On first glance, Wes Brown has had a terrific career as a top-flight professional winning multiple trophies during his time at Old Trafford.
His career is one that more than 90% of footballer’s in the top-flight would gladly swap their careers for. However the one thing that those players would not to have, is the incredibly bad luck that Wes has suffered at his time at United.
Wes was highly rated as a youngster at the club and towards the end of the 1997/98 season, it was rumoured that he would get a chance possibly to play in our final couple of games, as soon the league title would be wrapped up by Arsenal.
After Arsenal’s win over Everton which sealed the championship for Arsene Wenger’s side, we faced Leeds United the next day and strolled to a comfortable 3-0 victory. The game now is famous for two reasons:
1) It being the final appearance for Brian McClair at the club. And for our younger fans who may not have grown up seeing ‘Choccy’ play, he was a top class player who outside of United didn’t quite get the credit that he deserved.
2) Wes made his debut in that match coming on in the second half for David May at centre half and in the brief cameo he impressed doing well to hold of Jimmy Floyd-Hasselbaink at.
After the Leeds game, Wes played the full game against already-relegated Barnsley on the final day at Oakwell and impressed again.
The following season of course was the Treble-Winning season of 1998/99. In that season Wes again got opportunities and played well at both centre half as well as right back impressing throughout the season.
His form caught the eye of then England manager Kevin Keegan, who handed Brown a first England cap away to Hungary in a friendly. Brown started the game and was one of England’s better players in what was a rather disappointing draw.
Sadly for Wes he suffered a bad injury in pre-season training for 1999/00 season which saw him ruled out for the whole of that year. Three good years followed as did more England appearances which saw him selected for the 2002 World Cup.
In August 2002 though his injury curse-struck again, away to Zalaegerzei in a Champions League qualifier, where Wes came of worst in a challenge and was stretchered off after breaking his angle.
It was a tough blow for United as with the recently signed Rio Ferdinand missing for a fortnight after an injury in a friendly against Boca Juniors at Old Trafford, we had to rely on Laurent Blanc and a then raw John O’Shea to fill in for our start of the season.
Wes though came back and played well as we went onto the win the Premier League that year. However with the league already won he tore his knee ligaments away to Everton on the final day of the season after coming of worse after challenging Wayne Rooney down by the sidelines.
Coming back 8 months later midway through the 2003/04 season wasn’t easy on Wes. On his first game back away to Wolves – coming on for Rio Ferdinand who was making his last appearance before serving his 6 month ban for missing a drugs test – he was blamed for allowing Kenny Miller to score the winner in a hugely disappointing result for the team.
It took him time to get his confidence back as over the next couple of years Wes could not hold down a regular starting place. However when he was in the team, playing well there was no doubting his quality and reading of the game.
Sir Alex time and time again was calling him the most ‘natural defender’ in England, but sadly due to the partnership of Rio and John Terry working well, he never really got a look in when it came down to competitive internationals.
Wes though always gave his best for United and was rewarded really during the 2007/08 season, where with no injury problems, he played some of the best football in his career where he appeared in a career high 52 games across the season.
His form at right back was great as he stepped up after Gary Neville’s injury to add experience and steel to the back four and covered brilliantly working down Cristiano Ronaldo’s flank. He had two brilliant highs of that season, which fans will never forget:
1) Putting us ahead at home to Liverpool with a header inside the box from Wayne Rooney’s brilliant cross. His run to match the ball was great as he comfortably ran into the box unmarked to head home past Pepe Reina. Wes was simply the last person you’d have imagined would have scored for us in that game.
2) His cross that set up Ronaldo to put us ahead in the Champions League Final in Moscow against Chelsea. His neat play with Paul Scholes down by the by-line was just as good as the ball in that Ronny powerfully planted home.
The following season, Wes started well and even scored a goal away to Blackburn. However more injury problems were on the way and he only figured 13 times for us that season.
Despite a good season last year, which saw him run very close to earning a place in Fabio Capello’s World Cup squad in South Africa – Wes’ best days were past him.
This season of course he struggled and now looks to be on his way out of the club. Leaving would be the best thing for him as at 31, he will want to play more and at us sadly he won’t.
But for injuries he would’ve probably have racked up 500 appearances for us and would have certainly earned at least another 20-30 England caps to the 23 that he got before he retired from international duty.
Wes has been a good player for us and if the rumours about him going to clubs such as Everton and Sunderland are true, then he’d be a good option for them.
His experience and defensive reading would be an asset to a good majority of Premier League teams, there’s no doubt young defenders would learn a lot by playing and training with him. Let’s hope for his sake he can slug of his injury problems and his career can end on a high.
By Adam Dennehey – @ADennehey87