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Jul 29, 2014

Ex Files: Manchester United

ESPN FC's Steve Nicol discusses Wayne Rooney's start to the summer season and if his performances raise expectations for the Red Devils this coming season.

All week we will be looking back at three players from England's top clubs whom the fans have loved to hate, and those whom they wish had never left. Then one from a rival club whom they hate to say they love. Mark Payne delves into Manchester United's recent past.

- Curtis: Manchester City

Love to hate: Carlos Tevez

Carlos Tevez billboard
Carlos Tevez's appearance on a billboard tainted his legacy.

Manchester United fans do not get enough credit for the respect they give to people who have served the club. Mark my words, when David Moyes leads another team out at Old Trafford, he will be given a courteous reception. To stoke the ire of the United faithful, you need to do something fairly egregious. Something like move to a close rival. Gabriel Heinze threw the toys out of the pram and attempted to move to Liverpool in 2007; United denied him the transfer, but he certainly blotted his copybook.

In even more recent times, though, Carlos Tevez proved to be the most despicable of traitors. Despite his valiant attempts to disrupt City's dressing room, his departure from United and subsequent arrival at City were disrespectful in the extreme. At United, Tevez had won the Premier League and the Champions League. By way of thanks, he arrives on a billboard in the centre of Manchester wearing a City kit. It lacked class.

Tevez, to my knowledge, is the only player to have inspired the Stretford End to chant negatively about him after departing the club. Renditions of "Who's that chap from Argentina" were sung loudly during his dispute with City. Not even being as petulant with the enemy as he was with United inspired forgiveness. It certainly didn't help that he played well against his former side either.

Love to love: Eric Cantona

Eric Cantona gives his famous Gallic shrug after his chip.
Eric Cantona remains a legend in Manchester.

No conversation about favourite Manchester United players can advance far before the words "Eric" and "Cantona" are spoken. The Frenchman could no doubt part the waters of the ship canal if he chose to, as easily as he sliced through the Premier League defences during his glorious run at United. But Eric retired at the right time in 1997; just an inch past his peak and having given his all for the club. Love endures the stronger for the ones you let go.

In a general sense, it is a rare occurrence for Manchester United to let go of a player who still had some useful years in him. The rule of thumb being that if somebody has departed, it was for the best of the team. The exception to this rule seems to involve inhabitants of the No. 7 shirt.

George Best initially retired from football at just 27 to lounge around in Spain and never returned with the same zeal. Just a month after his 28th birthday, David Beckham was shipped out to Real Madrid after a fallout with Fergie. Even now, he would still be welcome for tea at anybody's house in the Mancunian republic. His departure was as painful for the fans as it was for the former incumbent of the famous shirt.

The man who took it off Beckham, Cristiano Ronaldo, is a transfer fans still wish they could reverse. Although Ronaldo's lack of humility continues to stop many admiring him, his service to United was supreme. Tickets at Old Trafford are not as cheap as they should be, but every time you went to see Ronaldo play, he did something that made the cost worthwhile. How many players can you say that about?

Hate to love: Mario Balotelli

Mario Balotelli was booked after revealing this message at Old Trafford
Mario Balotelli is always centre of attention.

There can be no denying how much fun Mario Balotelli is. If it isn't his eye-catching hairstyles or the pranks with fireworks in his bedroom, he happens to be a fine footballer too. The pictures of him engaged in a punch-up with Roberto Mancini were also hilarious, but usually he lets his feet do the talking on the pitch.

Steven Gerrard scores strongly in this category for having a number of admirable traits. He plays for his boyhood team, has a good connection with fans and is able to inspire his side when the chips are down.

Unfortunately, Stevie G. takes himself far too seriously to be respected. Recent studies have shown that he has frowned precisely 63 times as much as he has smiled in his life (this is not actually true). Whereas Mario will always be entertaining.