I’m listing who I think are the 20 greatest legends in Manchester United history. Do not confuse legends with most talented players. The list emphasizes club loyalty just as much as skills.
Additional points are granted to players who spent their whole careers with United. That’s why you’ll find Gary Neville in the top 20, while Cristiano Ronaldo is only an honorable mention.
There is no denying that Giggs is one of the most significant players to suit up for the Red Devils, but how does he stack up against the cast of legends that have been in his shoes?
If the criteria for this list were skill alone, Cristiano Ronaldo would be in the top 3.
The Portuguese international lit up Old Trafford with his mesmerizing play, but I can’t get myself to call him a United legend.
While it’s clear that he respects the club, as he proved by not celebrating his goal last week, it doesn’t change the fact he spent the last few years of his United career trying to force a move to Real Madrid.
After Peter Schmeichel left United in 1999, the Red Devils spent years trying to find an adequate replacement. It didn’t prove to be easy. In fact, how the greatest English football club managed to get by with Fabian Barthez, Mark Bosnich and Roy Carrol will forever be a mystery.
If the goalkeeper situation wasn’t so horrendous before Van der Sar’s arrival, he likely wouldn’t be on this list. However, no one can deny the Dutchman’s impact on United.
At the age of 38, he set an EPL record for longest streak without allowing a single goal, and most importantly he won the Champions League for United with the decisive penalty save. That truly deserves legend status.
For all the talk about Ronaldo’s goal-scoring ability, he doesn’t come close to Van Nistelrooy, the greatest scorer United has ever had. Ironically, Van Nistelrooy’s departure from the club was partially a result of an altercation between the pair during practice.
Van Nistelrooy was supposed to sign with United in 2000, but an injury that sidelined him for an entire season put an end to that.
Still, Van Nistelrooy’s recovery went better than anyone could have expected, and he signed with the Red Devils the following season.
Although United never won the Champions League during Van Nistelrooy’s stay, he led the UCL in scoring in 2002, 2003 and 2005.
David Beckham is a global icon who will always be associated with United.
It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that much of the reason why United has such a huge fanbase around the world is because of Beckham. He was never the club’s best player, but he was the face of the team.
When Gary Pallister came to Manchester United in 1989, the Red Devils were stuck in the shadow of archrival Liverpool. By the time he left Old Trafford in 1998, United had become the greatest team in England.
Pallister shared some of the credit for that achievement, along with his fellow central defender Steve Bruce.
Longevity was one of Pallister’s strengths, as he only missed one league game between 1992-95.
His greatest moment came when he scored two goals against Liverpool at Anfield to help United win the EPL title.
Mark Hughes had one of the most interesting United careers of any player. He got his debut in 1980, after spending two years with the youth squad. Then he left United for Barcelona in 1986, right before Alex Ferguson took over the club.
Hughes wasn’t quite suited for Spanish football (or German football for that matter as his Bayern Munich stint would prove), and Ferguson brought him back to United in 1988.
He became a fruitful addition to United’s squad and Ferguson called him “the best big game player I have ever known.”
Hughes left United in 1995 for Chelsea after 467 appearances and 163 goals.
Wayne Rooney is the only player on this list who is currently still in his prime, which says a lot about his ability to handle pressure.
Although the Rooney hype reached astronomical proportions at times, he didn’t let it affect him and he’s developed into the greatest box-to-box player in the world.
Rooney has won everything you can possibly win with Manchester United, and he’s only 27. So why isn’t he higher on the list?
Well, he was dangerously close to signing with Manchester City, and that would have been unforgivable. Leaving United is one thing, but moving to City is quite another. You don’t see Carlos Tevez anywhere on this list, do you?
Denis Irwin came to United for only £625,000 but he played like he was worth £30 million. From 1990 to 2002, Irwin was a staple in the Red Devils lineup.
While full-backs rarely get the attention they deserve, Irwin was an integral part of the United squad that won the Treble in 1999.
When Irwin signed with Wolverhampton in 2002, he left behind a legacy of 529 total appearances, 33 goals, seven League titles, three FA cups and one Champions League title.
For the older generation of United fans, Bryan Robson will always be the captain.
While Robson’s standing amongst the United greats might have been diminished due to the incredible players of the past 20 years, fans of the Red Devils owe a great deal of gratitude to Captain Marvel.
Brought to Old Trafford in 1981, Robson always sacrificed legs and limbs for his team until he left in 1994.
He scored the last goal of the 1992-93 season, which saw United reclaim the League trophy after a 26-year wait.
Robson ended his United career just one goal shy of 100 and with 461 appearances under his belt.
Roy Keane is someone you absolutely want with you in the trenches. As a player, he was a natural leader and arguably the most notable captain in Manchester United history.
He was never afraid to speak his mind, which unfortunately spurred his exit from Old Trafford in 2005.
Nevertheless, Keane is a legend for the way he captained Manchester United through some of their most successful seasons.
Watch this clip of Gary Neville celebrating in front of Liverpool fans and tell me he’s not an absolute legend.
Arguably the greatest goalkeeper in football history, Peter Schmeichel made sure Old Trafford was an impenetrable fortress during his stint with the club.
He had cat-like reflexes and even a penchant for scoring goals. Schmeichel left United in 1999 to join Sporting Lisbon. In eight seasons in Manchester he won five Premier League titles, three FA Cups and a Champions League title.
But the bond between player and club always remained strong and last year Schmeichel returned to United as club ambassador.
Solskjaer was behind the most memorable moment in United history when he scored the last minute goal against Bayern Munich in the 1999 Champions League final.
Later in his career he battled through injuries, but although his prospects were grim, Old Trafford never forgot about him and proudly displayed a "20LEGEND"-banner in his honor.
Solskjaer is currently coaching Molde FK in the Norwegian Tippeligaen, but he revealed as recently as a week ago that his dream is to coach Manchester United.
Could he return to United as Sir Alex’s successor?
Often times we use the word ‘heroics’ to describe the way a player carries himself on the pitch. As a result, the word almost becomes too diluted to describe the actions of a real hero like Harry Gregg.
Gregg was one of the lucky ones in the Munich air crash of 1958, as he came away unscathed. He then decided to go back into the wreckage to rescue survivors.
Among those he was able to save were a 20-month old baby and a pregnant woman.
Duncan Edwards was one of the most talented players of his era, and he died too early at the age of 21.
Sir Matt Busby called him the "most complete footballer in Britain, possibly the world."
By the time he passed, Edwards had already won two league titles and made his England debut.
One can only speculate what would have become of Edwards had it not been for the Munich air crash, but he will always live on in the memories of United fans across the world.
Paul Scholes is the gift that keeps on giving. He tried to retire in 2011 but simply couldn’t stay away from the pitch. In January of 2012, he made his comeback.
Scholes is third on the all-time list of players with the most appearances for Manchester United, and chasing down Sir Bobby Charlton for the second spot.
Quite the goal scorer in his prime, he had 20 in 2002-03, Scholes’ focus these days is on distributing the ball. At 38, his passing skills are still out of this world and United fans will miss him dearly the day he truly decides to retire.
Denis Law is one of three players along with George Best and Sir Bobby Charlton that every United fan should know.
The Scotsman scored an incredible 237 goals in 404 games as a Red Devil, and he was part of the 1968 squad that won United their first European Cup.
He is second on the all-time top goal scoring list for the Red Devils. However, Charlton played in almost twice as many games.
Pele good, Maradona better, George Best.
When United scout Bob Bishop found Best he proudly told Sir Matt Busby, “I think I’ve found you a genius.”
Best became so popular in his day that it earned him the nickname “the fifth Beatle.” He was Manchester United's first superstar.
Watching him fly past defenders in the 1970s is eerily reminiscent of watching Leo Messi today.
Drinking and partying saw to that Best never realized his full potential.
Nevertheless, the decade of brilliance he displayed with United inspired a generation of footballers and fans.
Eric Cantona is possibly the most exciting player to ever walk onto Old Trafford. Ask anyone who ever say him play and they will tell you that Cantona was “le Roi.”
A man for the big occasions, Cantona is particularly remembered for his remarkable finish against Liverpool in the 1996 FA Cup final.
He had the right mixture of talent and arrogance that was effortlessly displayed when he scored this classic goal. Only a true showman could pull off that goal celebration.
Cantona said it best himself in the 2010 movie Looking for Eric where he portrays a fictionalized version of himself, “I am not a man. I am Cantona.”
This is where I ended up putting Ryan Giggs.
His accomplishments can’t be overstated. His club record of 930 appearances and counting is going to stand for many years to come. He’s the most decorated player in United history, and the way he’s taking care of his body, he could be contribute on the field for a couple more seasons if he wants to.
The most impressive thing about Giggs' career is the way he’s reinvented his game to keep up with the youngsters.
That guy is never coming back. Giggs will never be able to use his speed to have that kind of impact.
However, he can rely on experience and passing skills to keep opponents in check.
So who did I pick over Giggs as the greatest United legend of all time?
It had to be Sir Bobby Charlton. He embodies the spirit of Manchester United more than anyone.
He survived the Munich air crash, won the European Cup in 1968 and retired with the most goals and appearances of any player.
More importantly, Charlton decided to come back to the team long after his retirement. Since 1984, he’s been a member of United’s board of directors.
Hopefully, Giggs will choose a similar path and stay with the Red Devils when he decides to hang up his booths.
Until then, Charlton will remain the greatest Manchester United legend.