Like you, I have seen many a best United Xl rolled out, so as I reach watching Manchester United teams play for 60 years I thought I would put my two penny worth in!
For a start do you go for numbers 1-11, which then seems worthless when you have got number 44 etc turning out these days! What about a formation?
My first sight of Manchester United was the ‘Busby Babes’ and they played a goalkeeper, two full backs, three half backs and five forwards. Busby then went to a 4-2-4 line up, which Fergie used a lot, he also went with a 4-3-3 and a 4-5-1 at times, particularly away from home in European matches. Do you automatically put your own favourite player in?
Well, whilst that is a nice thought you really have to be balanced. What about those who have given long service to the cause? Really think number of years have to be considered. So, I started by picking the best players over those six decades and came up with sixty players who could figure in some peoples finest Manchester United best Xl.
Back in 1983 along with Fred Eyre, I penned a best seller called ‘What a Game’ which covered a lot of personalities, players, famous fans, of Manchester United and Manchester City. I did the United lot of course, covering their background and asking what had been their favourite match for the club they either played in or as a supporter.
Well, after this look back I have easily come across two sides that would have made ‘What a Match’ between Manchester United players over those sixty years AND had another forty over! I decided to go for a 4-2-4 line up and these are the sixty players I thought deserved a thought in selecting the best Manchester United XL over those sixty years;
1950’s. WOOD, CAREY, BYRNE, COLMAN, JONES, EDWARDS, BERRY, WHELAN, TAYLOR, VIOLLET, PEGG and SCANLON. (12)
1960’s GREGG, BRENNAN, DUNNE, CRERAND, FOULKES, STILES, BEST, CHARLTON, HERD, LAW and ASTON (11)
1970’s STEPNEY, NICHOLL, ALBISTON, McILROY, GREENHOFF, BUCHAN, COPPELL, PEARSON, MACARI and HILL (10)
1980’s BAILEY, DUXBURY, ROBSON, McQUEEN, MORAN, STAPLETON, WHITESIDE (7)
1990’s SCHMEICHEL, NEVILLE, IRWIN, KEANE, BRUCE, PALLISTER, STAM, KANCHELSKIS, SCHOLES, HUGHES, CANTONA, and GIGGS. (12)
2000’s Van Der Sar, EVRA, CARRICK, FERDINAND, VIDIC, Van NISTELROOY, ROONEY and RONALDO. (8)
A few of these transmit different eras, and in some eras there have been more or less than a normal eleven. Sixty names though to turn into a 4-2-4 best ever Manchester United XL.
In the end I got it down to 36, how to reduce further to 11 names? The goalkeeper came down to Schmeichel or Van Der Sar. I have to say though, that Harry Gregg is still the most charismatic goalkeeper I have ever seen in a Manchester United jersey and he is also a real legend and hero. Shoulder injuries stopped him actually ever winning anything at the club. Peter SCHMEICHEL gets my vote, but another couple of seasons from Edwin would have made it an impossible choice.
Right Back was between John Carey and Gary Neville. CAREY lifted the FA Cup and League Championship for United, won the Footballer of the Year and captained the Rest of Europe against Britain. He was a class bloke and would not only get my vote for number two, he would be captain.
Left back showed how many top class number three’s we have had. Roger Byrne, Tony Dunne, Arthur Albiston, Denis Irwin and Patrice Evra.In the end I had to choose between Bryne and Irwin and this was very difficult. Remember I have seen all of these players, and BYRNE was my choice. He captained the ‘Busby Babes’ winning two titles, having also been in the 1952 winning team. An England regular, he would surely have replaced Billy Wright as England captain. A brilliant leader of men, he was a top class left back.
In between these full backs we need a centre back partnership. There were two brilliant pairs and a possible created one. Do you go for Steve Bruce and Gary Pallister or Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic? Then again you could create Jaap Stam alongside Martin Buchan .My choice would be BRUCE and PALLISTER as they were part of that brilliant 1994 side which would have won more but for the foreigners rule in European competition. This was a really hard choice though as I went for a partnership and the Rio/ Vida one could easily have been preferred.
Midfield is a preverbal mine field. Duncan Edwards, Bobby Charlton, Bryan Robson, Paul Scholes, Roy Keane, Eric Cantona (or is he a forward?) Playing only two in a 4-2-4 line up cause’s real, real problems, probably the one area more will disagree with than any other! How good was Duncan Edwards? I saw him play at number 5, 6, 9 and 10. He inspired, lifted an already great side to new heights. He did, however, only have really four years as a Manchester United player and was only 21 at his untimely death but EDWARDS, HAS to be included.
Alongside him had me changing my mind. First in was Cantona, then the quite brilliant Paul Scholes. I loved Roy Keane’s leadership against any odds, but how do you leave Bryan Robson out of any Manchester United Xl?
Like Harry Gregg, a list of injuries stopped him doing even more for the club, but he was always simply inspirational. ROBSON goes alongside Edwards. Outside Right, the magical number seven has all the United greats wearing it over the years. Even before my time, Billy Meredith and Jimmy Delaney were legendry figures. Johnny Berry was a superb seven, whilst Steve Coppell was so consistent. David Beckham, that man Cantona are all worthy contenders, but the finest footballer I have seen in a Manchester United shirt wore it on his debut and although he could easily be in the number eleven shirt, George Best is the man. Bestie used both feet excellently, was a great header of the ball, and tackled like fury. He scored goals and won a match on his own. BEST has the number seven shirt for me.
On the opposite side there are two outstanding candidates. Ryan Giggs and Cristiano Ronaldo. Earlier I mentioned players who had longevity alongside ability. Because of his remarkable career and sheer list of honours for the club, GIGGS gets the vote, but Ronaldo is one hell of a player.
This leaves the two strikers and I strangely found it quite easy. The candidates over my sixty seasons were ;Billy Whelan, Tommy Taylor, Dennis Viollet, Bobby Charlton, Denis Law, David Herd, Stuart Pearson, Frank Stapleton, Mark Hughes, Norman Whiteside, that man Cantona again, Ruud Van Nistelrooy and Wayne Rooney. They are all great forwards and goal scorers, Dennis Viollet remember is still the leading goal scorer in a season for Manchester United. You had to have seen Tommy Taylor to know what a truly great centre forward he was. A quite brilliant header of the ball, he was also very clever on the floor, strong and a goal scorer. TAYLOR is the finest number nine I have seen at Manchester United.
Alongside him you need flair, explosive talent and a goal scoring knack. One man fits that bill, quite simply ‘The King’, Denis Law. I had seen him play for Manchester city before he went to Italy, I saw him play for the Italian League at Old Trafford against the Football League and then I saw his explosive debut against West Bromwich Albion. He was a truly great player, LAW gets the number ten shirt, arm raised in goal scoring mode. Some greats don’t make this XL, Bobby Charlton and Eric Cantona particularly conspicuous by their absence.
I will be interested how you would get them into this XL; SCHMEICHEL, CAREY (capt), BYRNE, BRUCE, PALLISTER, EDWARDS, ROBSON, BEST, LAW, TAYLOR, and GIGGS.