With Manchester United taking the lead in the transfer market, having spent about 50 million pounds on three players, and their rivals, Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool, yet to splash the cash, I thought I’d come up with a list of who I believe are Sir Alex’s top 10 buys in his United career. The list is an opinion so there may be a few names that many would not have on their list and will probably be a host of players that people think should be on the list that aren’t. The players I have chosen, I believe, have brought something to the team and helped create the success that Fergie has enjoyed during his time as United manager, thus someone like Rio Ferdinand, United’s most expensive player ever, has not made the list. This does not mean I think that he is a bad player, Rio is a great player who brings an assurance to the defence, but I think he has not been one of the top 10 buys that Fergie has made. So here’s the list, in no particular order.
1. Mark Hughes. The Welsh forward, now managing Blackburn and doing a very good job of it, was brought back to United by Sir Alex, having been sold to Barcelona, and having a loan spell at Bayern Munchen. Sir Alex has said that he would never have sold Hughes had he been the manager at the time, speaking volumes of his admiration for the Welsh Dragon. Hughes, although not a prolific goal scorer, led the line better then anyone in his day. If the ball was there to be won, he won it. He held on to possession no matter what form of physical abuse he was up against, always getting up, dusting himself off, and getting on with it. It was said that Hughes was not a great goal scorer, but a scorer of great goals.While this may have been true it should not be underestimated that Hughes was a scorer of important goals. During the FA Cup semi final in against Oldham in 1994, with United a goal down at time just about up, there was only one player you wanted the ball to drop to, only one player who could execute a difficult volley, with a defender on top of him, under that kind of pressure – and Hughes delivered. Just as he had in the Cup Winners Cup final a few years earlier, against Barca, scoring both goals in a 2-1 win.
2. Steve Bruce. The centre back, bought from Norwich, formed the back bone of one of the best defences in United, and English football, history. Partnering Gary Pallister for much of Fergies early success, Bruce was an uncompromising centre half who would have played with a broken leg if the team needed him to. Best remembered for two late headers that won the match against Sheffield Wednesday, the game that was the turning point in United winning their first league title for 26 years, and started United’s league dominance of the 90’s. Was captain of a United team that is considered one of the toughest, in terms of mental and physical strength, teams in United history, with players such as Hughes, Ince, Pallister, Robson, Schmiechel, Cantona and Bruce. It is a mystery how he was never capped by England, considering these days player;s such as Zat Knight at Fulham have worn the Three Lions shirt. Bruce is currently managing Birmingham, and has just guided them back into the Premier League.
3. Gary Pallister. Arrived at United from MIddlesbrough for a then record fee. After struggling with the pressure of his big move during the early part of his United career, blossomed into one of the best centre halves in the game. Should have won more the 22 caps he did for England. Formed the best centre back pairing, during Fergies years, alongside Steve Bruce. United won 4 league titles, 3 FA Cups, a League Cup and Cup Winners Cup, during Pally’s time at the heart of their defence.
4. Denis Irwin. The Irish defender, bought from Oldham, will probably go down as one of the best full backs in the Premierships history. Played as both a left and right full back, together with Schmiechel, Paul Parker, Bruce and Pallister, formed what is regarded as the best defensive team of Alex Furgesons time in charge. Carried on playing for United until the age of 37, when he moved to Wolves for the last 2 years of his playing career. Dubbed “Mr Dependable” Irwin was usually one of the first names pencilled in for any United squad and always gave a solid performance. During his time at United he won 7 league titles as well as 3 FA Cups, a League Cup, a Cup Winners Cup, and the Champions League. He was a member of the
treble team of ’99.
5.Peter Schmeichel. The Great Dane is arguably the best goalkeeper ever, and certainly in the Premier League. Ended Fergie’s search for a top class keeper, and when he left in ’99 it took the signing of Edwin van der Saar to finally find a replacement for him. He holds the record for the best games to clean sheet ratio in the Premier League with 42%. In 2000 Fergie described the price paid for Schemiecle, 530 000 pounds from Brondby, as the bargain of the century. With Roy Keane suspended Schemiechel captained United in the Champions League Final, his final game for the club, and the final piece in the treble winning season.
6. Eric Cantona. Bought from Leeds, when Howard Wilkinson phoned to enquire about buying Denis Irwin, Cantona was the catalyst to United ending their 26 year wait for the League title, and kicked off their period of dominance in the 90’s. Cantona brought class and sophistication to a talented team that thought it was cursed to never win the league. He was voted United’s greatest ever player. A controversial figure, who is best remembered by those outside United for his kung fu kick at a Crystal Palace fan after being sent off in the match, and was later suspended for 8 months. Cantona retired at 30, wanting to finish at the top rather than fade away. Accused by some of not being influential enough in European games, an accusation that has been pointed at Thierry Henry these days, and not making it as an international player after a fall out with the French Football authorities, Cantona will always be remembered by United fans for what he did on the pitch for them and not his failing elsewhere. Cantona was instrumental in bringing a professional attitude to the players coming through at the time, Beckham, Scholes, Butt and the Nevilles amongst them.
7. Ole Gunner Solsjaer. The Norwegian forward arrived at United an unknown from Molde. He ’99 he scored the dramatic winner against Bayern in the Champions League Final. He will always be a hero at United for that very reason. It’s everything else he’s done that will see him go down as one of the best purchases ever made. In his debut season he scored 18 goals as United went on to win the title. He earned the nick name the “Baby Face Assassin” during that season, because of his youthful looks and his deadly displays in front of goal. During the ’99 season United accepted an offer from Spurs for Ole, but the Norwegian turned them down, determined to fight for his place at United. That season ended with his winning goal in Europe. Solskjaer has fought off the challenges of many forwards during his time at United and is still there today. He went through a 3 year period of serious injury to play his part in the title winning team of this season. Solskjaer is a favourite of fans, staff and players at United, and at 33 years old is still one of the best finishers in the game.
8. Roy Keane. Bought for a British record fee of 3.75 million pounds from Nottingham Forrest. The Irish international became one of the best players of the modern era and one of the most inspirational in United’s history. Keane took over the captains arm band when Cantona retired. United won 4 league titles under his captaincy and 7 in all. Keane expected, and often got 110% from his team mates whether in training or in a match. Although playing in a glamourless role of defence midfielder, Keane will go down as one of the best players in the history of the game. His reading of the game, and match situations, more then made up for what he lacked in skill. Keane is currently managing Sunderland, whom he led back into the Premiership by winning the Championship in his first season as a manager. He is seen as a potential United manager of the future.
9 Christiano Ronaldo. The recent winner of all the individual awards up for grabs this past season, Ronaldo has developed from a player of much potential, to one of the best in the world. After a pre season that saw his United future in jeopardy, following the Wayne Rooney incident at the World Cup, Ronaldo has put in the type of displays that make United fans hope he stays at the club forever, and opposition fans wonder how to stop him. His ball control and speed make him a full backs nightmare, and he has been the main reason for United wrestling back their title from Chelsea. With the peak of his playing days still to come Ronaldo could be the jewel in Uniteds crown for many years to come, and hopefully take their challenge in Europe to the heights of ’99. Still young and able to improve, the levels he could reach are frightening. Lets hope that they are realised at Old Trafford.
10 Edwin van der Saar. United have tried 10 different keepers since Schemiechel left and, until Edwin arrived, had failed to fill the Great Danes void. Edwin brought a calmness to a defence that has proved vulnerable in pressure situations and many at United will have wished that he had arrived earlier in his career. It was the arrival of Edwin that allowed United to stop the slide that had begun after their 2003 title win, and to finally win back their trophy and stop Chelsea from matching United’s 3 successive title wins. The Dutch cap record holder may not have many years left at the top, but his short spell at United has been an influential one.
There are players at United today who will someday I believe challenge those on this list for their spots, but for now they have not done enough to justify being here. Wayne Rooney may be a controversial omission, but he will in time prove to be one of United’s best ever buys, while if there was one more place on the list it would go to Ruud van Nistelrooy, who I believe should be on the list but could not find someone to remove. Another who will, I believe, prove to be a great United player is Vidic, while Foster, Anderson, Nani and Hargreaves will no doubt prove to be great buys. As always not everyone could make the list, so feel free to leave comments of any you think should be on or who should not