Date: 6th March 2011 at 8:14pm
Written by:
Pique playing for Manchester United

Should this been a more recent sight at Old Trafford?

With quite a few players coming towards the end of their Manchester United careers either by retirement or contract expiry or by injury (in Owen Hargreaves case), we take a look back at 5 players who Manchester United let go of too soon.

1. Ben Foster

It is fitting that I start with Ben Foster as the player I’ve listed as number 1 as this was the number he was eying up before he was let go last summer to Birmingham. Edwin Van Der Sar has been a sure figure keeping the goals out of our net since his move in 2005 from Fulham and has been a prominent figure in one of the most successful periods in our clubs history. Sir Alex Ferguson has since gone on to say that he is the best goalkeeper to play for the club since the days of Peter Schmeichel and with him having announced his retirement for the end of the season, this is one position that will soon be up for grabs.

This may make some fans wonder whether Ben Foster left Old Trafford a year too early. There is definitely no doubting his talents. Only last weekend did he put in a man of the match performance in Birmingham’s victory over Arsenal in the Carling Cup final, the second time he has done so in such a fixture. Having said this, Ben Foster himself questioned whether he possesses the mental attributes to succeed at Manchester United.

“You have to perform amazingly well in every single game. You could win and people would still say Manchester United should be doing better than that, should be winning by four or five goals. I just thought it was too much. I see myself as a winner, I am competitive even if I am only playing a video game, but United is another step up the ladder of mental toughness and strength.”

Regardless of this, he is having a great spell keeping goal at Birmingham and with Van Der Sar retiring at the end of the season, you have to question whether letting him go out on loan for a season would have made more sense.

2. Gerard Pique

For me this is an extremely interesting case. Since leaving Manchester United in 2008 for his boyhood club Barcelona, Gerard Pique has won the Champions League beating his former club, as well as winning the La Liga twice and accumulating a World Cup winners medal last summer. Gerard Pique for me is a quality defender and has probably won every single trophy that he had set out to win already at the tender age of 24.

With question marks over Rio Ferdinand’s long term fitness you have to wonder how much of a difference Pique would make if he had stayed to be an understudy to Vidic and Ferdinand. He himself has acknowledged that breaking through into the first team was always going to be a mean feat even for a player of his quality. “Barring my path were two of the best centre-backs in the world in Rio and Nemanja Vidic, who Sir Alex Ferguson rated more highly,” he recently said in an interview. It does make you think though that having sold him to Barcelona at a reported measly price of £5million, Barcelona had got themselves a real bargain.

3. Ryan Shawcross

Ryan Shawcross is a former Manchester United youth team player who has been linked on many occasions over the past year with a return to our club. It is reported that Manchester United also has a first refusal agreement inserted when he transferred to Stoke City in 2008 after a successful loan period. Just as with Pique it is hard not to wonder what may have been for this young defender. He has made a name for himself playing for Stoke City having pushed himself to the fringes of the England squad whilst playing regularly for the first team at Stoke. Some could claim that Ryan Shawcross was a much bigger steal for Stoke City at a price of just £1million than Pique was for Barcelona. Since his transfer to Stoke his value has soared greatly.

4. Guiseppe Rossi

At the age of 17, in 2005 Manchester United signed Guiseppe Rossi from Parma. During his time contracted to United he went out on loan twice, once to Newcastle United where he made 11 appearances in the league, failing to score any goals and also to his former club Parma, scoring 9 goals in 19 league games to repel their fears of relagation, showing the immense promise that had prompted Manchester United to sign him as a youngster. In the summer of 2007 Manchester United sold him to his current club Villareal for a reported £6.6million.

Since then he has gone on to score 47 goals in 116 league appearances, a goals to game ratio that is very similar to that of our very own Wayne Rooney. During his time at Villareal he has been persistently linked with Manchester United and many of the other bigger teams in England. Only in January on transfer deadline day did Tottenham have a reported £28million bid for Rossi rejected. At such a valuation it is obvious to see that this is another one of those occasions where another promising player in the youth ranks at Manchester United had been let go of a bit too soon.

5. Diego Forlan

Although he cannot be regarded as a young player since he is older than each of our current striking options, this man does make you wonder what could have been. Diego Forlan has always been a player of top quality. His time at Old Trafford can be described as indifferent however I wouldn’t go as far as calling him a flop. To be fair to him a lot of his appearances did come from the bench and although he didn’t score prolifically, he will always be remembered for that 2-1 victory over Liverpool at Anfield where Diego Forlan scored a famous brace which has led to the fans singing about this man from Uruguay who “made the scousers cry.” In the summer of 2004 he moved on from Manchester United to join Villareal where in his first season he scored 25 goals in the league, winning the Pichichi. From this season onwards he has established himself a reputation of goal getting for both Villareal and his current club Atletico Madrid helping the latter to winning the Europa League in 2010.

 Last summer, some could argue that he single handedly dragged Uruguay to 4th place in the 2010 World Cup with his return of 5 goals awarding him the Golden Boot for being the tournament’s top goalscorer. Widely regarded by the media as a flop for Manchester United with only 10 league goals in 63 games, he has gone on to be a top striker in world football with 54 in 106 for Villareal and 74 in 127 for Atletico Madrid. It does make you think that if he could have reproduced such form for our club, he could have gone a long way to being regarded as a United great. He has definitely gone down as another player who had left Old Trafford before he could peak.

So there you have it. Five ex-Manchester United players who could have made a difference in a Manchester United shirt.

Do you agree? Any glaring omissions or players that don’t deserve to be on this list? Feel free to comment below.

Follow Vikesh @vikesh_c and RedFlagFlyingHigh @RFFH on twitter.