Sir Alex Ferguson's Top 10 Signings at Manchester United
With his career at Old Trafford spanning more than 25 years, earning 12 Premier League titles, two Champions League trophies and five FA Cup crowns along the way, it’s fair to say that Sir Alex Ferguson’s tenure with Manchester United has been a successful one.
Of course, that success wouldn’t have come to fruition were it not for transfer signings.
One could argue that there have been some flops for the club in the last two-and-a-half decades, and they’d be right, but there have been just as many, if not more players who have come into the club and had a hugely positive effect.
Home-grown talent has accounted for a huge amount of the Red Devils’ rise from the depths since 1986, but purchases from other clubs have also played their part.
This countdown will chronicle the best 10 signings that Manchester United have made under the management of Sir Alex Ferguson.
A number of factors to be considered when placing a candidate on a slideshow such as this include the fee for which they arrived and how long they were at the club, as well as the effect they had on the club's success whilst they were there.
Now that that’s understood, here’s our first star on this hall of fame.
10. Edwin van der Sar
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One of only two goalkeepers on this list, Edwin van der Sar came to Old Trafford when the No. 1 spot was incredibly hard to fill for Manchester United.
Following the departure of Peter Schmeichel after the treble-winning season of 1998-'99, the club went through numerous stoppers trying to find one that could reach the high standards set by the “Great Dane.”
Mark Bosnich, Massimo Taibi, Fabian Barthez, Tim Howard and Roy Carroll all had their turns in between the sticks at Old Trafford, but it wasn’t until Van der Sar arrived that the club were genuinely safeguarded in their choice of ‘keeper.
The Dutchman’s impact was instant, and Van der Sar only had to wait for a season before experiencing his first Premier League triumph in his new surroundings, going on to win the next two campaigns on the trot also.
In total, the Red Devils won four Premier League titles, two League Cups, one Champions League crown and also a FIFA Club World Cup during Van der Sar’s time there.
The former Fulham and Ajax goalkeeper also earned numerous individual awards and broke several substantial Manchester United records, including the oldest player to win the Premier League, the oldest player to win a Champions League final and also the worldwide league record for keeping clean sheets with a time of 1,311 minutes—a record that still stands today.
Considering that he only cost £2 million, one can safely say that United got their money's worth out of Edwin van der Sar, and despite being in his mid-30s upon arrival, the goalkeeper is up there with the greats of Premier League stoppers.
9. Denis Irwin
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While the significance of money has changed in a rather volatile fashion over the past decade or so, Denis Irwin’s £350,000 arrival at Manchester United wasn’t exactly considered a massive deal, even in 1990 when the transfer went through.
That being said, Sir Alex Ferguson can consider that amount brilliantly well spent on a player that enjoyed a 12-year career with the club, bringing such success that few can rival in this sport.
A full-back capable of playing on either side of defence, Irwin sometimes goes unnoticed when looking back upon the illustrious alumni of Manchester United.
However, the numbers speak for themselves.
Irwin arrived at Old Trafford from Oldham Athletic in 1990, after which the club went from the inconsistent and unreliable side of the 1980s to the dominant force we can all read about during the last ten years of the 20th century.
The Irishman won seven Premier League crowns, three FA Cups and, of course, the famous 1999 Champions League title as well as numerous others trophies.
One of the most consistent full-backs in the history of not just British but world football, Irwin made an incredible 529 appearances for the Red Devils and is fully deserving of his place on this list.
8. Rio Ferdinand
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One of the most expensive centre-backs in British transfer history, Rio Ferdinand has racked up transfer totals of over £50 million in just two moves.
The defender originally moved to Leeds United from West Ham for a fee of £18 million in 2000 before changing surroundings once more and signing for Manchester United in 2002 in a deal that officially cost the club £33 million, including add-ons.
Whilst his career as a Red Devil hasn’t come without moments of controversy, the veteran has undoubtedly contributed enough to make sure that he will forever be remembered at the club.
Five Premier League titles, one FA Cup, One Champions League title and a FIFA Club World Cup in a career at Old Trafford spanning just about a decade is good going in anyone’s book, especially considering much of this silverware came while Ferdinand was captain of the side.
Despite suffering with recurring knee and back injuries in recent years, the 33-year-old continues to maintain a standard befitting only the elite of the English top flight. While he may be one of the more expensive players to feature on the list, it’s certainly arguable that United got their value for money out of Rio Ferdinand.
7. Ole Gunner Solskjaer
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Forever known as the man who essentially won the Champions League final of 1999, Ole Gunner Solskjaer had a lasting impression at Manchester United despite featuring mainly as a substitute.
The “Baby-faced Assassin” made a total of 366 appearances for the Red Devils, but only 235 of those games came through a starting berth.
Solskjaer netted a total of 121 goals during his 11-year stay at Manchester United, once scoring a memorable four goals against Nottingham Forest after coming off the bench.
It’s a shame that the former Norwegian international’s career was hit so severely by injuries. Were it not for a recurring knee problem, Solskjaer’s career may have been all the brighter.
However, the “Super Sub” will still go down in the history books at Old Trafford and, up until 2011, the ex-winger was coaching the Manchester United Reserves before returning to his native Norway to lead Molde to their maiden league title.
United brought Solskjaer in from Molde in 1996 for a fee of £1.2 million, and while his impact as a starter wasn’t as big as he perhaps would have liked, the maestro was unselfish in his approach and always put the club’s needs before his own.
After his success as a player, it appears that glory as a manager is the next thing on the agenda for this Manchester United legend, and it may only be a matter of time before we see Solskjaer back in the Premier League.
6. Ruud Van Nistelrooy
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After extensive scouting, Manchester United chose to purchase the signature of Ruud van Nistelrooy for a fee of nearly £19 million in what was a risky move for the club.
The Dutchman had enjoyed significant scoring form with PSV, averaging nearly a goal per game, but some speculated as to whether the then-24-year-old was ready for the step up, following concerns regarding his fitness.
However, ready he was, and when the deal officially went through in April 2001, United soon saw what a talent they had at their disposal.
Van Nistelrooy actually has one of the less glittering careers when compared to others on this countdown in terms of silverware.
The striker was at United for just five seasons but, unfortunately for him, his prolific scoring rate wasn’t enough to earn the whole club more trophies.
Van Nistelrooy went on to make 219 appearances for the Red Devils, netting on 150 occasions, making him one of the finest scorers ever to play in the club’s colours.
While a move to Real Madrid may have ultimately proved too tempting, Van Nistelrooy’s contributions to the Manchester United cause make him a certain addition to some of Ferguson’s top purchases.
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After making headlines as a 16-year-old at boyhood club Everton, it seemed only a matter of time until Wayne Rooney completed a move away from Goodison Park.
In 2004, the bidding officially reached its climax, and despite significant interest from Newcastle United, it was Manchester United that eventually clinched the £25.6 million signature of Wayne Rooney.
While there have certainly been patches of the last ten years that the forward would rather forget, Rooney has also brought unbridled ecstasy to those of the Manchester United faithful on countless occasions.
When one gains the notoriety that comes with being a star prodigy in the world of football, it seems only natural that one go through his period of immaturity, and every United fan will be hoping that Rooney is finished with his.
The 2011-'12 season was testament to the belief that the striker has grown enormously in recent years and in a time when they needed him most, Rooney appears willing to slot in wherever Ferguson needs him. Although it may not be where the goals lie, he seems willing to play the role.
In his eight-year career at the club so far, the 26-year-old has scored 181 goals in 365 appearances for the Red Devils, a record of just under a goal every other game.
Given his age, the forward certainly seems on track to break Bobby Charlton’s scoring record for the club, especially if he can spend the same 17 years at Old Trafford that Charlton did.
Given his fine scoring form and the endless excitement he tends to give his supporters, Rooney was always going to feature on this list.
4. Peter Schmeichel
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It was difficult to find a dull moment when Peter Schmeichel, the first goalkeeper to score a goal in the Premier League, was at Old Trafford.
The “Great Dane” is often seen as one of the greatest players ever to bear the Manchester United colours, and while he may have also adorned himself in the blue of Manchester City later on in his career, his impact at Old Trafford goes untarnished.
Schmeichel was the man who single-handedly (no pun intended) kept United in the running for their treble victory of 1999 when he saved a Dennis Bergkamp penalty in the dying minutes of the FA Cup final, ensuring that the game, which Manchester United eventually won, would go on to extra time.
After his exploits at Danish side, Brøndby, Sir Alex Ferguson chose to bring Schmeichel to Old Trafford for a fee of around £500,000, a bargain when you consider that, with the Danish international between the sticks, United won five Premier League trophies, three FA Cups and a Champions League crown along with others.
Schmeichel’s contributions at the club were noticed even more after his departure as the Red Devils failed to fill the void left by the world-class stopper.
It would be impossible not to include a legend and ambassador to the club such as Peter Schmeichel on this countdown.
3. Roy Keane
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Tenacious during his years as a player, and if his Euro 2012 punditry is anything to go by, nothing seems to have changed.
Roy Keane is one of the greatest players to have graced the Premier League although "grace" probably isn’t the first word you’d associate with his style of play.
The Irishman made it his mission to establish an area in the middle of the park that his opposite number would be afraid to enter, and he succeeded in his task a lot of the time.
Another member on this list involved in the almighty treble season of 1998-'99, Keane was certainly a leader amongst the Manchester United squad in what was arguably the club’s greatest era and one that will prove difficult to trump.
However, a fantastic performance against Juventus in the Champions League semifinal of that year meant that Keane wasn’t able to compete in the final. But his comrades more than knew what was needed of them regardless of whether he was on the pitch or not.
In 1993, a great amount of speculation emerged regarding where Keane would move to from Nottingham Forest, with Blackburn and Arsenal reported to be interested in his signature.
However, after a call from Sir Alex Ferguson, the Republic of Ireland international soon found himself playing at Old Trafford following a then-British transfer record signing of £3.75 million.
Controversial to the end, it’s a shame that Roy Keane’s time at Old Trafford had to end in the manner that it did.
Always clashing with managers, the then-34-year-old criticised some of his teammates on television, and a departure from the club swiftly followed.
That being said, the midfielder will be eternally remembered for his contributions on the field of play, and with nearly 500 appearances and more than 50 goals to his name, those contributions are telling.
2. Eric Cantona
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Sir Alex Ferguson didn’t take long in deciding that Eric Cantona, who had just spent a season at Leeds United, was the man needed to lead the Manchester United frontline.
The Frenchman arrived at Old Trafford in 1992 for a fee of £1.2 million during a time when the striking positions were one of uncertainty, a problem that was swiftly quashed after Cantona’s arrival.
In 175 appearances for the Red Devils, the Frenchman scored a total of 79 goals over the space of five seasons.
While these statistics don’t point to the most prolific scoring rate the club has witnessed, it was the passion and genuine love for the club that made Cantona such a favourite amongst fans along with his scoring exploits.
“King Eric” was the catalyst in bringing United their first league title in 26 years, earning Premier League victory in his first season at Old Trafford.
Cantona went on to win three more league titles as well as two FA Cups before retiring from the sport altogether, a move which many, including the player himself, have admitted may have been premature.
Any YouTube search involving “Cantona” will bring the viewer an example of the majesty that the player displayed when in front of goal.
The ex-French international was the instigator in kickstarting an era of Manchester United dominance that, in a way, still lasts to this day. When considering his inexpensive transfer sum, it makes Eric Cantona seem all the more valuable.
1. Cristiano Ronaldo
It would have been ideal to hand the honour of Sir Alex Ferguson’s best Manchester United purchase to an established club legend.
However, it’s a name not so long departed from the club that gets the nod for top spot, and it’s difficult to look past a player that many consider as the best in the world.
Cristiano Ronaldo was flashy, cocky and overly obnoxious at times and still is to this day. But it doesn’t take away from the fact that the first Portuguese player ever to be on the books at Old Trafford always had that special touch that sets certain stars apart from the rest.
Considering that he eventually left the club for a fee of £80 million, one can certainly say that the initial £12.24 million spent on the youngster was money well spent.
The 27-year-old came to England after impressing Sir Alex Ferguson in a pre-season friendly while he was still at Sporting Lisbon.
Needless to say, the winger/playmaker/striker went on to enjoy huge success at Old Trafford, but Ronaldo never hid the fact that it was a target of his and allegedly his mother’s for him to play at Real Madrid.
In his six years at Old Trafford, Ronaldo won three Premier League titles, an FA Cup, a FIFA Club World Cup and a Champions League title.
A record of 84 goals in 118 starts is good for a striker, never mind a winger.
As such, the 2008 Ballon d’Or and FIFA Player of the Year simply has to be put on the top of this particular podium.