Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement has given us a good reason to cast our minds back over his 26 year tenure and pick what we think is his strongest team from all those years in charge at the Theatre of Dreams.
Each and every one of the following players will have experienced the great man’s infamous hairdryer treatment at some stage, and some certainly left Old Trafford not on the best of terms with their gaffer.
Here’s who we picked, with the reasons why – but as ever with these lists, it’s only one opinion and we would welcome your views to the contrary.
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Peter Schmeichel – Quite simply the best. The Great Dane was an absolute colossus in his eight years between the sticks, culminating in him being captain of the team that won the treble in 1999. Voted the world’s best keeper in 1992 and 1993. Oh, and who can forget his legendary tussles with Ian Wright…
Gary Neville – One of Fergie’s fledglings, and another who went on to skipper the side with distinction, Neville was a one-club man who is still England’s most capped right-back. His hatred of Liverpool was legendary, but with eight league titles to his name, not to mention countless other trophies, Phil’s big brother was certainly Mr Consistent.
Jaap Stam – One of those who Fergie fell out with due to comments in his autobiography, and which hastened his departure from Manchester, the giant Dutchman formed a brilliant partnership with Ronnie Johnsen. Equally adept in the air and with his feet, he surprisingly only spent three seasons at Old Trafford.
Nemanja Vidic – The Serbian gets the nod over Pallister/Bruce/Ferdinand due to his powerful and consistent performances. Another one to skipper the side in recent seasons, and has survived Fergie at Old Trafford, although injuries are starting to affect his career.
Denis Irwin – Undoubtedly one of, if not the best left-back to play in the Premier League. Lighting pace down the left made him a real handful going forward, and he was a brilliant free-kick taker that got him more than his fair share of goals.
Cristiano Ronaldo – For many, arguably already one of the all-time greats of the world game, despite being only 28. Enjoyed a close relationship with Sir Alex and still does to this day. Pace, trickery, great in the air and a mean free-kick artist. Ronaldo has it all – except perhaps for humility, and the ability to know when enough is enough with the hair gel.
Roy Keane – Like Stam, his United exodus was far from cordial, but his fiery character and unflinching commitment to the cause made him the player he was. Remembered particularly for his battles with Patrick Vieira at Arsenal, Keane was a United captain who demanded everything from his troops. His selfless display in the 1999 Champions League semi-final resulted in a card that saw him banned for the final – the Irishman thoroughly merited his place on the greatest stage of all.
Paul Scholes – Like Fergie, announced his retirement only to find the pull of Old Trafford too much to resist. Lauded by the likes of Zidane and Gerrard as the greatest midfielder they ever played against, the ‘ginger ninja’s’ incredible passing and powerful shot won many a game. Rarely had a poor game, and is set to call it a day at the end of this campaign.
Ryan Giggs – United’s longest serving player, and another Fergie fledgling like Neville and Scholes. The boss said his mazy runs gave defenders “twisted blood”, and who would argue? Still playing in his 40th year and set for at least one more season, the Welshman is United’s most decorated player of all time. And don’t forget his goal to knock Arsenal out of the FA Cup in their 1999 semi-final replay – wow.
Eric Cantona – The Frenchman is often hailed as being the key to United’s renaissance. Like Keane, he had a fiery temperament and was never far from controversy. Blessed with a touch of genius, King Eric could do things that most fellow professionals could only dream about. The swagger and puffed out chest marked him out as a firm fan favourite – the United faithful still sing his name at every home game.
Ruud Van Nistelrooy – The Dutchman was another to fall out with Fergie before leaving for Real Madrid, but having waited to sign him after a career-threatening injury, United got more than their money’s worth. Didn’t score too many from outside the box, but what a finisher.
Edwin Van der Sar – Fergie always said he regretted not signing the Dutchman earlier in his career – unlucky to miss out but a more than able deputy to Schmeichel.
Gary Palllister – Part of the famed partnership with Steve Bruce, Pallister’s aerial ability marked him out as a defensive rock.
Bryan Robson – Fergie’s Captain Marvel – another midfield dynamo that got goals as well. The former England captain is unlucky to miss out to Keane, but injuries affected his time under Fergie.
Andrei Kanchelskis – Phenomenal pace and skill, the Russian’s inclusion might surprise a few, but was a great watch for this observer.
David Beckham – Wore the number seven shirt prior to Ronaldo’s arrival and another quite brilliant talent. Only misses out because of the Portuguese’s exceptional ability.
Mark Hughes – The powerful Welshman made scoring look easy – from both inside and outside the box.
Ole Gunnar Soslsjkaer – The Norwegian is the original United ‘supersub’ – could always be relied on to come on and score.