet never one to ignore his natural urges to move the ball forward and play part in several incisive counter attacks and create many assists throughout the years. The ever-present Park is currently standing at 123 games for United, knocking in an all important 25 goals so far.