Manchester United old boys Tom Heaton and Michael Keane earned plenty of plaudits by helping Burnley to a 0-0 draw at Old Trafford on Saturday. The duo feature in our five players proving a point to the Red Devils.
In truth, few Manchester United fans will have been too disappointed to see Shawcross permanently leave Old Trafford in January 2008, given the defender was deemed good enough for only two substitute appearances in the League Cup by Sir Alex Ferguson.
However, in the eight years since, Shawcross has helped Stoke City into the Premier League and established himself as one of the top flight’s most consistent and reliable performers, while the majority of Potters fans would argue the 29-year-old has only won a solitary England cap.
Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic may have been busy forming one of the Premier League’s greatest ever centre-back pairings while Shawcross was at Old Trafford, but with Chris Smalling, Phil Jones and Jonny Evans all having failed to live up to their early promise – and Jose Mourinho reportedly concerned at the lack of a defensive leader – United could be ruing allowing Shawcross to depart all those years ago.
No first-team appearances, a handful of chances to sit on the bench, and six loan spells away are all Heaton has to show for his time at Manchester United. However, the goalkeeper returned to haunt his former club at Old Trafford on Sunday, frustrating Zlatan Ibrahimovic and co with 11 saves as Burnley held their more illustrious hosts to a 0-0 draw.
That Heaton’s 11 saves equaled the Premier League’s record for the season (which he himself set) suggests the 30-year-old is at the top of his game, and fully justifies his consistent selection in England squads – with some calls for Gareth Southgate to start the Clarets stopper against Spain.
Heaton may not be good enough to hypothetically usurp David de Gea, but he would have made a fantastic deputy, meaning United could have been spared the inconvenience of Victor Valdes’ unhappy spell. The fact he is now shining elsewhere will act as great encouragement for United’s current reserve goalkeeper, Sam Johnstone.
Considering Tom Cleverley and Darron Gibson were deemed good enough to make a combined 139 appearances in a red shirt, it is quite remarkable to think Drinkwater was never handed a solitary opportunity to impress in the first team.
While the Leicester man is well short of the class of United legends such as Paul Scholes or Roy Keane, Drinkwater mixes a healthy relish for midfield combat with the eye and ability to pick a pass.
United fans must look across at a title-winner and England international in Leicester’s midfield and continue to bang their heads against a wall at the sight of Marouane Fellaini in their own.
Another player who, alongside Tom Heaton, stubbornly held Manchester United at bay in the draw with Burnley on Saturday, Keane was part of a Red Devils side containing a certain Paul Pogba which won the FA Youth Cup in 2011.
After five first-team appearances and loan spells at Leicester, Derby and Blackburn, Keane joined the Clarets in 2014. Over the following two seasons, the 23-year-old’s stock rose so far that he was reportedly the subject of a £15million bid from Premier League champions Leicester in the summer, while he was also called into Gareth Southgate’s first England squad.
Now rated in the £25million bracket – hardly a shock when you read United have been ‘left deeply embarrassed’ by his progress since his departure.
And if United fans need any more reason to wish Keane was still among their ranks, the defender had this to say about his good friend Jesse Lingard’s favourite celebration: “Dabbing? It’s stupid isn’t it? A lot of fans love it. Some hate it. I certainly couldn’t pull it off. I won’t be doing that.”
By far and away the biggest regret among this list, it’s probably fair to say Sir Alex Ferguson did not expect to be selling a player who would develop into one of the world’s best centre-backs when allowing Pique to re-join Barcelona for around £5million.
Pique made 23 appearances over four years at United, before Ferguson deemed the Spaniard unsuitable to the physical nature of English football.
Since then, the 29-year-old has gone on to win six La Liga titles, four Copa del Reys, five Spanish Super Cups, three Champions League (two of which came after beating United in the final), three European Super Cups, three Club World Cups, one European Championship with Spain, a World Cup, and married Shakira.
Could he handle Jonathan Walters though?