We continue with our ‘best ever’ vote series, where we put across a selection of players to you, the reader, in attempt to define our readers’ XI. The poll remains open for five days and we will also be running our writers’ XI and revealing our former player contributors XI’s too.
The team will be assembled in a 4-4-2 formation. We are aware that certain difficulties will be presented when considering players from older generations where the formation doesn’t quite fit. The most common example of this is Duncan Edwards who played at half back. This was an era when four man defences were only just coming into the fore and were certainly unfamiliar in British football, and the half back played on the outside of what would be classed as a modern midfield three. However, their duties included pushing wide when defending, assuming the role of a modern full back. For this reason, where such a player excelled in two roles, we will include the player in both categories we feel appropriate and if that player scores highest in both categories, whichever one he attracted the most votes in will determine the position he will be selected in.
Today we open it up to centre halves. It’s not an easy one because there are so many names to choose from. United have been spoiled for centre backs, and history says we have at least been able to determine our greatest pairs have generally featured two complementing styles, one of the continental passing type defender, and the more conventional, hard tackling kind.
Our list is as follows:
Charlie Roberts, Bill Foulkes, Martin Buchan, Steve Bruce, Jaap Stam, Nemanja Vidic, David Sadler, Brian Greenhoff, Paul McGrath, Gary Pallister, Wes Brown, Rio Ferdinand
Charlie Roberts was United’s first ever England international and has been described as strong and fast – he was club captain for the first two League titles in 1908 and 1911, scoring an impressive 22 goals. Foulkes was a real leader, strongly carrying on after the Munich disaster to be the bedrock on which the first European triumph was built upon.
Buchan’s inclusion as one of the ‘harder’ defenders is a bit unfair because he was described as a ‘Rolls Royce’ of a defender though, in the partnership he excelled in alongside Brian Greenhoff, he was the more resolute. Steve Bruce’s spell as club captain coincided with the first league win in 26 years and, of course, his late double against Sheffield Wednesday is an indelible moment.
Jaap Stam is considered by many to be the greatest defender the club have ever had – a strong memory created in such a short spell of just three years at the club.
Nemanja Vidic became a hero with his truly uncompromising style and numerous red cards against Liverpool.
David Sadler was a tremendous footballer adept at playing in a number of positions but is most fondly remembered for his fine displays at centre half. Similarly, Brian Greenhoff broke into the team in midfield but his move to defence had a huge impact on Tommy Docherty’s team.
Paul McGrath had it all, power, strength, skill, and could quite possibly have become United’s greatest ever defender if not for off the pitch problems and injury concerns which saw Ferguson sell him.
Gary Pallister was the other half of a fantastic partnership with Bruce, his leggy stride and intelligent reading of the game compensating for a lack of pace. Wes Brown broke into the team with hope and even expectation that he would be the first choice there for over ten years but sadly injury, often at the worst times, hampered what could have been an even better career than the one he has enjoyed.
Rio Ferdinand, signed for a record £29m in 2002, had similarly hefty expectations, but, thanks to some good fortune with injuries where Brown was not so lucky, was able to fulfil his huge potential. Having recently retired, comments about him being arguably the finest ever British defender are justified.
The vote will remain open for five days.