Now here’s something that is sure to start a number of discussions. Football is, and has always been a matter of opinion, this will prove to be no different
The Sun, 17 May 2009
ALEX FERGUSON sealed his place as the greatest manager in British football history by leading Manchester United to a record-equalling 18th league championship.
The Scottish manager has steered the Red Devils to 11 titles under his stewardship and has produced some of the best club sides ever.
And now, to celebrate the 67-year-old’s remarkable legacy, SunSport has put together the best eleven players we think have had the biggest impact during his time as boss.
The players listed had to have been signed by Fergie, or brought through the United youth system during his time at the club.
Had a poor start to the 1998-9 season and Fergie gave him a two-week midwinter sunshine break.
Came back with a vengeance and a string of crucial, heart-stopping saves followed – none more important than the 92nd-minute Dennis Bergkamp penalty he blocked in the 1999 FA Cup semi-final replay. Ryan Giggs scored the hairy-chest wonder goal and United went on to do the Treble.
Right-back: Gary Neville
Under-rated grafter whose marauding runs down the right wing have gone largely unnoticed over the years. Particularly in the second half of the 90s, he offered United pace, rock-solid determination and steel.
The way Neville bombed down the flanks and went on overlapping runs cutting defences to shreds was key to United’s title triumphs.
Jose Antonio Reyes’ Arsenal career was effectively ended – as was the Invincibles’ run of 49 games – after he got the full Gary Neville treatment at Old Trafford in October 2004.
Centre-back: Rio Ferdinand
The most expensive centre-half in the history of British football has lived up to his £30million price-tag as he helped Ferguson forget Gary Pallister.
Dead calm on the ball but has never been shy of lumping it when necessary. Prone to high-profile clangers like the notorious nine-month ban for ‘forgetting’ to take a drugs test and leaving the training ground to go shopping.
Centre-back: Nemanja Vidic
Serb destroyer came in to form a great partnership with Rio that made fans forget the Gary Pallister-Steve Bruce connection.
Giant bruiser gave Ferguson a massive aerial presence as well as bone-crunching authority.
But his nightmare against Fernando Torres in the 1-4 routing by Liverpool at Old Trafford cost him this season’s PFA Footballer of the Year award.
Left-back: Denis Irwin
Who would have thought that the best left-back in United’s history was actually right-footed? Yet the Irish international never looked out of place and he was Mr Consistent.
Irwin slotted in quietly in a star-studded United team and even though he had limited talent his work-rate and appetite for the game allowed him a trophy-laden career at one of the world’s great clubs.
Right midfield: Cristiano Ronaldo
Wonderfully talented, supremely gifted, terrifically athletic, dashing Portu-geezer could rightly be considered Ferguson’s greatest-ever signing.
Yet critics brand him a flawed genius with some justification. As good as he is, in equal measure he can also be a petulant, petty, poser.
But he’s the only man in United’s illustrious history to be voted World Player of the Year after scoring 42 goals and leading them to a European Cup and League double last season. Enough said.
Central midfield: Paul Scholes
It’s no coincidence United’s renaissance in the last couple of years has coincided with Scholesy’s return to action after a long absence with a mystery eye problem.
Formed a formidable central midfield pairing with Roy Keane.
As gifted a player as Nicky Butt was, he couldn’t get a game and finally left United before his prime. Sums up how good Scholes is.
Central midfield: Roy Keane
People remember him for his thuggish behaviour – Alf Inge Haalland in particular will be haunted by the Irishman whom he accused of ending his career with a criminal tackle in a derby with Manchester City.
His hounding of referee Andy D’Urso for rightly awarding a penalty to Middlesbrough with his veins bulging with hatred shocked the nation.
But I also remember the lightning-quick 50-yard box-to-box runs that won United games as well as the header that signalled their comeback in Turin in the 1999 European Cup semi-final against Juventus.
A terrific midfield destroyer and one of the best captains in English football history.
Left midfield: Ryan Giggs
The greatest player in Manchester United’s history.
Not easy to put these words next to anyone’s name but the Welsh wizard is head and shoulders above any other United man.
He has charisma, class, poise, panache, pizzazz and power. His winner in the 1999 FA Cup semi-final against Arsenal was poetry in motion – and the hairy-chest celebration as he waved his shirt above his head truly unforgettable.
Had the looks AND the world-class talent but, unlike others less gifted than him who are prone to hogging the limelight, Giggsy chose to stay true to football.
And that’s why he stayed the course. He has won more honours than ANY other United player. A true gent who finally got his reward by being named PFA Footballer of the Year this season.
Centre forward: Eric Cantona
Will be haunted for ever by his mad kung-fu kick against his Crystal Palace abuser one sad night in 1995.
But he will also be remembered for his comeback goal from the spot in a 2-2 draw against Liverpool after a nine-month ban and his sliding-pole celebration behind the goal.
It signalled United’s surge in the league as they overhauled a 12-point deficit to pip Newcastle to the title.
Apart from scoring vital goals in that campaign, he also provided the killer assist for Andy Cole’s winner at St James’ Park that floored the Magpies. Magnifique.
Centre forward: Ruud van Nistelrooy
The Dutch goal-machine banged 44 goals in his first season and 36 in his second. It wasn’t just the numbers, it was his reliability and lethal poise that left rival defences quaking in his wake.
Too strong a personality and like fellow Dutchman Jaap Stam was shipped out of Old Trafford when still in his prime after falling out with Ferguson.
United haven’t found a 30-goals-a-season striker since he left despite splashing £31m on Dimitar Berbatov as well as signing Carlos Tevez for a £10m two-year loan. That says it all.
GK: Edwin van der Sar: Broke the all-time record for consecutive clean sheets this season.
D: Gary Pallister: Solid bedrock in the earlier glory years of Fergie at Old Trafford.
D: Steve Bruce: His last-minute goal at Sheffield Wednesday in 1993 changed United’s history.
M: Nicky Butt: Immaculate product of the United youth team unlucky to be in Scholes’ shadow.
M: Paul Ince: Embodied United’s determination to win trophies and drove them forward.
F: Ole Gunnar Solskjaer: Super-sub banged last-gasp jaw-dropping winner against Bayern Munich in Barcelona.
F: Wayne Rooney: Has sacrificed himself selflessly over the years for the good of the team. Greatness beckons.
My love affair with Manchester United began very shortly after I migrated to Australia with my family in 1956.
Football had already been my passion but being isolated in a country where it meant nothing to anyone except fellow migrants, I began following English football closely through subscription magazines like the Charles Buchan Football Monthly and World Soccer which incidentally, I've still got stored away after more than 50 years.
The Munich disaster happened when I was 15 years old and the bond was formed. Matt Busby, Bobby Charlton and others became childhood heroes. The FA Cup was won just 5 years later then, when that was followed by the European Cup in 1968, the love affair was complete!
With George Best in 1991
Throw in legends like Denis Law and George Best into the mix and it’s not hard to imagine why the club became part of my life even though I was living thousands of miles away from Old Trafford.
The many events connected with the club in the years since has only cemented a connection which will remain until the end of my days.