Manchester United: Greatest Players to Have Played Under Sir Alex Ferguson

Sam Tighe@@stighefootballWorld Football Tactics Lead WriterMay 8, 2013

Manchester United: Greatest Players to Have Played Under Sir Alex Ferguson

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    Sir Alex Ferguson is set to retire at season's end, calling a stop to a glittering, famous and unprecedented career as a football manager (via BBC Sport).

    We take a look at 20 of the greatest players, ordered alphabetically, to have played for Manchester United under his tutelage, making tough calls at every turn.

    Feel free to add your opinions in the comments and share your memories.

Honourable Mentions

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    Patrice Evra

    Paul McGrath

    Edwin van der Sar

    Andrei Kanchelskis

    Michael Carrick

    Nicky Butt

    Dwight Yorke

    Teddy Sheringham

David Beckham

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    David Beckham spent 10 wonderful years at Old Trafford after emerging as one of "Fergie's fledglings."

    He developed a wand of a right foot and made the right midfield slot his own, swinging in cross after cross with accuracy other wingers dreamed of.

    His goal from inside his own half against Neil Sullivan of Wimbledon is probably his crowning moment as a player from the neutral perspective, but Manchester United fans will always appreciate his contributions to the treble-winning season in 1999 above that.

Steve Bruce

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    Steve Bruce helped Manchester United end their long wait to lift the FA Cup once more in 1990.

    His partnership with Gary Pallister is one of the best the Red Devils have ever had at central defence, and Bruce in particular had a handy habit of scoring goals—51 from a centre-back is quite the feat.

Eric Cantona

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    Eric Cantona is a bit of a hero around Old Trafford after bringing five entertaining and joyous years to the fans.

    He was controversial—don't doubt it—but he was also a wickedly skilled forward with an incredible eye for goal.

    Some of the strikes he let off were unbelievable, and the Frenchman remains a mainstay on the introduction to the BBC's Match of the Day. Legendary.

Andrew Cole

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    The Andrew Cole-Dwight Yorke partnership was an absolute masterstroke by Sir Alex Ferguson.

    Cole was expensive, but he was worth it: he managed 121 goals from 231 total starts, contributing to the 1999 treble win and lifting the English Premier League trophy a whopping five times.

    Yorke's not on this list due to the fact he spent less time at United than most, but the two are remembered more as a pair than they are individually.

Rio Ferdinand

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    Rio Ferdinand was signed by Sir Alex Ferguson for a circa £30 million fee, making him the most expensive British player for the second time in the young man's career.

    His contract is set to expire this summer, but he's put in arguably one of his finest seasons yet, shunning criticism and proving those who felt he was finished wrong.

    He aided Sir Alex in ending the long wait for another UEFA Champions League trophy in 2008, forming a rock-solid partnership with Nemanja Vidic.

Ryan Giggs

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    Arguably the greatest player ever to have graced the English Premier League, Ryan Giggs is still going at age 39.

    At the time of writing, he's made an unbelievable 939 appearances for the club and picked up 13 Premier League winner's medals.

    He's been a one-club man after emerging from the academy in 1990 and will likely stay on at the club in a coaching capacity for years to come.

Mark Hughes

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    The oft-maligned managerial version of Mark Hughes is a shadow of the man who played for the famous Manchester United.

    The striker left the Red Devils after six years of service in 1986, but returned two years later after cameos with Barcelona and Bayern Munich to become a key player.

    The Welshman proved to be a dynamic goalscorer, bagging more than 100 for the club with and without Fergie at the helm.

Denis Irwin

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    Denis Irwin was a regular feature at left-back, opposite Gary Neville in a settled back four, for 12 glorious years at Manchester United.

    He made more than 500 appearances for the club after signing from Leeds United, contributing heavily to the treble-winning side in 1999 and collecting seven Premier League winner's medals.

    The Irishman is often (unfairly) overlooked when it comes to the discussion of the Red Devils' legends.

Roy Keane

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    Roy Keane was nabbed from Nottingham Forest the same season "Fergie's fledglings" came into the first team, and little did we know it was to be the start of a dominant decade for the midfielder.

    Keane was a man who struck fear into the hearts of all who opposed him, patrolling the midfield like a guard dog starved of food—canine reference intended!

    In 1997 he took the honour of captaining the club despite missing the first season with an injury, adding yet another impressive title to a glittering trophy cabinet.

Gary Neville

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    Gary Neville played a phenomenal 19 years for Manchester United and locked up the right-back position for the large majority of Sir Alex Ferguson's career.

    Neville, who is now a revered Sky Sports football analyst, stayed on for an extra season or two at Old Trafford to help groom his heir apparent in Rafael, giving the Red Devils one final act of service.

    To have one player dominate a spot in the squad for so long helped SAF build a dynasty.

Gary Pallister

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    Gary Pallister was signed from Middlesbrough in 1989 and proved to be one of the signings that finally enabled Manchester United to clamber back to the top of English football.

    His presence ensuring an FA Cup win in 1990 was just the start of long list of honours, and his nine-year career at Old Trafford is widely viewed as a big success.

    He won the PFA Players' Player of the Year award in 1992 and landed four EPL titles and five Charity Shields.

Bryan Robson

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    Bryan Robson is one of the few players here that wasn't signed by Sir Alex Ferguson, arriving five years before the Scot did via West Bromwich Albion.

    Robson had miraculously recovered from three leg breaks inside one year to get back to his footballing best and made a name for himself as one of the greatest box-to-box midfielders of his era.

    "Robbo" cost £1.5 million in 1981—that was some fee, but he paid it all back and more.

Cristiano Ronaldo

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    Cristiano Ronaldo spent six years at Manchester United, developing rapidly from a skinny teenager to one of the best players world football has ever seen.

    Once the Portuguese winger had added power to his pace and trickery, he became almost impossible to stop: The 2007-08 season saw him bag an astonishing 42 goals from the wing, and that season culminated in a UEFA Champions League win.

    Could he return?

Wayne Rooney

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    Wayne Rooney set something of a precedent after leaving Everton as an 18-year-old boy.

    He was so special Sir Alex Ferguson felt it necessary to spend £25.6 million to make him a Red Devil, and since 2004 he's become the face of Manchester United.

    He's now made over 400 appearances for the club, scored close to 200 goals and boasts a trophy cabinet to rival any other.

    The iconic overhead kick against Manchester City is a canvas print hoisted on many a fan's wall.

Peter Schmeichel

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    Peter Schmeichel played eight top-drawer seasons with Manchester United and scooped a whole host of winner's medals.

    Signed for a ridiculously low £505,000 (even for 1991), you'd be hard pressed to find a better value signing than the great Dane.

    He left the Red Devils on a career high: lifting the UEFA Champions League trophy after beating Bayern Munich. He was seen cartwheeling in his own area after Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's winner.

Paul Scholes

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    Paul Scholes is set to re-retire at the end of the season after helping Sir Alex Ferguson out in a tight spot.

    That's testament to his loyal career as a Red Devil after signing in 1991 as a boy, and to date he's chalked up over 700 appearances for the club, scoring 155 goals.

    He is a wizard with the ball at his feet, mastering the pass early on and shining on a consistent basis. With age his long passes only got better, and there's a long line of England managers wondering why they didn't use him correctly.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer

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    The sum of £1.5 million was a small price to pay for the little-known Molde striker, and within weeks of Solksjaer's arrival it became clear he'd be a key player.

    The "baby-faced assassin" had a habit of coming up with crucial goals at the right time, and no striker will be remembered more fondly than the winner in the 1999 UEFA Champions League final.

Jaap Stam

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    Jaap Stam's time at Manchester United was short but sweet, making him a bit of an anomaly on this list of Sir Alex Ferguson's greatest players.

    He was a complete centre-back, though, and well worth the aggressive pursuit which saw him move from PSV Eindhoven in 1998.

    He won the English Premier League in each of his three seasons as a Red Devil, in addition to the UEFA Champions League and one FA Cup.

Ruud van Nistelrooy

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    Ruud van Nistelrooy started exactly 200 matches for Manchester United and scored 150 goals—talk about clinical!

    The Dutchman represented the pure poacher's instinct with aplomb, and if the ball fell to his feet inside the 18-yard area you could put your house on him scoring.

Nemanja Vidic

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    Manchester United stole Nemanja Vidic from under Fiorentina's noses and never looked back, bringing one of the fiercest, bravest central defenders in world football to the English Premier League.

    No striker looks forward to going up against the giant Serbian, and only a knee injury has slowed him down. He was a vital part in the EPL record of 1,311 minutes without conceding a goal in 2009.

    For approximately £7 million, he remains one of Fergie's best-ever signings.