Manchester United's 8 Best Central Midfielders of All Time

Max TowleAnalyst IFebruary 4, 2013

Manchester United's 8 Best Central Midfielders of All Time

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    The history of Manchester United Football Club is as rich as it is varied.

    Some of the greatest names in the game have played in the famous red shirt—their legacies set in stone, their names to be sung at Old Trafford for centuries to come.

    Of all the legendary players, many inhabited the role of central midfielder—one crucial to the team dynamic and structure.

    Here are eight of the best, ranked in order of greatness, though each a true proficient in how to play the position well.

    As always, this list is intended to spark debate, rather than end it.

8. Lou Macari

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    Time at United: 1973-1984

    First up we have Lou Macari—the fiery Scotsman who played a total of 400 games for Manchester United.

    The converted central midfielder (having formerly played in attack) was an excellent finisher as well as playmaker—he scored an impressive 97 goals while at Old Trafford.

    He experienced relegation with the Red Devils in 1974 but stayed at the club to help lead them straight back into the First Division a year later.

    Macari had mixed success as a manager in his post-playing career, taking charge of West Ham, Stoke City and Celtic amongst other teams.

7. Paul Ince

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    Time at United: 1989-1995

    In seventh is the rather controversial Paul Ince, father of rumoured United transfer target Tom Ince (via

    "The Guvnor," as he called himself while at Old Trafford, left the club in rather unsavoury terms having reportedly fallen out with boss Sir Alex Ferguson (via The Guardian).

    There's no denying his talent, though—he was a tough-tackling, tenacious player in his prime who is one of a very small number of English players to succeed on the continent during their career.

    Ince was a key factor in the Red Devils' initial rise to glory at the inception of the Premier League.

6. Paddy Crerand

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    Time at United: 1963-1971

    Another hard man in central midfield was Paddy Crerand, who has since become just as uncompromising off the field in his post-playing career.

    The MUTV pundit recently drew a fair amount of ire from certain corners of the footballing world for his outspoken views on Rio Ferdinand being struck in the head with a coin thrown during the Red Devils recent win over Manchester City (via The Scotsman).

    Like the presenters of BBC Radio 5 Live, many former players know the full force of a Crerand in full steam all too well.

    As well as playing alongside fellow greats Sir Bobby Charlton, Denis Law and George Best, the Scotsman experienced the euphoria of lifting the European Cup while at Old Trafford.

5. Nobby Stiles

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    Time at United: 1960-1971

    World Cup winner for England and European Cup winner for Manchester United, Nobby Stiles is an iconic figure in the history of British football.

    The defensive midfielder was rugged, uncompromising and a prolific ball-winner in his prime.

    Stiles could in a sense be called one of the pioneers of the modern-day holding midfield position—on this side of the pond, at least.

    Though he may not have been one of the most aesthetically pleasing footballers, his effectiveness in dictating the flow of a game was undeniable.

4. Paul Scholes

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    Time at United: 1993-till present

    Though his brief comeback from retirement looks like it may be a little short-lived, Paul Scholes will truly go down in the annals of Manchester United Football Club as one of its greatest players.

    The ginger wizard's career scoring record is as prolific as just about any central midfielder's, his best season coming in 2002/03 when he struck 20 goals in all competitions.

    One of the elite passers in the game, Scholes has inspired countless players with his flawless technique.

    Also a model professional and a one-club man, there could be no better player to serve as a representative of the game for youngsters.

3. Bryan Robson

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    Time at United: 1981-1994

    Bryan Robson was one of the most complete players to ever grace the game.

    The Manchester United and England captain was a fine finisher, a fearless tackler never afraid to put his body on the line and an underrated passer amongst his many qualities.

    The long-serving Englishman won a couple of Premier League titles with the Red Devils, as well as three FA Cups and the UEFA Cup Winners' Cup.

    When Robson was diagnosed with throat cancer in 2011, Sir Alex remarked "he has always been a fighter and he will be all right. I am sure of that" (via Daily Mail).

2. Roy Keane

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    Time at United: 1993-2005

    Perhaps the epitome of ruthless aggression and unbridled passion, Roy Keane is Manchester United's greatest captain of all time.

    The Irishman often drew criticism for those who didn't like his unsympathetic manner, but as a leader of men, there were none more inspiring.

    Keane won seven Premier League titles while at Old Trafford, as well as being instrumental in the club's treble-winning season of 1998-99.

    He was certainly a hard-hitting tackler, but also possessed excellent technique and skill, something many fail to give him credit for.

1. Sir Bobby Charlton

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    Time at United: 1956-1973

    Coming in at No. 1 though, and deservedly so, is the one and only Sir Bobby Charlton.

    Sir Bobby, as he is now known, was a legendary central midfielder who was a driving force through the middle and a true long range shot specialist.

    Winner of the Ballon d'Or in 1966, the year he helped lead England to World Cup glory, as well as a European Cup winner with United, Charlton was born to succeed.

    As a survivor of the tragic Munich air disaster in 1958, the Englishman was key in the subsequent rebuild and rebirth of Manchester United Football Club.

    Who else might you have on this list? Are there any players in the current squad who may be one day considered?