Manchester United hosts Aston Villa this weekend with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s future still hanging in the balance.
The two clubs have become brothers in arms since the Premier League era began, with players (and managers) making the switch from Manchester to Birmingham at regular intervals over the last 27 years.
Fergie regarded Villa Park as his second home having never lost an FA Cup semi-final there and he was responsible for sending many of the Old Trafford cast-offs to the second city.
Here then, is our list of The Magnificent Seven (which excludes Tom Cleverley) who have represented or been involved with both clubs at some stage of their careers.
When Sir Alex decided to start wielding the axe after his arrival at Old Trafford, he started by breaking up the notorious “Manchester United Drinking Club” whose main driving force was captain marvel himself, Bryan Robson. Fergie knew he couldn’t sell “Robbo”, so he opted for another of the chief protagonists, Republic of Ireland centre-half Paul McGrath. The player was notorious for his nights out in the city centre which could often be measured in days rather than hours. Luckily for Paul, his old mentor Ron Atkinson decided to bring him to Villa Park and was even prepared to let him skip training (due to a chronic knee problem) and just turn up for matchday as long as he put in a 100 per-cent performance. He didn’t disappoint either, being voted the Players Player of the Year for 1992-93.
“Keano” never played for Villa of course and during his time at United he made a habit of getting himself sent-off in semi-finals played at the famous old venue. That, however, didn’t stop Villains boss Paul Lambert giving Roy the job as his assistant in 2014 while Keane himself was moonlighting as Martin O’Neill’s assistant with the Republic of Ireland. Villa’s appointment of the former midfield hardman seemed strange to say the least, so it was no surprise that after just a few months in the Midlands, Keane decided that he couldn’t work for them and quit to concentrate on his international stint with Martin and the Boys in Green.
His ability to score both on and off the pitch was legendary so when Sir Alex decided he needed a bosom (no pun intended) pal for striker Andy Cole, he decided to bring the Trinidad & Tobago man to the Theatre of Dreams. Yorke’s partnership with Cole was devastating and their contributions to the treble-winning campaign of 1999 can never be underestimated. You always got the feeling, however, that Yorkie’s star would only shine for a limited time in M16 and by 2002, his extravagant lifestyle was simply too much for the gaffer, who replaced him with Dutch goal machine Ruud van Nistelrooy. His former Villa boss Ron Atkinson loved Yorkie so much his party piece at the Christmas do was to sing karaoke to Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York” but change the lyrics to yes, you’ve guessed it.
The likeable Aussie goalkeeper started his career at Old Trafford before moving to Aston Villa for the start of the inaugural Premier League campaign. He immediately hit it off with Dwight Yorke which should have had alarm bells ringing for Ron Atkinson, but it took until 1996 for Bosnich to really blot his copybook when he gave a Nazi salute to Spurs fans following a bout of severe piss-taking for his reported off-field antics with you know who. After Peter Schmeichel (more of him later) left United following the treble success, Fergie snapped Bosnich up on a free-transfer and with only the Italian liability Massimo Taibi for competition; he became the number one choice as we headed into the new century. Once again, it was only a matter of time before Sir Alex had had enough of receiving less than favourable reports of Bosnich’s nights out in town and so desperate was he to get rid of the Aussie custodian, he was even prepared to replace him with French extrovert keeper and regular smoker Fabian Barthez.
Nobody really knows why Sir Alex brought Cameroon midfielder Eric Djemba-Djemba to Old Trafford in 2003 with many putting it down to a particularly good night on the Beaujolais at Fergie towers, plus the fact that the last time he bought a guy called Eric he was actually quite good. Clearly embarrassed by his actions, Sir Alex kept Djemba-Djemba in his squad for two seasons before finally owning up to the fact that he was crap and should never have been signed-in the first place. Fergie’s lucky charm Aston Villa came to the rescue by taking him to Birmingham in 2005, where he made just 11 appearances in two years. One thing Eric can always point to however, is that he has more medals than Alan Shearer.
One of the finest imports to ever play in the Premier League despite having a middle name that rhymes with coleslaw, Peter Schmeichel is regarded by many as the greatest goalkeeper of his generation and someone who could never be accused of having to grow a pair after offering Roy Keane out on a hotel landing on a pre-season tour. By the time he departed Old Trafford his trophy cabinet was full to bursting and after a two-year stint in Portugal at Sporting Lisbon, the great Dane returned to Blighty to represent Aston Villa. A year later he did the unthinkable by joining Manchester City but after the glory years of the 90s at United, the man with the reddest nose in Europe will be the first to admit that his heart wasn’t really in it after that.
“Big” Ron Atkinson
Ron Atkinson is a football manager who’s always been misunderstood. Behind the flash exterior remains a supreme football tactician, but a man who never quite had the talent to land a league title. “Big Ron” put two FA Cups on the sideboard during a five-year stint at Old Trafford before becoming United’s nemesis in the early 90’s, denying them a League Cup win while manager of Sheffield Wednesday in 1991 and doing the same four years later whilst in charge at Villa. Many of his ex-players claim that Ron was too close to some of the lads and was seen more as a mate than as their gaffer and as we’ve seen already, this is perfectly illustrated in the case of Paul McGrath. What has emerged down the years however is that Atkinson was never much of a drinker himself and the champagne image was just made for the media, who were openly invited into his office after matches to share a glass or two.