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 take the vote to left backs.
Tony Dunne (1960-1973 535 appearances, 2 goals)
This area of conversation in United history often concentrates on just two names but starting off the category with Tony Dunne illustrates just how strong it is. Dunne was uncompromising and tough at a time when those were qualities required in all full backs. Dunne was capable at centre half, where he played for Ireland on more than one occasion, but it was at left back where he played the majority of his many games at Old Trafford. He won two Division One titles, a European Cup and an FA Cup – a CV to rival anyone.
Arthur Albiston (1974-1988, 485 appearances)
Like Dunne, time has not been as kind to the memory of Albiston as it should be. Nor is it fair that much like Mike Duxbury in the right back category, Albiston’s true quality was not rewarded with the medals it deserved. 3 FA Cup winner’s medals in 1977, 1983 and 1985 doesn’t seem like a fair return for a man who richly deserves the tag of ‘legend’.
Denis Irwin (1990-2002, 529 appearances, 33 goals)
Where can you begin with Denis Irwin? A player of the highest quality, capable of playing at right or left back, though it was at left back he enjoyed his best days by far. A scorer of free kicks and penalties, Irwin was unflappable, consistent and rarely made an error. He won seven league titles, 3 FA Cups, a League Cup, the Cup Winner’s Cup, the Champions League, European Super Cup and Intercontinental Cup. If you were judging this category on either longevity or medals then surely Irwin wins hands down – yet, that is doing his quality a tremendous disservice, as he may well be the finest British full back of all time.
John O’Shea (1999-2011, 393 appearances)
Often unfairly maligned, O’Shea edges out others as an extra choice for this selection due to a few major moments. Nutmegging Luis Figo. That chip at Highbury. A last minute winner at the Kop. O’Shea’s five league titles were part of a major trophy haul that counted at 11. He may not be a realistic shout but is worth inclusion in the category – 102 caps for the Republic of Ireland show just how good O’Shea really is.
Patrice Evra (2005-2014, 379 appearances)
‘Nobody wants to leave Man Utd’ declared Patrice Evra in the build up to Juventus’ Champions League Final against Barcelona recently. That sums up the relationship the Frenchman has with the Old Trafford club – he famously read books and watched DVD’s after arriving from Monaco to immerse himself in the history of United. It didn’t take long for him to become an integral part of it. After fighting off competition to make the left back spot truly his own, he established himself with 33 league appearances in 2007/2008 and all 38 in 2008/2009. That period of time saw his best form, with his pace and durability making him a menace for opposing wingers and defenders. Even in the most recent title winning season, Evra played a major part, scoring a surprising number of times from headers at set pieces. Evra won ten major honours at Manchester United.
Duncan Edwards (1953-1958, 177 appearances)
Where would one find a place for Edwards in an all time XI? For the purposes of this poll we are including the man-mountain in the position of left back and central midfield. He traditionally played at ‘half back’, the left hand side of a midfield three, covering the work of the modern left back, and so is included here. What needs to be said about him more than has been already? Sir Bobby Charlton has played with and seen the greatest and rates Duncan as the best of the lot.
The vote will last for five days