Ranking Manchester United's Top 12 Wingers of All Time

Terry CarrollContributor IIIJuly 31, 2012

Ranking Manchester United's Top 12 Wingers of All Time

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    Great wingers get to play James Bond?

    Seriously, this is a great topic to get your mates going in the bar. If you had to choose the five best Manchester United wingers of all time, most people wouldn't get back before 1989.

    The editor had the smart idea to make it 12, because United have had many seriously good wingers in their now 120-plus year history.

    And OK, many of you won't even have heard of some of them, but United were renowned for much of the last century for playing a brand of exciting attacking football.

    Nowadays we talk about midfielders and wing backs, but back before the days of Alf Ramsey, tricky wingers were among the most exciting players to watch. Think Sir Stanley Matthews and Tom Finney.

    George Best was arguably the first "modern day" winger, wriggling down the wing, leaping over flailing legs, crossing the ball, but also cutting inside and scoring.

    In 30 or 50 years, who will be remembered? Giggs, Beckham, Ronaldo, Best, for sure. But some others who I can remember, and others I can't, deserve their place in this Hall of Fame.

    Here's just one suggested list, in reverse order as usual. Feel free to argue or add your own below.

Lee Sharpe

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    Its a pity that Lee Sharpe had to leave Manchester United. He did, however, manage to get Leeds United to pay £4.5 million for a player who had missed long periods through injury and illness.

    Lee was one of Sir Alex's early signings, having made 14 appearances for Torquay United before his 17th birthday. £200,000 was something of a gamble for a trainee, but despite his problems, including having to compete with Beckham and Giggs for a place, he repaid the Gaffer's faith with 36 goals in 263 outings.

Andrei Kancheslkis

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    You never knew quite what to expect with Andrei Kanchelskis. Like Nani, he could rip a defence to shreds, score a brilliant goal, have an astonishing run down the wing, score a game-changing goal.

    His whole manner and personality were infectious. He was also the first Russian to play for United.

    Sir Alex signed him to bring more speed, guile and purpose to right midfield. He didn't exactly burst into productive form, scoring only 14 times in his first three full seasons. However, in his first full season United finished second to Leeds and his second brought the first ever Premier League title to Old Trafford.

    Having become first choice right wing during the latter season, he went on to get better and better, scoring 16 times in 30 matches in 1994-95, which proved to be his last.

    This was a pity, because he carried that form to Everton. Unfortunately, like other players after him, he had fallen out with Sir Alex earlier and a very popular player moved on.

Johnny Berry

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    How unlucky was Johnny Berry to be an outstanding winger while Tom Finney and Sir Stanley Matthews were still playing for England.

    Unusually for him, he was given a chance despite being regarded generally as too small when he was young. But like George Best, he was what was called a "tricky winger" at a time when they had to be able to vault over crunching tackles as well as dribble down the wing.

    This was also well before 4-4-2 formations; the standard was 2-3-5 (or in truth 2-3-2-3, as there were two "inside forwards").

    What also helped Berry was that he was highly skilled and genuinely two-footed.

    He is listed as a United legend and played 276 times, scoring 45 goals. He was forced into retirement by injuries following the Munich air disaster.

Joe Spence

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    Not even I can remember Joe Spence, but until the great Jack Rowley came along, Joe had by far the highest number of goals for United in their then 60-year history.

    He was an enigma, every bit as much as Cristiano Ronaldo, because although being a winger, his scoring rate was that of a striker.

    So prolific was he that the supporters used to shout "Give it to Joe."

    He joined United at just 20 years old and, in the next 14 years, played 510 times, scoring an astonishing 168 goals in an era when there was no European football or even the League Cup. He has United's ninth highest number of appearances ever, more than any other winger except the insuperable Ryan Giggs.

    He scored four times on his debut, but was unlucky to be playing in the period between the wars, when all of football was in turmoil.

Billy Meredith

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    The "Welsh Wizard" is the last of our "old timers", but equally deserving of a place in this Hall of Fame.

    He is one of few players to have played for both Manchester clubs and left City under a cloud, after allegedly being involved in "match-fixing." He always denied this and United were obviously clear of his innocence.

    He was a character who played with a toothpick in the corner of his mouth as an aid to concentration. 

    In total he played 335 times for United, scoring 36 goals; and 48 games for Wales, with 11 goals.

    He would have had more appearances but for his two "disciplinary" suspensions: one following the match-fixing allegation, the second for being involved in setting up a players' union. The war also badly disrupted his United career.

    In 1921 he rejoined City as a player-coach.

Steve Coppell

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    Stevie Coppell was a bright lad and it is no real wonder that he went on to have a career in football management.

    He joined United in 1975, at the same time as Gordon Hill and the two formed one of the most famous English wing partnerships of all time.

    Tommy Docherty was building a young team at the time, and the pair were bought for only £130,000.

    Both were goal-scoring wingers. Hill left in 1978 after 101 games and 39 goals, continuing his footballing career until he was 37.

    Coppell was studying for a degree when he joined United and successfully completed it while continuing to play.

    For some reason he is not listed among the United legends on the Official website, despite having the 30th highest number of all-time appearances at 322, with 53 goals.

    Today's supporters would have loved Stevie, because of his work-rate and commitment. He also earned 42 caps for England, scoring seven goals.

    Sadly his career was finished in 1983 after an earlier injury that nearly shattered his knee. He went on to have a successful career in management.


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    Nani can delight and infuriate both supporters and teammates. How many times have you seen Wayne Rooney screaming at him?

    Nani would like to be compared with Cristiano Ronaldo, but, though his best years may be yet to come, there is no real comparison.

    Apart from their physical build and Ronaldo's goal-scoring prowess, Nani will never be remembered in the same bracket.

    However, he has helped fill the gap that Cristiano left and does score some spectacular goals. He is also a better acrobat than CR9, to Sir Alex's exasperation.

    Nani himself would like to emulate his Portuguese colleague as the best footballer in the world and seems more likely to stay indefinitely at Old Trafford, pleasing the crowd for years to come.

Antonio Valencia

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    So, you're asking, if Valencia is only fifth, who's in the top four?

    I am in no doubt that Valencia will one day be among the Manchester United legends. There is everything to love about him.

    He has a modest and disarming manner, quietly spoken and aware of his place in the team; and with a radiant smile.

    He can be quite undemonstrative in his goal celebrations, despite some stunning finishes.

    He is very one-footed, sometimes not even trusting his left foot to pass, but can run at and through defences and is one of the best crossers of a ball in the game.

    He seems likely to stay at Old Trafford for a very long time. Why would he move when he is so loved and admired? He could well be their MVP this season.

David Beckham

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    The jury's out. Some people think Becks is one of the best dead-ball kickers of all time; others think he is over-rated—and always has been.

    Surely, few would have objected if he had been in Team GB's football team, which might well have been his swansong.

    One of "Fergie's Fledglings" who were never going to win everything, he announced himself to the world at Wimbledon, with a wonder goal from the halfway line.

    Such precocity could delight or infuriate Sir Alex; if he had missed, no doubt he would have got a rollicking.

    Like he did in February 2003 in the infamous "flying boot"incident.

    It had appeared that Sir Alex didn't like David's celebrity lifestyle, especially after he married Victoria (Posh Spice).

    By the time the transfer window came around in 2003, there was plenty of speculation about Beckham moving on and it could be said to have been good business to let him go to Real Madrid for a reported £25 million.

    If Charlton, Best and Law are the all-time legendary trio, then surely Beckham, Giggs and Scholes are their equivalent from Fergie's Fledglings.

    In ten years at United, Becks had 265 appearances and 62 goals. His talent must surely be confirmed by his success at Real Madrid.

    Yet he may be best remembered by most people for epic moments as England captain, before hanging up his boots after 115 caps and 17 goals, especially that equaliser against Greece. 

Ryan Giggs

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    Now the controversy begins.

    How can Giggs be at number three, when he is comfortably the all-time leader in appearances, with 909 so far and 163 goals?

    And who would bet against him going on to achieve 1,000?

    He has been voted the best player ever in the Premier League and, personal controversy aside, is a role model for young footballers and athletes in general.

    He is genuinely two-footed and can play on the wing or through the middle. He has also been used effectively in the No. 10 position.

    He has transcended all Sir Alex's generations and has even been touted as a future United manager.

    He is currently captaining Team GB in the Olympics and has looked comfortably the stand-out player in the squad.

George Best

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    George Best rightly stands on this plinth alongside United greats, Charlton and Law.

    His lifestyle may have infuriated his manager, Sir Matt Busby, as a sixties idol both on and off the field. It is fair to say that he would and should have played far more times for United but for his off-field challenges.

    Those who saw him live would assert he was the best winger ever—for United and in world football. He was certainly spectacular at a time when full-backs routinely kicked lumps out of wingers, or hoofed them into the stands.

    He loved to skip round, through or even over defenders, but was regarded by some as being too selfish. On more than one occasion, he would beat a defender, only to turn round and do it again for show.

    If his mazy runs ended in goals he was everybody's darling, but in some ways he was the Nani of the sixties if he failed to deliver a cross when doing so was the best decision.

    For whatever reason, George Best will never be forgotten and ranks for many up alongside Duncan Edwards as the best footballer they ever saw at United. 

Cristiano Ronaldo

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    OK, it's a personal choice, but why do I place Ronaldo as the best winger ever for United?

    Well, simply because he's not really a winger...

    Of course he played on the wing—either wing—he could turn defenders inside out with his "lollypops," hit stunning crosses, free-kicks and goals.

    Apart from his dazzling skills, what for me sets him out as the best ever is that, apart from his defensive inadequacy, he is the complete footballer.

    We may never again see another nominal winger with the same combination of body strength, technical skill, natural speed, crossing, dead-ball kicking, shooting like a bullet with either foot and world class heading ability.

    In his penultimate season for Manchester United he scored 42 goals in 49 matches, in his last two for Real Madrid he has scored a total of 113 in 109!

    We might have loved to see his very best and dream that he may one day return. While he was here, he played 292 games for 118 goals and 51 assists. Even one Youtube highlights video can't do justice to the quality and quantity of his end-product for United. 

    The debate will rage forever; Best played 470 times for 179 goals. What both players had in common, however, is that even neutral football fans would pay to watch them at their best.