Dundee United’s Team of the Decade

Look, I’ve stolen this idea and I don’t care. It is a lazy format and we are entering a period of reflection that will see endless lists in a similar vein to this one.

We are fast approaching the end of the decade, and if you take a quick glance at world politics it is becoming a distinct possibly that this will be the last decade before the earth self-destructs. So, with all of that to look forward to it is probably a good time to reflect on the last ten years.

I also thought I would write this and publish it before anyone else got in on the act, therefore getting my selection out of the way to spark debate amongst those who read this blog. Feel free to disagree and dismiss my team, I am expecting a bit of a backlash, but that is the point! Nobody ever really agrees with these types of lists but it is a fun and interesting look at how things have unfolded over the last ten years.

The concept is simple. I will pick a team who I feel have been the best eleven to have represented Dundee United since January 2010. These players are largely the best in terms of quality but I have also added one or two who have been fantastic servants to the club (and in 2010 itself we obviously had a pretty significant event that helps making my mind up). For me, following United is more than just what happens on the pitch and there are a few players over the last ten years that have contributed more than just the 90 minutes each week.

I will also include a full substitutes bench to allow me a bit more flexibility in making up my squad. I will try and keep the team balanced and pick players in their correct position. The formation for this team of the decade will be a 4-2-3-1, given that we have used that as a system for what seems like an eternity (apart from recently, and Mixu’s 5-3-2/3-5-2 adventure during our relegation year).

It has been a pretty eventful few years, with a Scottish Cup win, huge transfers, debt free (or were we?), ownership turmoil, Csaba Laszlo, European nights, a relegation, multiple failed promotion bids, an American takeover and Gavin Gunning.

Ready? Here we go –

Goalkeeper – Dusan Pernis

A man who always had the look of someone who was permanently a bit sad. Dusan was the consummate goalkeeper and was pretty fantastic at almost everything. He gets on this list for sheer consistency and his overall ability. I don’t know if he was every truly happy at Tannadice. He did always have a bit of a sad look on his face (and was very much in the background of the 2010 Scottish Cup celebrations). I remember a friend of mine who worked at Tesco telling me that Dusan would always come in on Saturdays, alone, post-match, to get some beers and a meal for one.

A silver kisser he is definitely, in my mind, the best goalkeeper of the last decade and was an easy choice for this team.

Right-Back – Sean Dillon

This is the first of my selections that might have a few questioning my judgement. Undoubtedly Dillon was part of a terrible and mentally weak side who got us relegated, BUT between 2007 and 2011-ish he was a very dependable, consistent fullback. It was hard for me to see the decline in Dillon and he was always an easy target when things went wrong.

I’m a self confessed Dillon fan and I always get a bit annoyed when people remember the last couple of seasons rather than the first few. What I also always think people need to acknowledge is the length of service and commitment he had to the club, the fans and the community. He still stays in the area, still watches United when he can and he will always be someone I remember very fondly.

For service alone, Dillon gets into this team. #DareToDillon

Central Defender – Andy Webster

Has a player ever made such a positive impression over such a short period of time? Andy Webster had a monumental impact after arriving on-loan from Rangers in July 2009. The captain of our Scottish Cup winning side and a nominee for SPFA Players Player of the Year, he came, he saw, he conquered.

How many times have people been sat at Tannadice in recent years and uttered the words – “What this team needs is an Andy Webster type player”. I’ve said it on countless occasions and I would guess that the majority reading this have done the same thing. Webster commanded the dressing room and pulled everyone together during a fantastic season for the club.

He may have only played about 30 games for United but Andy Webster was someone who was always going to be in this team of the decade.

Central Defender – Darren Dods

Was he really a man or actually a Terminator style robot sent from the future to destroy opponents?

When United signed Dods I was amongst an army of fans who probably sighed and thought ‘meh’. How wrong we were.

Darren Dods, and I don’t say this lightly, was one of the most defensively sound and professionally committed players I have seen since following United in the late 90s. He gave the impression of someone who probably ran to Tannadice for games, played 90 minutes, ran home, chopped some wood with his bear hands whilst listening to a compilation of 1980s action movie montage music, slept for 2 hours then got up at 5am before cycling to training the next morning.

Despite only making a handful of appearances in the period beyond 2010, Dods gets in for his cult hero status (or my idea of Dods being a cult hero to me).

A machine.

Left-Back – Andy Robertson

In the mid and late 2000s United had a fairly consistent conveyor belt of good left-backs but this was always going to be an obvious choice. For a few years we were blessed with players like Kalvenes, Dixon and even Douglas, but Robertson was the best of the bunch, especially given how quickly and how amazing his development was (and has been since).

Now a Champions League winner, Scotland captain and potential English Premiership winner, Andy Robertson made a brief but memorable impact at Tannadice. Those who were there for his first friendly appearance and uttered the words – “the new left-back looks like he might be a decent prospect” could have not predicted in their wildest dreams just how things would turn out.

Defensive Midfielder – Morgaro Gomis

Wee Jimmy, plucked out of obscurity by Craig Levein (I won’t recite the song). A diminutive metronome in the middle of the park, Gomis would shuffle about from side to side, winning the ball and releasing it with incredible consistency and accuracy. A true cult hero and another silver kisser who makes it into the team of the decade.

Yes his subsequent stints for the club were a bit underwhelming, but during his first spell his contribution to United was very impressive and on his day he was a joy to watch.

Defensive Midfielder – John Rankin

So, I am fully prepared for some more grief to come my way, but you know what? Bring it.

The reason Rankin makes it into this team is in large part due to the spell between 2011 and 2014 when he was in the squads that performed very well in the league and had a few impressive European nights at Tannadice. I fondly remember those few years and I had cracking trips to watch United, plus one or two European ties that were amazing. For me the work Rankin did allowed others further up the pitch to roam free and he also provided great cover for players like Robertson when he rampaged forward from fullback.

I also think that Rankin fits into the Dillon category of being someone who took the club to heart and was always very public about how much he enjoyed playing for United. As a grown man and (fairly) sensible person, a weakness of mine is that I am always a sucker for players who get stuck into United, praise the club and praise the fans. His time at Tannadice, much like Dillon’s, was tainted during our disastrous season in 2015.

Right-Wing – Craig Conway

The former hairdresser cruises into this lineup (and his match winning performance in the 2010 Scottish Cup Final certainly helps).

Signed by Craig Brewster, Conway had an amazing delivery on him and a fantastic cross from open play. His career post-United was very impressive and he is someone who is universally liked by United fans (again, 2010 plays a big part in that).

On the 15th of May 2010 Conway cemented his place as a Tannadice legend, but his contribution to the club was so much more than just that famous Hampden brace.

‘The Number 10’ – Stuart Armstrong

A hard one. We have had a few players in this role who could have argued for their place in this team but for me Stuart Armstrong is the most ‘complete’ midfielder we have seen in a long time at Tannadice. He was technically gifted, athletic and intelligent. On top of all of these attributes he also had, and still has, fantastic hair.

During the few years of us having a plethora of gifted players I did always feel like Armstrong could have gone on further than the others. I always felt he had the most potential and was physically much more athletic. His career has stuttered a little bit despite a strong time at Celtic but I still think if he is allowed to develop he can still be a very decent player in the English Premiership and for Scotland.

Left-Wing – Gary Mackay-Steven

It is ironic that Mackay-Steven sits alongside Stuart Armstrong in this list, given that the departure of the two is seen by many as the beginning of our downward spiral.

Technically Mackay-Steven was (and still is) superb. One of the most naturally gifted players to have graced Tannadice in recent history. We witnessed him do things with a football that many of us had never seen before and when he was in a confident mood he was unstoppable.

His form may have taken a big dip in the months leading up to his transfer to Celtic but he could not have missed out on a spot in this team.

Striker – Jon Daly

So, the toughest choice of all. I went back and forth between Daly, Goodwillie, Russell and Ciftci but in the end I have gone for the Dillon/Rankin weakness again and for me Daly optimises the transformation at Tannadice during the Levein era and then into our 2010-2013 period of success.

Initially someone who struggled at Tannadice due to injuries and form, he was not universally liked within the support in his early time at the club. When things did begin to improve, and once injuries cleared up, we witnessed a pretty meteoric rise for Daly and his cult status appeared out of nowhere and seemed to snowball as the goals flew in and he became more and more confident.

Was he as ‘good’ as Goodwillie, Russell or Ciftci? Technically he was nowhere near that level, but in terms of impact and enjoyment then for me I am happy that Daly is my striker in this team.

Put your hands up for…

Substitutes

Radoslaw Cierzniak – I have a huge soft spot for Rado, and again it is my weakness for a player who takes pride in football and plays with passion. He was a fantastic shot stopper on his day but did suffer badly when under constant aerial pressure, or if he was not in a confident mood.

Jaroslaw Fojut – I was close to opting for Lee Wilkie but to be honest his time at United pretty much ended in late 2009, despite still being at the club in 2010 (and then retiring). The reason Fojut appears is in large part due to yet another one of my footballing weaknesses – He was a totally mad bastard who took no prisoners.

Ryan Gauld – Unlucky to not be in the starting lineup, Gauld is undoubtedly the most talented and most gifted youth prospect to have made an impact at Tannadice over the last ten years. His post-Tannadice career might have stalled but he still is plugging away in Portugal after a brief stint with Hibs. A joy to watch.

Nadir Ciftci – As I mentioned previously, Ciftci was very close to making the team but just missed out. Another who has probably seen his post-United career falter but he was a huge player for us and one who was both physical and technical whilst having a competitive streak (that was both a blessing and a curse). A massive part of one of the most memorable cup games in our history at a ‘neutral’ Ibrox.

Johnny Russell – My confession about Russell is that I went to see him a few times when he was on-loan at Forfar and I thought he was pretty crap. I certainly could not see him make the grade at United but by the time he did start to break into the team he was a player transformed. Russell had an incredible work ethic and his technique at times was superb. He also had a magnificent leap on him and he scored some cracking goals.

Willo Flood – I’m not 100% on Flood being in this squad and maybe I am thinking more of the Flood who played pre-2010 but like a few others (and his Irish pals) Flood gets in on service to the club more than anything else. Yes his last spell at Tannadice was pretty poor but he enjoyed some great times with United.

David Goodwillie – We end on a striker who appeared one August looking like a proper athlete and in turn he sparked life into his United career. Over a blistering 18 month spell that is as impressive as any of us have seen from a young United striker, he found the net again and again and again. Yet another who played a pivotal role in the 2010 cup win, we all know how things have panned out for Goodwillie since he left the club in 2011.

Honourable Mentions

There is a fairly sizeable list of players who many will insist should have been in this squad. I think some of you might be shouting – “What about?!?!” at the screen as you read through this post (and of my friends is currently losing the plot as to why Keith Watson is an omission). If I was to second guess some of the suggestions I will go for the following – Prince Buaben, Scott Robertson, Paul Dixon, Keith Watson, Garry Kenneth and Danny Swanson.

As for the last couple of years? There are moments when I think players have made a strong impact, Pavol Safranko for example, but being honest nobody since 2015 gets near the levels of the players listed in my squad of the decade. Lawrence Shankland I hear you cry? Probably as close as we have had, but for now it is too soon to have him in a list like the one above. I would also argue that players who play in his role and that have been included ahead of him, did so by proving themselves in the top-flight and in European competition. Shankland will get there but it is too early for me.

I tried to get a balance of good players and good servants and I also wanted to balance out the bench as much as possible. Of the list above, possibly Buaben or Robertson could come in for John Rankin and maybe Watson for Dillon but otherwise I am pretty happy with my selection.

Are you? Let me know, I am sure you will!

It has been a hell of a decade, hopefully we see more of the early 2010s type stuff rather than the later years. As we move forward and aim for promotion in 2020, here is to the next ten years (well, if the world is still in one piece).

The ‘Team of Shame’ –

So to end I was also going to have a secondary team. The ‘Team of Shame’. However, my energy levels with regards to writing about players who I thought were mince, isn’t particularly high and I quite like following United at the moment so I don’t want to dampen my own mood and the mood of all who read this.

Do you really want me to write about people like Adam Barton, Emil Lyng and MichaƂ Szromnik?

No. You don’t.

Let’s finish on a high. Here are a few pictures to cheer you all up.

Enjoy…