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 are concentrating on right backs.
Shay Brennan (1957-1970, 359 appearances, 6 goals)
Brennan, a Manchester-born Irish international, made his debut in the game which followed the Munich disaster against Sheffield Wednesday in February 1958. Though he played at outside left, he made a position his own at right back as a regular from 1960 onwards. There he remained, winning Championship medals in 1965 and 1967, before his greatest night, playing against Benfica in the 1968 European Cup Final.
There was no expectation that Brennan should go on to play as often as he did after being thrown in a very emotional deep end, but it is a testament to his character and professionalism – not to mention defensive reliability – that he enjoyed a wonderful career at Old Trafford.
Jimmy Nicholl (1974-1982, 248 appearances, 6 goals)
One thing that instantly stands out when compiling the right backs in particular is their longevity but Nicholl was much more than that. He embraced the attacking style of Tommy Docherty and became the first bombarding right back for United supporters to enjoy – his industrious partnership with Steve Coppell always provided a re-assuring consistency to supporters. Nicholl’s finest hour was arguably this stunning effort against Manchester City.
Mike Duxbury (1980-1990, 378 appearances, 7 goals)
Duxbury succeeded Nicholl after it was indeed determined that right back would be his main position. Nobody played more times for United than Mike Duxbury in the 1980’s and although he did have a run in a few positions it was at right back where he is most remembered. Athletic, consistent and always committed, Duxbury’s contribution is overlooked mostly owing to his understated nature.
But his form throughout his years at United – notably in the 1982/1983 season which ended in FA Cup triumph – make him stand out as one of the club’s finest ever products. As an attacking full back, he could have held his own in any of United’s best ever teams.
Gary Neville (1992-2011, 602 appearances, 7 goals)
It is unfair to say that Neville was fortunate by the association of players he found himself breaking through with in 1992 because no player plays 600 times for United if they aren’t good enough, never mind the 85 England caps.
In theory there is no contest because Gary Neville presents the complete package – memories of him at his peak being an excellent crosser of the ball in a fine tandem with David Beckham, and a tough man-marker too. Added to that the eight league titles, two Champions League medals, 3 FA Cups and 2 League Cups and you have a one-club man that Steven Gerrard can only aspire to be.
Some of Neville’s most enduring moments were not during play (though skinning a player at Anfield to set up Andy Cole is a moment he’ll probably forever cherish), but instead, the celebrations against Liverpool in 2005 and the kiss for Scholes against Manchester City in 2010. These moments were the perfect illustration of the commitment Neville showed for the club, a commitment that was vital in those many years of late goals and drama.
Rafael da Silva (2008-present, 169 appearances, 5 goals)
Perhaps the unlikeliest on the list but it’s worth remembering that his fall from grace over the last two years was probably instigated by a terrible decision to not have him as first choice by David Moyes – because, by that time, Rafael had surely nailed down his position as the eminent player in that position.
Enthusiastic and hot-headed, there were signs that he was maturing out of the sometimes rash decisions which would see him sent off. He was beginning to excel in big games and has a trophy cabinet to back up his place in this list, with three league titles.
The vote will remain open for 5 days.