Sir Alex Ferguson’s greatest Manchester United team
The Sport Review selects the best team from Sir Alex Ferguson's 25 years in charge at Old Trafford
Sir Alex Ferguson celebrates his 25th year in charge of Manchester United on Sunday after leading the Red Devils to a staggering 12 Premier League titles, five FA Cups and two Champions League crowns.
And to mark the Scot’s momentous achievements, The Sport Review picks its greatest United XI during Ferguson’s spell at Old Trafford.
Goalkeeper: Peter Schmeichel
Peter Schmeichel is the stand-out candidate between the posts, winning five league titles and a European Cup while at Old Trafford. The former Denmark international was ever-reliable and extremely vocal. For a shot-stopper with such a large frame, Schmeichel was remarkably agile and consistently produced world-class saves at big moments in games. It is testament to his influence in the United goal that it took Ferguson six years to find a suitable replacement in Edwin van der Sar.
Right-back: Gary Neville
A main-stay in the Manchester United defence, Gary Neville is one of the greatest English right-backs of all-time. He was part of United’s famed Class of ’92 and went on to become the second-longest serving player at the club, behind Ryan Giggs, making over 600 appearances. He was a dogged defender, whose partnership with David Beckham on the right side of Ferguson’s team was deadly.
Centre-half: Jaap Stam
Jaap Stam enjoyed a brief but ultimately successful spell at Old Trafford between 1998 and 2001, in which time he twice scooped the award for best defender in the Champions League. The Netherlands international was signed from PSV Eindhoven for £10.6m, a world record fee for a defender at the time. He immediately became a rock at the heart of United’s back four and played a vital role in their treble success in 1999.
Centre-half: Nemanja VidiÄ‡
The Serb edges in ahead of other great United defenders such as Gary Pallister, Rio Ferdinand and Steve Bruce. Nemanja VidiÄ‡ restored a biting edge to Ferguson’s back four on his arrival from Spartak Moscow in 2006 and he forged a successful partnership with Ferdinand. He may not be as technically gifted as Ferdinand but he is an aggressive tackler and powerful in the air ““ a feature missed since the departure of Stam to Lazio in 2001.
Left-back: Denis Irwin
Denis Irwin has fought off competition from Patrice Evra and Phil Neville to fill the left-back position. The former Ireland international, naturally right-footed, was a deadly set-piece specialist and racked up 33 goals during his United career, compared to Evra’s three strikes. Defensively, his positional play was excellent. The Cork man was described by Ferguson as his greatest pound-for-pound signing. Irwin was a vital part of United’s defence throughout the 1990s.
Right midfield: Cristiano Ronaldo
It takes a special player to beat United icon David Beckham into Ferguson’s greatest side at right midfield and Cristiano Ronaldo was certainly a one off. Ferguson signed the Portuguese star as a raw, petulant 18-year-old from Sporting Lisbon for £12.25m. He became the United manager’s protégée and was moulded into a world class player whose goals almost single-handedly guided United to three consecutive league titles and two back-to-back Champions League final appearances in 2008 and 2009.
Central midfield: Roy Keane (captain)
Roy Keane was Ferguson’s best captain, and while there are many leaders in this team it would undoubtedly fall to the Ireland international to skipper this side. The midfielder has often admitted he was far from the most talented player at United’s training sessions but what he lacked in skill he compensated for in sheer passion, commitment and an insatiable desire to win. He is generally regarded as one of United’s greatest ever players.
Central midfield: Paul Scholes
The presence of Paul Scholes in the United engine room adds some style to the raw power of Keane. Scholes is often described as the most talented player England has ever produced. The midfielder boasted wonderful vision and awareness, while his passing ability was unrivalled. The contingent of players who have hailed Scholes as one of the greatest midfielders of all-time includes Zinedine Zidane, Edgar Davids, Xavi and Patrick Vieira ““ and who is going to disagree with them?
Left midfield: Ryan Giggs
Apart from Ferguson’s triumphs in the FA Cup in 1990 and Cup Winners’ Cup a year later, Ryan Giggs has been a crucial part of all of United’s victories under the Scot. The Welsh winger has racked up almost 900 appearances, 161 goals and an envious collection of medals during a career spanning 22-years at Old Trafford.
Centre forward: Eric Cantona
Arguably the biggest star during Ferguson’s tenure at the club, Eric Cantona was adored by the United supporters. His famous kung-fu kick at Crystal Palace summed up how unpredictable the Frenchman was, but such was his importance to the Old Trafford outfit that Ferguson flew to France in 1997 to try to talk him out of retirement. Sadly, it proved fruitless.
Centre forward: Ruud van Nistelrooy
Ferguson has signed many great strikers during his 25 years at Old Trafford, including the likes of Andy Cole, Dwight Yorke, Teddy Sheringham and Wayne Rooney. But the most prolific forward was Ruud van Nistelrooy. The Dutchman scored 23 goals in 32 appearances in his debut season in England, a tally which he bettered the following campaign by two strikes. In total, Van Nistelrooy netted 150 goals in just 219 appearances, gaining a reputation as a deadly finisher in the box.