RetroUnited.com have decided to run a ‘best ever’ series in order to determine the best ever Manchester United as selected by writers and editors at the website, our former player contributors, and you, our readers.
It is with our readers that we will commence and in order to make it fair we are presenting you with five options daily and playing a 4-4-2 system. These are the parameters we will set our writers and former players.
The first day, as is the norm with these things, focusses on the goalkeepers.
Our selection is as follows.
Harry Gregg (1957-1966, 247 appearances)
The contribution of the great man is often simply categorised by his heroic actions in Munich but it goes much further. Some might even argue that he redefined goalkeeping, certainly at Old Trafford. His insistence that he should not stay on his line and that he should, in fact, be seen as the eleventh player on the team, had a profound impact on the culture and identity of the club. Somehow, owing to injuries, Gregg missed out on winning a medal at United. There remains a beautiful poetry in that sad note, that a man who gave so much to the club also left an everlasting legacy which others have tried to fulfill since.
Alex Stepney (1966-1978, 539 appearances)
Ironic, then, that the man who should follow Gregg was one who insisted first and foremost on being safe and sensible. Whilst not faultless, Alex Stepney was remarkably reliable and consistent and a tremendous organiser of his defence. He won every major honour at Old Trafford and pulled off arguably the most important save in United history when stopping Eusebio in the final moments of normal time at Wembley in 1968. That save was Stepney all over – strong, unfussy and secure.
Peter Schmeichel (1991-1999, 398 appearances)
If Gregg redefined goalkeeping then Schmeichel did the same for the modern era. His huge frame was intimidating enough and he bossed his penalty area, constantly making that size advantage count in one on ones with opposing forwards.
The Dane’s outstanding distribution set him apart and the memory of his long throw starting wave after wave of counter attack is vivid in the memory. He had a number of outstanding performances over an eight year spell where he was usually accepted as the best in the world and was captain of the club in his final ever game, when United won the Champions League in May 1999.
Edwin van der Sar (2005-2011, 266 appearances)
Signed from Fulham and seen at the time as something of a stop gap, Van Der Sar became one of the greatest goalkeepers in United’s history. If Schmeichel was as eccentric as Gregg then Edwin was the modern Stepney, with his consistency and unflappable nature bringing a calm to United’s defence in an era where it was sorely needed. Later on, Sir Alex Ferguson would confess that he should probably have signed the Dutchman to replace van der Sar and if he had there is an argument to suggest the club may have even had more success in Europe. As it was, van der Sar can rival Stepney in ‘important saves’ in the club’s history as it was his hand denying Nicolas Anelka in 2008 which brought the Reds their third European Cup.
David De Gea (2011-present, 175 appearances)
It may be premature to include De Gea alongside these names and it may feel in bad taste considering the Spaniard is probably about to leave… still, there can be no denying his meteoric rise since arriving from Atletico Madrid four years ago. Yes, there was a bit of a shaky start, but even when then manager Ferguson played Anders Lindegaard, most Reds felt that he should have stuck with De Gea.
The youngster came good and really flourished in the Championship winning season of 2013 but, as United’s defence struggled with constant injuries and the loss of experience, De Gea’s performances got better and better. Manuel Neuer’s 2014 was so good that he was included in the Ballon D’Or nominations and it could be said that United’s goalkeeper was even better than Neuer this season.
Yes, he is probably due to depart for Real Madrid, but at the age of 24, he will surely improve. Cristiano Ronaldo is often now discussed in terms of being one of the greatest ever to play the game and that kind of potential is shared by De Gea.
The vote will last for five days.