Ranking Manchester United's Captains Under Sir Alex Ferguson

Terry CarrollContributor IIIJanuary 5, 2012

Ranking Manchester United's Captains Under Sir Alex Ferguson

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    No, in this list of Manchester United captains, I don't intend to include Patrice Evra, Jonny Evans or even Rio Ferdinand in this list—even though Rio captained the Champions League win over Chelsea.

    We're talking here about the official club captains under Sir Alex Ferguson. So, your starter is to recall and name them without referring to Wikipedia...

    United have been blessed with some great captains, especially since the war, including Sir Bobby Charlton, Denis Law and Roger Byrne.

    In fact, in its entire history, the club has had only 49 captains in 130 years and 20 in the 66 years since the War.

    We have been particularly fortunate in Sir Alex Ferguson's era to have a handful who are among the greatest ever.

6. Nemanja Vidic

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    We may never know until Sir Alex Ferguson publishes his memoirs whether Nemanja Vidic would have left for other pastures had he not been appointed captain after Gary Neville retired.

    There had been long-running rumours that Mourinho wanted him at Real Madrid, which continued after he signed a new contract in July 2010:

    Previously, Rio Ferdinand and Wayne Rooney had been touted as the next man in line, but the latter may have finally burned his bridges with Ferguson during his contract shenanigans in October 2010.

    To date, Nemanja has captained United more times than Steve Bruce, but not over as long a period.

    Although the news is good for Vidic that his operation has been a success, it is a complex injury (all three knee ligaments were severed). He is predicted to return next season but may never be the same player again.

    The problem is that pace is a prerequisite at the top these days—in every position. Many players who tore one ligament have lost "a yard of pace," e.g. Shearer and Owen. There is no way of predicting how it will affect Vidic's game.

    Sadly, it is possible he may never return when you consider the saga of Owen Hargreaves, with less serious problems. By the time the United captain is fully fit, the next generation should be well established and even Rio Ferdinand may not get a regular start.

    It could indeed be for Vidic's sake that he does go to Real Madrid, where the more leisurely pace of the Spanish game and the warmth could suit him better in his declining years.

    He has, however, been an inspirational leader, both as captain and by example—often being rated as one of the top central defenders in the EPL and even the world.

    God knows United could do with his leadership and strength in defence now.

5. Steve Bruce

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    Perhaps the most extraordinary thing about Steve Bruce was that he never played for England as a full international.

    When you think of the terrific partnership he had with Gary Pallister, who had 22 caps, it is even harder to understand.

    Steve was, in fact, a co-captain with Bryan Robson, largely because Robbo had so many injuries.

    Brucey led from the front in everything he did. He wore his heart on his sleeve and, although he is remembered as a central defender, he is one of United's greatest goalscorers from that position, as the following comparative statistics show:

    Bruce            437 games       51 goals      Average 0.117 per game

    Pallister       414                      15                                 0.036

    Vidic             243                      18                                 0.074

4. Gary Neville

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    Sir Alex Ferguson respects Gary Neville for being the 'shop steward' of the United players.

    Gary cared about his colleagues and would "go into bat for them" with the Boss. So it was no real surprise in 2005 when he was given the captaincy at the age of 30, after Roy Keane left.

    His driving presence and passion for United (as evidenced when he was fined by the FA for brandishing his club badge at Liverpool supporters) made him a shoo-in to follow the equally driven Keane.

    Neville was pretty unpopular with other supporters and wasn't even rated by many as an England player, despite his 85 caps.

    At United, however, he is a modern day legend, having played 602 games—the fourth-highest number of appearances ever for the club.

    He has, however, earned wide respect as a football pundit in succession to Andy Gray at Sky Sports, where his depth of knowledge and analysis of the game reflect some of the qualities he brought to Old Trafford. So much so that Sir Alex was apparently surprised that Gary didn't go straight into club management like his erstwhile colleague Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

    It seems certain that Gary will return at some time to join the coaching staff at Old Trafford full-time, where, unlike his predecessor, he has a cracking chance of being part of the future United management hierarchy.

3. Eric Cantona

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    Ooh aah Cantona...

    Eric makes the number three spot primarily because he will remain a cult figure forever at Old Trafford and also because of the inspiration he was throughout his five seasons for the club.

    Last night's defeat by Newcastle was a case in point. There was an abject lack of leadership all over St. James Park. Leadership doesn't just have to come from the captain. Top professionals lead by example and often from the front.

    And so it was with Cantona. He led the attack and inspired the team and the fans, even while Bryan Robson was club captain and Steve Bruce team captain.

    He didn't always lead by example, of course, but such was his popularity that the fans forgave him the period he was denied by his own stupidity.

    He apparently came close to retiring during that period and, having returned in October 1995, struggled with his form until the turn of the year.

    It is to his credit that, once he'd turned the corner, he led United to an unlikely double-double, as they turned a 12-point deficit to Newcastle into a title win. Cantona captained the team in the FA Cup win, also.

    It was no real surprise, therefore, when Eric took over as club captain for 1996-97 after Steve Bruce's departure. He gave United one last season, leading them to yet another title win before retiring prematurely in most people's opinion.

2. Bryan Robson

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    Bryan Robson is one of the greatest players and captains ever to play for Manchester United. He could have captained the team in any era.

    He always led by example, constantly putting his body on the line. As a result, he played many fewer matches than he might have, and shared the captaincy towards the end of his reign with Steve Bruce.

    The main reason why he isn't number one in this hierarchy is because he was only sole captain under Sir Alex Ferguson for five seasons and, shared with Bruce, seven seasons.

    He was also less successful than Roy Keane, which was hardly his fault. During the seven seasons, United won the Premier League twice (in the two years when Steve Bruce shared the captaincy) and the FA Cup once.

    He did, however, lead Sir Alex's team to their first European trophy in over 20 years, the Cup-Winners Cup, together with the UEFA Super Cup.

    Bryan remains a legend at Old Trafford. He is now one of the club's ambassadors, having given up his managerial career following his cancer problems.

1. Roy Keane

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    Roy Keane is a silly boy.

    While he remains in the affections of Manchester United supporters, his free expression of views signaled the end of his United career and in the years that followed.

    He is, in a way, a bit like Craig Bellamy. As Sir Bobby Robson said about the Welshman, "He's the only man I know who could start an argument with himself."

    In general, Keane has kept his counsel pretty well over the years since he left Old Trafford. At the time, as much as anything, it was for publicly criticising his teammates, but there were other factors which had hardened Sir Alex's determination that Keano's race had run.

    Called upon as a TV pundit for the match against Basel, Keane handled himself diplomatically and professionally until the adverse result was in place. He then overstepped the mark and broke the unwritten code of Sir Alex.

    Gary Neville can get away with saying United are all over the place in his match summaries, but Roy Keane can't escape Fergie's wrath when the latter feels personally attacked. Unfortunately, Keane then let his unresolved bitterness surface in the row that followed.

    Keane the Captain

    All this is a sideshow and a great pity when we consider what Roy Keane did for United on the pitch, especially as captain.

    Sir Alex hijacked his potential transfer to Blackburn, much to the resentment of Kenny Dalglish, who felt Ferguson had an agreement which Keane broke.

    He made an immediate contribution and continued to be a key player until Eric Cantona's retirement in 1997, whereupon it was no surprise that Keane succeeded him as captain for the next eight seasons.

    He is the most successful United captain ever, having won a total of 10 major trophies, but as a player, he won the Premier League seven times. He may not have been captain for the 1999 European Champions League, but his astonishing performance in the semifinal and heroics throughout that season mean it should be chalked against his name.

    Like Bryan Robson, Keane never gave less than 100 percent. He turned results round many times, often with his individual contribution. He led from the front and put his body on the line.

    He didn't always go by the book (except his own autobiography and the ill-fated Alf-Inge Haaland revelation), but he was equally adept in attack as in defence.

    United could do with someone like him right now, both in the totality of what he brought to the team and in the leadership which is currently lacking.

    He may not have made many friends outside Old Trafford, but you always wanted to be on his side and he frequently rises to the cream of the best players to have graced the Premier League.