Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Manchester United's Les Bleus.


There has been a strong link between Old Trafford and France over the last quarter of a century and that bond is about to get even stronger with the return of Paul Pogba to the fold.

The midfielder will pull on the famous United shirt and make his second debut for the Red Devils this coming Friday if selected of course. The first time round came back in September 2011 when the highly rated teenager was given his big chance by Sir Alex Ferguson in the League Cup albeit as a substitute.

After being picked a further six more times the problems started and after much deliberation and finger pointing the young prodigy was allowed to depart for pastures new in Italy with Juventus. Quite how United relented and let him leave is a topic for others to debate.

Pogba quickly built up a reputation during his time at Juventus and has been courted by a host of top clubs all wanting his signature. Fast forward to the present and the undoubtedly talented French star has decided to come back home for a world record transfer fee of almost £90m on a five-year contract after cementing his reputation with the Old Lady of Turin and the French national side.

Mourinho has managed to pull off a huge transfer that his two predecessors never looked likely of achieving and has given the fans something to be optimistic about at last.

Pogba will be joining an impressive legion of French players to have graced Old Trafford which all began with 'Le Roi' Eric Cantona, who was a chance purchase by Alex Ferguson in 1992. While overhearing a telephone conversation between then United chairman Martin Edwards and his Leeds United counterpart who was making enquiries about United full-back Denis Irwin, Ferguson declined their advances for the Irish defender but told Edwards to ask about the availability of their troubled French star Cantona.

Within days the deal was done and a beaming Ferguson paraded his new signing to the world media telling them that Old Trafford was the stage on which Cantona was made to play on, and how right he would be proved to be.

The talisman of the team from his debut in 1992 right up until his retirement in 1997. A Premier League champion in all his seasons at United except the one in which he had to serve an eight-month ban and a double winner twice.

Fans to this day still honour his achievements for the club by singing his name at matches both home and away even though it has been almost twenty years since he left. A true testament to a legend and the love goes both ways as Cantona has often said that his heart is still at Manchester United.

'1966 was a great year for English football. Cantona was born'

The next Frenchman to join United was full back Mikaƫl Silvestre who joined the club in September 1999 and immediately gained the respect of the Old Trafford faithful when it was clear that he had rejected an offer from Liverpool for his services. Ironically, he made his debut against Liverpool.

Silvestre was a silky defender who could play at both left-back or in the middle of the defence and would make almost 250 appearances for the Red Devils over nine years. In that time, he won five league titles, an FA Cup, a League Cup and a Champions League winners medal in 2008 although he was an unused substitute.

Never one to give up Silvestre had to battle through long absences due to injuries and along with the challenges for his position from Heinze and fellow countryman Evra but he persevered and that commitment endeared him to the fans.

Following the retirement of the treble winning goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel, the hunt was on to find his replacement a task that would prove extremely difficult to fulfil. One man who tried was Fabien Barthez who joined the team in 2000 and quickly realised that he had a huge task on his hands to literally try and fill the big gloves vacated by Schmeichel.

Barthez had enjoyed success with France at the World Cup and The Euros but was well known as an eccentric keeper which he showed many times between the sticks for United especially when he would let United defender and best friend Laurent Blanc kiss his bald head before the start of matches. Having said that he did end up as a champion in his debut season, pulling off some fabulous saves which ensured United won many matches.

The following season wasn't so good for Barthez as he was blamed for making too many unforced errors in matches. One game, in particular, was against Arsenal when he had a nightmare and allowed his countryman Henry to score two goals that were basically gift-wrapped for him.

At the end of his final season, 2002/03, he and United finished as champions, but Ferguson had had enough of Barthez and the mistakes he was making, this was highlighted in the match against Real Madrid in the Champions League quarter-final second leg when Brazilian Ronaldo scored a hat-trick. This was a match in which the keeper received criticism from all quarters and, in fact, that would be his last game for United.

Barthez was joined at United by his friend Laurent Blanc who joined in 2001 after Jaap Stam had been sold to Lazio by Ferguson after a bust-up over the Dutchman's comments in his autobiography.

A central defender who oozed class and valuable experience but came to the club towards the end of his illustrious career which had the United fans raising their eyebrows, he was 35 when he signed.

After helping United to the title in 2003 his legs finally gave up and he retired from playing to focus on management mainly back in his home country with PSG. Now he is a free agent it will be interesting to see if he fancies a return to the Premier League. Arsenal anybody?

The next Frenchman to come through the Old Trafford doors was a striker. Louis Saha's United career was blighted by injuries, but when he was fit he certainly knew how to score goals. Saha was transferred to United for a fee of £12.4 million in January 2004 having scored 15 goals already that season for Fulham. His United career got off to a similar start by scoring seven goals in just ten matches.

The following season was the start of his injury woes, especially to his knee then his hamstring. When fit he started a partnership with Ruud van Nistelrooy and then the teenage Wayne Rooney.

In 2006, a fully fit Saha was among the goals again and was on a roll. However, the injury jinx returned.

When he returned for the last time Ferguson had a built a forward line around Rooney, Tevez and a certain Ronaldo so Saha played mainly from the bench, but when called upon he did his job. His United career ended when he was sold to Everton in 2008.

A quality striker and his love for United was plain to see, it was only the injuries that held him back. During his time at United, he won two Premier League medals and a League Cup.

Possibly the second most popular French signing behind Monsieur Cantona was Patrice Evra who was brought to Man United from AS Monaco for a fee of £5.5 million in January 2006. Evra took his time to settle at the club making his debut in a 3-1 defeat to Manchester City. So poor was his performance in that match Fergie took him off at half-time.

Fast forward eight years and the Frenchman left United having won almost everything in the game. The only trophy to elude him was the FA Cup. Probably his greatest achievement was winning the double of the Premier League and Champions League in 2008.

At left-back, Evra became an important cog in United's defence, forming an uncanny understanding at the back with Ferdinand and Vidic which was the rock that Fergie built his last great teams on. Evra had the honour of captaining United on many occasions and did so with a great gusto.

It was a sad day when he departed for Juventus as I'm sure he still had plenty of playing time in him and is still greatly missed. It would be nice to think that Evra helped United to bring Pogba back in some way.

Morgan Schneiderlin joined United from Southampton last summer and enjoyed a decent season under van Gaal's reign. His no-nonsense style of play got the job done in the midfield without any fanfares. Often overlooked for plaudits because of others around him Schneiderlin went about his business and in a fairly average season for the club he at least could hold his head up.

Quite how he will fit into the plans of new manager Mourinho only time will tell but he still has a lot to offer in the engine room of the team. Especially when you consider the age of Carrick and the uncertainty over Schweinsteiger's future at the club. This will be an important season for Schneiderlin, but one that he can rise to.

Louis van Gaal may have had his critics during his time at United but there was one bit of business the fans can thank him for and that was the purchase of the most expensive teenager in world football. When Anthony Martial blasted onto the scene with such a bang as a substitute against Liverpool the fans had a new favourite to call their own.

Not only did he open his United account against the arch enemy but he did so at the Stretford End and a new star had arrived.

In his first season, he managed to score a total of 17 goals, not bad considering he was plying his trade wide on the left. Probably the most important goal of his season came in injury time against Everton in the FA Cup semi-final to send the Reds through to the final. He was taken to the Euro's with France but wasn't given a chance to showcase his ability.

With the arrival of Ibrahimovic, he has had to relinquish the No: 9 shirt and accept the iconic 11. The hopes are high of another high goal scoring season by the young forward.

Last but not least the trio of 'Les Miserables' William Prunier, Gabriel Obertan and David Bellion.......only kidding.

There you have it the French stars that have lit up our great club and Paul Pogba has the proud honour of continuing the tradition of his fellow countrymen at Old Trafford.

Thanks for reading and au revoir.

Miles Dunton.