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The 15 greatest Manchester United players of all time

Manchester United have been blessed with some of the greatest footballers of all time, enshrined in history as true legends.

Ballon d’Or winners, European Cup winners, league winners – the club has had some of the best in the business don the hallowed red jersey.

Here’s a humble attempt to list 15 footballers who we believe epitomised what it meant to play for United.

15. Roger Byrne

(Photo by Lee/Central Press/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Roger Byrne was the most ideal captain that Sir Matt Busby could have asked for.

Manchester-born and bred, Byrne was the proverbial ‘father figure’ of the Busby Babes.

The England international helped United with their first league title in 40 years in the 1951-52 season, which was also Sir Matt’s first league title as manager.

A full-back who could also occasionally play as centre-back, Byrne played 33 times for England.

Aged just 28, Byrne sadly passed away in the Munich Air Disaster in 1958.

14. Rio Ferdinand

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At £30 million, Rio Ferdinand became the most expensive defender in the world when Sir Alex Ferguson brought him to Old Trafford from Leeds United in 2002.

That said, United got their money’s worth, and more, from the former England centre-back.

Six Premier League titles and a Champions League winners’ medal are testimony to Ferdinand’s rock solid presence at the back for United.

13. Peter Schmeichel

(Photo: Alex Livesey/Allsport)

Peter Schmeichel was bought by Ferguson for £505,000 in 1991 from Brøndby.

Ferguson later described the amount as the ‘bargain of the century’.

Schmeichel was omnipresent in goal for United in the 1990s, which was arguably the club’s most successful era in its 143-year history.

The Danish football legend won five league titles at Old Trafford. He was also a part of the legendary squad that won the historic treble in the 1998-99 season.

Schmeichel would have perhaps ranked a bit higher on this list had he not moved to Manchester City in his later career.

12. Gary Neville

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There have been few players in Manchester United’s history who have been as passionate about the club as Gary Neville.

A United academy graduate from the famed ‘Class of 92’, Neville was United’s undisputed right-back throughout his career.

Neville won a staggering eight Premier League titles at United and is one of three Reds to have won two Champions League titles.

Often cited as the ‘least talented’ among his peers, Neville’s longevity is proof of what an underrated player he was.

Blessed with an analytical mind, Neville currently is one of the most respected football pundits in the world.

11. Roy Keane

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He may not have had the flair of Zinedine Zidane or the vision of Xavi, but few midfielders in the game’s history ‘got the job done’ quite like Roy Keane.

A typical no-nonsense box-to-box midfielder, Keane was instrumental in United dominating English football in the 1990s and 2000s.

A great leader and an even better captain, Keane won seven Premier League titles at Old Trafford.

His performance in the 1998-99 Champions League semi-final against Juventus in Turin is widely regarded as one of the great captain’s performances in recent memory.

It did not end well, but for however long Keane was at Old Trafford, it was brilliant.

10. Bryan Robson

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Bryan Robson was Ferguson’s first great skipper.

A driving force at Old Trafford who practically carried the club single-handedly in the 1980s, Robson was the catalyst in Ferguson’s early success as United manager.

Captain Marvel, as he was popularly known during his playing days, Robson was, for the large part of his United career, the first name on the team sheet which goes to show how much the manager trusted him.

9. Duncan Edwards

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How good was Duncan Edwards can be gauged by the fact that he already had over 150 appearances for United at the age of 21.

Edwards sadly passed away in the Munich Air Disaster in 1958. By then, he was tipped to be a future England and United captain.

“He was the only player who made me feel inferior,” said Sir Bobby Charlton on Edwards. 

“Duncan was without doubt the best player to ever come out of this place, and there’s been some competition down the years.

“He was colossal, and I wouldn’t use that word to describe anyone else. He had such presence – he dominated every game all over the pitch.

“Had he lived, he would have been the best player in the world. He was sensational, and it is difficult to convey that.

“It is sad there isn’t enough film to show today’s youngsters just how good he was.” 

8. Cristiano Ronaldo

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Cristiano Ronaldo signed for United as an 18-year-old in 2003 and left in 2009 as the world’s most expensive footballer.

Ronaldo’s meteoric rise at United helped United win three consecutive Premier League titles between 2007 and 2009 with a Champions League sandwiched in between.

In that period, Ronaldo also became the third United player to win the prestigious Ballon d’Or award.

Fast forward to 2021, the prodigal son returned to Old Trafford for a second time, signing a two-year contract at the club.

7. Wayne Rooney

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A hat-trick and an assist in the Champions League; there has never been a better performance from a United player.

He joined the club in 2004 at the age of 18 and by the time he left the club in 2017, he had won five Premier League titles and a Champions League title among other honours.

But what cemented his legacy as one of the greatest United players of all time was when he surpassed Sir Bobby Charlton as the highest goal scorer in the club’s illustrious history with 253 goals.

6. Eric Cantona

(Photo by Shaun Botterill/Allsport/Getty Images)

A steal at £1.2 million, Eric Cantona completely changed the dynamics of the club.

He is highly regarded as the missing link that Ferguson was looking for to establish a footballing dynasty.

Cantona’s signing from rivals Leeds will undoubtedly go down as one of Ferguson’s shrewdest transfer deals.

The Frenchman was instrumental in winning four Premier League and two FA Cup titles at Old Trafford.

5. Paul Scholes

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Paul Scholes was so good that he retired and then came out of retirement to win another Premier League title.

A ‘Class of 92’ fellow, Scholes never played for any other club besides United.

He won 11 Premier League titles and two Champions Leagues along with three FA Cups and two League Cups.

4. Denis Law

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One-third of United’s Holy Trinity, Denis Law was for a long time United’s all time top scorer with 237 goals.

Signed from Italian club Torino, Law spent 11 years at Old Trafford during which the club won its first ever European Cup title in 1968.

His greatness and legacy were immortalised with a statue along with Sir Bobby Charlton and George Best in front of Old Trafford.

3. George Best

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Has there ever been a ‘cooler’ United player

Blessed with blistering pace, artistic flair and an eye for goal, George Best is the best No 7s of all the No 7s that have played for the club.

Best scored in extra time in the European Cup final against Benfica in 1968 and capped off an excellent year by winning the prestigious Ballon d’Or award.

2. Ryan Giggs

(Photo: Shaun Botterill/Allsport)

Ryan Giggs holds the distinction of winning the most number of Premier League titles with 13.

That fact alone should justify him being so high on this list. He also happens to be the highest appearances holder for United with a staggering 963.

A United academy product, Giggs was one of the best wingers in the world for a considerable period of his career.

His 1998-99 FA Cup semifinal goal against Arsenal is still one of the best goals ever scored on English soil.

Towards the end of his career, Giggs modified his game to play a more central role than an out and out winger.

1. Sir Bobby Charlton

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Captain, leader, legend – there won’t be many United fans who would argue the fact that Sir Bobby Charlton is decidedly the greatest player to have ever donned the hallowed red kit at Old Trafford.

A 1966 ballon d’Or winner, Charlton captained the United side that won the 1968 European Cup by beating the Eusebio-led Benfica in the final.

The second highest goal scorer for United with 249 goals, Sir Bobby is one of the greatest goal scoring midfielders the game of football has ever seen.

Honourable mentions:

Tommy Taylor

Before Robin van Persie and Ruud van Nistelrooy, there was Tommy Taylor. If the Dutchmen were prolific in front of the goal, Taylor was a genius.

Taylor scored a remarkable 131 goals in just 191 appearances for United. He also had a staggering record of 16 goals in 19 appearances for England.

He won two back to back league titles under Sir Matt Busby in 1955-56 and 1956-57 before tragically perishing in the Munich Air Disaster in 1958 at the age of 26.

David de Gea

David de Gea has been the only constant in the United starting XI since making his debut for the club in 2011.

One of Ferguson’s astute purchases, De Gea has bailed out United more times in the last decade than any other player.

Denis Irwin

Seven Premier League titles, three FA Cups and a Champions League win are a testament to Denis Irwin’s prowess as he was the undisputed left-back for Ferguson in the club’s most successful period.

Steve Bruce

One of the greatest centre-backs to play for United, Bruce scored an astonishing 19 goals in the 1990-91 season and won three Premier League and three FA Cup titles among other honours at Old Trafford.

Nobby Stiles

If George Best, Sir Bobby Charlton and Denis Law were the swords, Nobby Stiles was the shield.

Stiles excelled in the defensive midfielder role before the world knew what a defensive midfielder was.

He was instrumental in United winning the 1968 European Cup.

Nemanja Vidic

Serbian centre-back Nemanja Vidic is often cited as one of Ferguson’s great buys.

Vidic’s great partnership with Rio Ferdinand saw United win five Premier League titles.