This week RetroUnited is running a poll on Twitter to vote for Man Utd’s greatest XI.
First up are the goalkeepers.
Unfortunately I am not old enough to have seen Harry Gregg play, but I have heard and read so many great things about him. His bravery in the aftermath of the 1958 Munich air crash is truly the stuff of legends. A few months later, he was voted the best goalkeeper at the 1958 World Cup, proving how great a keeper he really was. Gregg certainly deserves his place on the shortlist of greatest United keepers and is definitely the bravest.
Next up is Alex Stepney, who I also never got to see play, but I have watched a lot of video footage of him. He is most fondly remembered for his brilliant save from Eusebio in the 1968 European Cup Final. Stepney would remain at United through to United’s next triumph in the 1977 FA Cup Final. It is probably fair to say that he was a level below the world class keepers like Schmeichel and van der Sar but is also worthy of his place on the shortlist of greatest United keepers.
Next on the shortlist is Peter Schmeichel. I was fortunate to have followed his entire United career and was there at St James Park in 1995-96 when he had one of the games of his life. My favourite save by him was in Vienna in December 1996 and after the match I remember making sure that I got him to sign the programme from the match for me, as I knew what a great save he had made in that game. Schmeichel got off to a tough start at United against tough opponents in Wimbledon and Leeds United, but soon adapted to the English game so well. Having the likes of Bruce, Pallister and Irwin in front of him was a big help for him for those early years too. For me, he is United’s greatest goalkeeper. He has received a lot of criticism for later playing for Man City and especially for the way he celebrated the City goals in the final Maine Road Manchester Derby in 2002. That hurt badly and I can remember being so angry with him that day, the one real black mark against his name sadly and the reason why a lot of United fans will no longer have him as our greatest keeper.
Following Schmeichel’s departure in 1999, 10 different goalkeepers would play in the United 1st team before Edwin van der Sar’s arrival in 2005. Like Schmeichel, Edwin was another truly world class goalkeeper and played so well throughout his United career. It is just a shame that United couldn’t sign him in 1999 when he joined Juventus or in 2001 when he joined Fulham. Had we signed him in either of those years, then I believe it could be put forward more that he was United’s greatest goalkeeper and that is part of the reason why I went for Schmeichel slightly ahead of him, due to the longer time spent at United.
There is no doubt at all that David De Gea has developed into another world class goalkeeper over the last few years. At the time of writing there is uncertainty over his future and his potential move to Real Madrid. So much of his future is still to be written and for that reason I cannot consider him as United’s greatest keeper, yet anyway.
My Top 5 from this list would, for now, be 1) Schmeichel 2) van der Sar 3) Gregg 4) De Gea 5) Stepney.
Whilst on the subject of greatest United keepers, I would also like to mention 2 others that I really enjoyed watching.
Firstly there is Gary Walsh. For me, he is the best home grown goalkeeper United have produced. The best performance I saw him play was against Tottenham Hotspur in September 1987 when he made a number of great stops in the second half, fully justifying his call up to the England Under 21 side. Unfortunately 2 weeks later Walsh would receive a nasty kick to the head away at Sheffield Wednesday, followed not long after by another bad kick to the head during a mid season tour to Bermuda. This put him out for the rest of the season. Further injuries and the signings of keepers Leighton and then Schmeichel, meant he never regained the top form he was in during 1987. Had it not been for all these, he would have truly be a United great I feel.
Secondly, there is Les Sealey, my personal favourite United goalkeeper. He was never a world class keeper like Schmeichel or van der Sar, but he was a world class character to have in the squad.
3 matches stand out from Les’ time at United. Firstly the 1990 FA Cup Final Replay. After Leighton’s poor performance in the first match, Sealey really stepped up in that Replay, especially with the really tough physical challenges inflicted on him by the Crystal Palace players that night. Secondly, the 1991 Rumbelows Cup Final, where Les bravely continued playing, despite having his knee cut open to the bone in the match. Back then there were no substitute goalkeepers, so Les did not want to let the side down. Thirdly is the 1991 ECWC Final, which Les played in, despite still being nowhere near ready to play in following his knee being cut open in the Rumbelows Cup Final. With a heavily strapped knee, Les had another great night in Rotterdam. He truly deserves his place as a United cult hero and is sadly missed.