The Greatest XI of Manchester United

Choosing the greatest team is never an easy task, some find it impossible to do so, arguing that talent is a subjective concept that cannot be ranked while, others take on the challenge in hopes of pleasing those who read it. I find myself the luckiest of them all having to choose from only Manchester United and to satisfy United fans, an adventure so niche it would be difficult not to please anyone.

With times gone by and the sheer history at Manchester United some will surely wish the players were immortal, allowed to play on and on without any recourse or prejudice. Some players truly do deserve this; as emotionally difficult it is to be selective, there are many players on this list who will sadly be left out, but their service to United, talent, ability, loyalty and presence will never be forgotten.

Because we are United.

The list

Before I go on naming a few legends and making people happy all round, I am going to need a formation to mold the players into. I am going with the 4-2-3-1 formation that I seem to see employed successfully at a select few clubs. It’s so versatile that it allows a lot more players into the list and opens up discussion.

Goalkeeper

This choice was a lot more difficult that I thought. But Schmeichel is a winner owing to his command of the area and morale boosting presence on the field. His defining moment (alongside Giggs) was the penalty save against Dennis Bergkamp in the FA Cup Semi-Final that saw us then win the Cup, League and the European Cup. A single moment that changed the history of United and its standing on the international stage.

A fearless character who had the distribution that every goalkeeper in the world envied, Schmeichel defined the attributes a world-class goalkeeper should have.

Special mention: Alex Stepney, my grandfather has never mentioned any other goalkeeper than the first goalkeeper in England to win the European Cup medal.

Right Back

The only man who made Sir Bobby Charlton feel inferior. A  career shrouded by what could have been, Edwards has had universal praise for fine passing and shooting ability and also overcame criticism of his lack of pace to become a wing-back. At the tender age of 21 he had 177 appearances and 21 goals, Gary Neville has 7 goals in over 600 games.

He truly was one of the Busby Babes, a talent raised and nurtured through the youth system he would have made England proud and would have definitely raised  the World Cup alongside Bobby Charlton.

Special mention: Gary Neville, although a far more significant player at United owing to his sheer loyalty to the club, Edwards’ potential really would have outclassed Neville.

Centre-back

25 years of unbroken service to Manchester United. This alone symbolises who a Manchester United player should be. Criminally allowed only one international game for England, Bill Foulkes is truly an exclusive club legend. And by God are United proud of him.

A survivor of the Munich disaster, Bill Foulkes captained United during one our most difficult times, gaining four league titles and the ’68 European Cup. An unsung hero of Manchester United.

Centre-back

Another United player who was criminally not selected for the England national team, Steve Bruce was the hard-man. A ball playing defender who knew how to control the ball better than any defender even today, all of Bruce’s 51 goals for Manchester United are well deserved for this ability.

An all-round player, Steve Bruce was the first player in the 20th century to captain a team to the Double. Surely one of the best English players never to play for country.

Special mentions: Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic. What these two achieved at the club is synonymous with what Pallister and Bruce did during the 90’s. United have been blessed with some of the world’s best defenders.

Left Back

Like Edwards, Dennis Irwin was a very adventurous full-back who enjoyed taking fierce shots from outside the area or cutting in from the flanks to provide square passes.

But Irwin’s jack in the box was his penalty taking ability, a trait non-existent in defenders of modern times. He was also one of the most consistent players United has ever had, every bit more impressive was the fact that he was right-footed and yet dominated the left flank. A set-piece taker of the highest quality, it took the likes of Beckham to upstage his place as the primary free-kick taker.

Special mention: Patrice Evra, although he still has a few years in him, Patrice Evra isn’t considered as one of the world’s best left-backs as a joke. Roger Bryne also gets a mention for effectively creating the wing-back role that most modern defenders adopt.

Right Midfield

It would be a cliché to relate to his last name, but he just was. The Best. A legend of Manchester United by his own right, George Best possessed two of the most blessed feet in the world. His control, touch, finishing, anticipation and intelligence on the field allowed him to slice through any defense set up to counter him.

His off-field antics and on field talent was the key to him becoming one of the first superstars of football, a tradition that Manchester United has kept for years and years in the form of many footballers.

Some say he left United too early at the age of 27, while others consider that he left with a high note. Regardless of what he did, he was a genius and a true icon for 60’s football and will never be matched by anyone at United ever again.

Special mention: Cristiano Ronaldo, probably the modern version of George Best. A player that Sir Alex Ferguson effectively made, he will also go down as one of the greatest players in United’s history.

Midfield

The man who only does his talking on the pitch. That picture above was chosen for a reason. He is a player who can silence anyone and force them to just watch him work his magic. This is Paul Scholes, a man who has no equal in England or in the world. A man who has had praise from Thierry Henry to Zidane and from Arsene Wenger to Glenn Hoddle, he’s a player with immaculate vision and passing and a right foot to die for.

He has had his critics for his tackling but his role and purpose on the field bares no resemblance to any form of midfielder present in his prime or today. He is a unique player with a unique talent and can never be compared to any footballer. Paul Scholes has set a standard of a genuine playmaker and one that initiates attacking movement rather than just provide the final pass for an assist.

At the age of 36, it looks like he still has a few years in him.

Special mention: Although a right midfielder, Beckham would never really fit in the winger role established here, and must be placed in the central role he played in many games for United.

Midfield

As with salt and pepper, to Paul Scholes is Roy Keane. A combative midfielder who had a limitless store of energy, Roy Keane is the epitome of the term ‘captain fantastic’. A player who possessed no significant ‘unique’ talent when compared to the players in this list, Keane’s no-nonsense approach and morale boosting presence qualifies him to be one of the best captains in United’s history.

I must admit it may seem naive of me to consider that he had no ‘game-changing’ ability, but above any talent that he did have, he had a voice. And by God did he use it.

Special mention: Bryan Robson, an almost identical player to Roy Keane. Robson’s greatest assets were his motivational influence, amazing stamina, quick to the tackle and he possessed great passing skills as well as a powerful shot and heading ability.

Left Midfield

Can there be anyone else? Everything in the book says no. The most decorated player in the history of domestic football, Ryan Giggs was as equally blessed with feet as George Best.

The Welshman has gone onto define what a winger should be, although he never quite achieved the finishing qualities of George Best, Giggs compromised by becoming a solid set-piece taker and above all a role model for sportsmanship.

Ryan Giggs has never been sent off while playing for Manchester United and has only once been red-card for a second bookable offence for Wales. A career that has seen him dominate every form of football, Ryan Giggs is truly one of the greatest wingers the world will see.

Special Mention: Cristiano Ronaldo, this is for the younger fans who have never seen Giggs in his prime (although it still feels like he plays as though he in in his hay-days). Ronaldo was fabulous in the respect that he changed the way Sir Alex approached the game. And was so versatile he could be chosen last on the team and still perform well anywhere in the final 3rd.

Attacking Midfield


Who else than the legendary Sir Bobby Charlton?

Acclaimed as one of the world’s greatest soccer players ever and certainly one of England’s finest players ever.

He was a prolific goal scorer with an individualistic style of play, noted for his long runs and precision with a soccer ball. By the age of nineteen he had already played in the FA Cup Final, he was a midfield player with a powerful kick and a natural feel for football, a trequartista with great skill, accuracy and consistency.

For the whole length of his professional career, he was not once sent off the football pitch. Twenty years after his last professional appearance as a player for United, “Sir Bobby” is still remembered and revered as a supreme sportsman and gentleman footballer.

Striker

How can I not complete the Trinity? Together with George Best and Sir Bobby Charlton, Dennis Law was the only player who could have made this team any better.

Law is regarded as one of the most lethal strikers of his generation, scoring countless goals with his agile techniques and superb aerial plays. He had extremely sharp reflexes, and this, coupled with his superb awareness of his surroundings and his anticipation, made him one of the most intelligent players ever seen.

The King as we love to call him was a complete player who could actually be placed anywhere on the field and thrived under the challenges he was faced by.

It was shame he played for City, otherwise he is the closest person to a perfect striker United will ever have.

Special mention: Dennis Viollet and Ruud van Nistelrooy. Both players were natural goalscorers and had the ability to run down any defense the world had to offer.

The Greatest XI of Manchester United

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