Stretford-End XI: Peter Schmeichel, Gary Neville, Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic, Denis Irwin, George Best, Paul Scholes, Roy Keane, Ryan Giggs, Eric Cantona, Ruud van Nistelrooy
Subs: Edwin van der Sar, Patrice Evra, Jaap Stam, Sir Bobby Charlton, Cristiano Ronaldo, Denis Law, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer
The Great Dane. Few would argue that Peter Schmeichel was one of the greatest goalkeepers of all time. To this day he still holds the Premier League record for clean sheets-to-games ratio at 42 percent. Schmeichel was an integral part to United’s rise in the 1990s under Sir Alex Ferguson. During his time at Old Trafford from 1991-1999, Schmeichel earned five Premier League titles, three FA Cup titles, and a Champions League title. Schmeichel was of course the man in goal when United won the Treble in 1999, which was his final season with the club.
Sitting at fifth place for all time appearances, Gary Neville has represented Manchester United on 599 occasions. No right back has made more appearances in the club’s illustrious history. Neville was part of the United squad during the club’s most successful era, which included the 1999 Treble and 2008 Champions League. Neville was named captain of the club in 2005, and although the armband has since been handed to Nemanja Vidic, Neville remains the off-the-field captain. Neville’s involvement has decreased in recent seasons, and it is widely believed that he will hang up his boots at the conclusion of this season.
In July 2002, Rio Ferdinand became the world’s most expensive defender after joining Manchester United for a £33 million transfer fee. He has become one of the club’s most influential players, and his current partnership with Nemanja Vidic in the heart of defence is one of the best ever. His honours since joining United include an impressive four Premier League titles and the 2008 Champions League. Ferdinand was recently awarded the honour of being named captain of England.
The current captain of Manchester United, Nemanja Vidic has become one of the world’s premier centre backs during his time at Old Trafford. He signed for the club in January 2006 for a transfer fee worth £7 million, which has proved to be a bargain. Vidic has been a rock at the back and his partnership with Rio Ferdinand is arguably the best in the world. In 2008-09, he was named the Sir Matt Busby Player of the Year. Vidic lifted his first trophy as captain when United beat Chelsea in the 2010 Community Shield.
Another player in the top ten for appearances, Denis Irwin played 529 matches for Manchester United. He scored 33 goals in his time at Old Trafford, which is an impressive statistic for a left back. Irwin played a crucial role in United’s rise to success in the 1990s and was the club’s left back when the Treble was won in 1999. Even in his mid-thirties, Irwin was the preferred left back for Sir Alex Ferguson. Irwin’s honours include seven Premier League titles, three FA Cup titles, and a Champions League title. He still has close ties with the club working as a presenter for MUTV.
“Maradona good. Pele better. George Best.” What more can be said about this legend? Few would argue that George Best was among the greatest to ever play. Best scored 32 goals in 1967-68, the most from a Manchester United midfielder until Cristiano Ronaldo in 2007-08. That season, he scored a goal in the final as he helped United become the first English club to lift the European Cup. Best left the club in 1974 with 179 goals in 470 appearances. Best still holds the record for most goals in a single game with six against Northampton Town in 1970; a record which he shares with Harold Halse. At this point of the feature, we usually say where they are now. Sadly, Best suffered from alcoholism most of his life, and in 2005 passed away from a liver transplant rejection at the age of 59.
For nearly two decades Paul Scholes has been a fixture in the Manchester United midfield. He has made 649 appearances for the club, which is fourth all time. Scholes was one of Fergie’s Fledglings and is a rare breed of one-club men. He is arguably one of the best passers ever, and his passing is still capable of unlocking any defence. Scholes is also a capable goalscorer known for his outside-the-box scorchers, though his goals have decreased in recent seasons. Perhaps the only criticism to his game is poorly timed tackles. At the age of 36, Scholes continues to perform at the highest level. His honours include an incredible nine Premier League titles, three FA Cup titles, and two Champions League titles.
There may never have been a more dominating force in midfield than Roy Keane. Another record signing for the club, Keane spent 12 successful seasons at Old Trafford making 480 appearances. In 1997, he was named United’s captain, a title which he maintained until his departure for Celtic in 2005. His intense competitive and passionate attitude made him a fan favourite at Old Trafford. Perhaps Keane’s best performance in a United shirt was the 1999 Champions League semi-final second leg. Trailing by two against Juventus, Keane was inspirational as he led United to a 3-2 victory and a spot in the final. Keane moved into management following his retirement, leading Sunderland to promotion in 2007. He is the current manager of Ipswich Town.
No one has made more appearances for Manchester United than Ryan Giggs. He is the only to have scored in every Premier League campaign and is the most decorated player in the history of English football. Making his debut in 1990, Giggs has gone on to make a record 851 appearances and score 156 goals. His honours with the club include 11 Premier League titles, four FA Cup titles, and two Champions League titles. His goal against Arsenal in the 1999 FA Cup semi-final is still one of the most impressive individual goals ever. At the age of 37, he is still an important player for the club as they chase a record 19th league title. Giggs has spent more than half of his life with United, and there may never be a more loyal and iconic player at Old Trafford.
The second “King of the Stretford End” is none other than Eric Cantona. He was an artist on the field and a philosopher off it. His charisma endeared him to the United faithful and he remains an icon in the club’s history. Cantona was an important part of United’s return to glory in the 1990s with 82 goals in 185 appearances. The quality of his goals was far more impressive than the quantity. His chip against Sunderland in 1996 was a stunning goal, and the celebration perfectly illustrated the aura he had. In the 1996 FA Cup Final, Cantona scored a spectacular volley against arch-rivals Liverpool which won the title. His honours include four Premier League titles and two FA Cup victories. Cantona said in 2004, “I’m so proud the fans still sing my name, but I fear tomorrow they will stop. I fear it because I love it. And everything you love, you fear you will lose.” The fans continue to sing his name to this day.
Ruud van Nistelrooy
The opposing 18-yard box was home for Ruud van Nistelrooy during his stay at Old Trafford. Van Nistelrooy was the perfect example of a poacher and astonishingly scored 150 goals in only 219 appearances. He currently holds the record as United’s all-time top scorer in Europe. Van Nistelrooy scored more than 30 goals in three of his five seasons with the club, including 2002-03 when he scored 44 – the second most goals scored in a single season for the club. He left the club in 2006 for Real Madrid after five seasons. Van Nistelrooy is currently playing for Hamburg in Germany.
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