Five Manchester United stars who took their time to settle

Date published: Tuesday 15th November 2016 11:54

Henrikh Mkhitaryan might take some encouragement from these Manchester United heroes, who all took a while to settle into life at Old Trafford…

Patrice Evra

Similarly to Mkhitaryan, Evra was also given a chastening Premier League derby debut when the Frenchman too was hauled off at half-time during a defeat to Man City.

Evra’s rude awakening, though, came only four days after joining the club in early January 2006. He had barely trained with his new team-mates, let alone spent an entire pre-season preparing for his chance.

The left-back, though, steadily improved after a ropey start, making 14 appearances by the end of that season, but still Mikael Silvestre was preferred at the beginning of Evra’s first full campaign.

It took the recruit from Monaco almost a year to establish himself in Sir Alex Ferguson’s first team, though Evra had already showed signs he had the temperament and determination to be a success at Old Trafford.


Among his many quotes and quips over eight and a half seasons, one of the United fans’ favourite lines from Evra came before he had kicked a ball competitively:

“United is a completely different world, they take care of the tiniest detail for you.

“To be honest, I’ll be the king of all c**ts if I can’t be a success under such conditions.”

Evra comfortably avoided being crowned as such. Before leaving for Juventus, some say prematurely, Uncle Pat, as Paul Pogba refers to him, made 379 appearances, winning five Premier League titles, three League Cup winners’ medals and the Champions League in 2008.


Nemanja Vidic

The Serbia centre-half arrived five days before Evra but the £7million signing had to wait another month before being handed his debut, which did not go well. David Bentley bagged a hat-trick as United fell 4-3 at Blackburn.


Paul Scholes later told the Independent of the United’s squad’s fears over their two new recruits:

“There was nothing of Nemanja when he arrived either. He was skinny and relatively easy to push off the ball. Like Patrice, he took a battering in his first few weeks at the club – in training as well as matches.

For the next year, every time I walked past the gym, I would see Nemanja in there lifting weights. He turned himself into a big, strong centre-half  who was capable of knocking strikers out of the way.”

Indeed. Vidic became one of the most robust, no-nonsense defenders in Europe, forming a partnership with Rio Ferdinand that had few, if any, equals. Vidic was capable on the ball but knew his limits. He did the dirty work, attacking balls and strikers, often taking both, while Ferdinand stepped off, sweeping up and spraying the ball out from the back.

Vidic became club captain and, having amassed the same trophy haul as Evra, returned to Old Trafford as an ambassador following a miserable, injury-hit spell at Inter which forced the Serb into retirement.



David De Gea

The Spanish teenager was described by James Ducker in The Times as ‘a kid who won a competition to play in goal for Manchester United’, while Patrick Barclay went even further: ‘The goalie is like a jelly. He isn’t physically capable. He’s Heurelho Gomes without the shot-stopping.’

Mick Dennis was equally as damning in the Daily Express: ‘He’s called David de Gea Quintana. But don’t bother learning all those names. There will be another chap along soon. There has to be.’


As consistently brilliant as he is now, De Gea’s first six months at Old Trafford were a nightmare. His goalkeeping coach, Eric Steele, called it “horrendous”. But, possibly out of stubbornness and a lack of alternatives, Sir Alex Ferguson kept faith with the former Atletico stopper.

After two seasons under Ferguson, it was during David Moyes’ brief reign that De Gea truly blossomed. Handy really, as United were giving their keeper plenty of practice under the ‘Chosen One’.

From the skinny kid who “ate too many tacos”, De Gea is now one of the top three goalkeepers in the world.


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Andy Cole

He may have ended up a Treble winner and a Manchester United ambassador, but Cole was not the instant success Ferguson envisioned when he stunned the football world by parting with £6million and Keith Gillespie for the striker.

Arriving a fortnight before Eric Cantona jumped into the Selhurst Park crowd, Cole still managed 12 goals in the second half of the 94-95 season, though five of those came in one game against a dreadful Ipswich side. But his first season will be remembered best for the chances he missed at West Ham on the final day, when United needed just one more goal to win and retain the title.


It got worse. Though writing in the Guardian in 2007 to address the many wrong perceptions of Cole, Rob Smyth summed up his first full season:

He was nothing short of embarrassing, crushed by insecurity, the teething problems of a dramatic change in his footballing identity – United bought a goalscorer and made him into a footballer – and, most of all, the obvious contempt shown him by Old Trafford main’s man, Eric Cantona. Against Liverpool at Wembley, he came dangerously close to becoming the first player to have a nervous breakdown during an FA Cup final.

Ferguson tried to ship him off to Blackburn in part-exchange for Alan Shearer, but Cole shrugged off that, pneumonia and a couple of broken legs courtesy of Neil Ruddock to play his part in another title triumph in 1996-97. It was only when King Eric abdicated his throne that Cole started to truly shine.

A year further on, and Cole became one half of one of the most deadly strike partnerships Europe has seen. He and Dwight Yorke were the first-choice strikers throughout the Treble season, notching 53 goals between them, with Cole scoring the vital winning goal against Spurs on the final day of the season to secure the title.  The five-time title winner also finished the following season as United’s top scorer with 19 goals in 28 Premier League games.


Teddy Sheringham

Sheringham arrived from Tottenham in 1996 to replace Eric Cantona, which was always an impossible job.

Typically, the fixture computer saw to it that the striker would make his United debut at his former club and his penalty that struck the foot of the Spurs post set the tone for a frustrating debut season. He notched nine league goals but United lost the league to Arsenal while Sheringham fell out with strike partner Andy Cole.


When Ferguson chucked almost £20million at Aston Villa for Dwight Yorke at the start of the following season, and the new boy struck up an immediate understanding with Cole, it was assumed Sheringham’s days were numbered. He scored only two goals in 17 league appearances, but the 33-year-old wrote his name in United’s history books with two substitute appearances in the final two games of the Treble campaign. He first came on in the FA Cup final to almost immediately score the opener against Newcastle, before repeating the trick four days later to net United’s injury time equaliser in the Champions League final. Seconds later, he flicked on David Beckham’s corner into the path of Ole Gunar Solskjaer, who prodded in to ensure Sheringham and United were treble winners.

A similarly sporadic season followed and it was not until the veteran’s fourth campaign, in 2000-01 that Sheringham really shone. He finished the season with 21 goals in all competitions and the PFA Player of the Year award.

Ian Watson

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