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Sir Alex’s strangest Man Utd Champions League XI – and what happened to them

Manchester United had already got their Champions League job done by the time they took on Deportivo La Coruna on March 18, 2003.

So Sir Alex Ferguson thought this was time to experiment.

These were the days of two group stages in the competition, and with United having won their first four matches in the group, drawing the fifth with Basel thanks to a rare Gary Neville goal, Ferguson knew he could make several changes for the trip to La Coruna.

And did he ever.

The United boss named the least experienced side he had ever put out for a Champions League match, and unsurprisingly it resulted in a 2-0 defeat.

Ferguson sent out a very young side in Spain

The Red Devils would go on to lose to Real Madrid in the quarter-finals when Brazilian star Ronaldo struck a hat-trick, but for some members of the side on this night at the Riazor stadium, this would be as good as it would get for their United careers.

Is this Fergie’s strangest ever United side?

Ricardo

The stopper was back in Spain having arrived from Valladolid the previous summer, but with Fabien Barthez and Roy Carroll in front of him in the queue then his chances were limited.

He was getting some opportunities in the Champions League though, with this his fourth appearance, although there would be no more.

After one season at Old Trafford Ricardo was sent to Racing Santander on loan, and with Ferguson signing Tim Howard while he was away then the writing was on the wall.

He saw out his playing days at Osasuna, even coming out of retirement at the age of 41 in 2013 to help them with an injury crisis.

Mark Lynch

A season on loan at St Johnstone had prepared Mancunian Lynch for first-team football, but this would be his only senior appearance for United.

And unfortunately, it featured him putting through his own net as he got in in front of Albert Luque to head a Victor cross past Ricardo for Deportivo’s second goal, giving him the type of 100 per cent record no player wants.

Lynch still had a good career though, and he would move on to Sunderland the following year before spells with Hull, Yeovil, Rotherham, Stockport and finally Altrincham in 2012.

Nicky Butt battles in midfield
Nicky Butt battles in midfield

Laurent Blanc

Now 37, the France World Cup winner was coming to the end of an illustrious career that had taken in Napoli, Barcelona, Marseille and Inter Milan amongst others, as well as 97 France caps.

He would play in just two more professional matches after this, retiring after a second half appearance against Everton on the final day of the Premier League season, when United lifted the trophy.

John O’Shea

He’d played 13 times the previous season, but now approaching his 22nd birthday, this was the campaign when the Irishman established himself as a dependable performer for Ferguson.

This was one of 52 games he played in that season, and he’d manage 393 for United in total by the time he moved on to Sunderland in 2011.

After a brief spell at Reading he’s now a coach with the Royals.

Danny Pugh

Highly-rated in the United youth ranks, the versatile Pugh would play five times for United in the 2002/03 campaign and then a couple more the following season before departing for a good career spent largely in the Football League.

Leeds, Preston, Stoke (where he was promoted to the top-flight in 2008 and hung around as a squad player for four years), Leeds again, Sheffield Wednesday, Coventry, Bury, Blackpool and finally Port Vale all benefitted from Pugh’s services before his retirement last year.

He’s stayed on the staff at Vale though, and is their first-team coach.

Lee Roche

An impressive loan spell at Wrexham got Roche tuned up for first-team football, but this would be one of only three senior appearances for United.

The once-capped England under-21 international left for Burnley on a free transfer at the end of this season, later rejoining Wrexham and having a long spell in non-league with Droylsden.

Phil Neville

Stationed in midfield for this one, the younger Neville had long since established himself as Ferguson’s utility man.

Perhaps by now thinking that he’d need a move in order to become an established starter somewhere else, this was the ninth of Neville’s 11 seasons at United, and he would join Everton in the summer of 2005.

Darren Fletcher

Fletcher was highly regarded by fellow Scot Ferguson
Fletcher was highly regarded by fellow Scot Ferguson

This was the Scot’s breakthrough season at United after he’d played twice in the previous campaign, and you could tell that Ferguson saw something special in the youngster even if others didn’t quite at the time.

His work-rate was impressive, and he’d go on to be a mainstay at the club for the next 12 years before latter career moves to West Brom and Stoke.

Having tried his hand at media work, he’s now back at United as their new technical director.

Nicky Butt

Perhaps the least-discussed of the famed ‘Class of 92’ who broke into the United side, Butt was coming towards the end of his usefulness for Ferguson, even though he’d been praised by Pele no less for his displays for England at the 2002 World Cup, where he’d replaced the injured Steven Gerrard.

Butt would have one more season at United before a move to Newcastle that was beset with injuries.

He had a brief spell in China too, and these days holds a role that bridges the gap between the youth setup and the first-team at United.

Ryan Giggs

Giggs was playing with several unfamiliar teammates
Giggs was playing with several unfamiliar teammates

It isn’t clear why Ferguson sought the need to play Giggs in the dead rubber but play him he did, one of 47 appearances in all competitions that season and a record 963 in all.

The Welshman came close to dragging his side back into the game too, hitting the post in the second half shortly before he was substituted.

Diego Forlan

Having been a laughing stock for the first part of his United career, things had begun to change for Forlan when he struck a brace in a win over Liverpool at Anfield the previous December.

He didn’t get much change out of the Deportivo defenders though, and with the likes of Ruud van Nistelrooy and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer resting up, he knew he’d be heading back to the fringes.

The Uruguayan did enjoy a successful career post-United though, scoring goals for Villarreal and Atletico Madrid, and winning the Golden Ball for the best player at the 2010 World Cup.

Midfielder Michael Stewart was one of the substitutes
Midfielder Michael Stewart was one of the substitutes

Substitutes

Michael Stewart , on for Roche (46): The Scottish midfielder played for both Hibs and Hearts north of the border.

Kieran Richardson , on for Giggs (72): Stayed at United for four more seasons before a decent Premier League career and eight England caps.

Danny Webber , on for Forlan (72): This was the last of the forward’s United appearances before a career most notably spent at Watford and Sheffield United.

Jimmy Davis , one of the unused substitutes, sadly died in a road traffic accident five months later having joined Watford on loan. United’s players paid tribute to him when they all donned his shirt while celebrating winning the FA Cup in 2004.




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