Ranking the 5 Greatest Manchester United Pass Masters Under Sir Alex Ferguson
In the 1970s, your average football pitch probably resembled something of a quagmire—a sticky, well-trodden bog that would stop a ball dead in its tracks.
These days, great care is taken by groundsmen to ensure the pitches today's superstars play on are as well maintained and looked after as possible, and modern-day technology, such as sprinkler systems and under-soil heating, have helped with this.
Over the last 10 years, a generation of so-called "pass masters" have been ushered in, players such as Xavi, Andres Iniesta, Andrea Pirlo and Paul Scholes.
These individuals have wowed millions of spectators with their intricate, precision-perfect passing skills on these much-improved playing surfaces, with their technical prowess and, where Barcelona are concerned at least, tiki-taka football.
Short passes and movement, clever distribution and an emphasis on possession are all skills that have come more into the fore in this modern age of football, and Manchester United arguably had the best pass master of them all in their ranks.
But before we get to that, here, we take you through the five greatest Manchester United pass masters under Sir Alex Ferguson.
Between 2003 and 2009, Christiano Ronaldo was wowing the Old Trafford faithful with his silky dribbling skills, audacious tricks, belting strikes and stunning free-kicks.
Signed from Sporting Lisbon in 2003, little was known of the Portuguese international. He had previously spent a relatively nondescript season for the Sporting senior side after breaking through the youth ranks, scoring just three times in 25 games.
Yet Sir Alex Ferguson chanced his arm on the youngster and, though the goals didn't really start flowing until 2007, it soon paid off.
Known for his whizzing crosses from the flanks and deadly set-pieces, Ronaldo created 43 assists during his stay at the Theatre of Dreams and also netted 118 goals in 292 appearances.
Arguably one of United's best midfielders of the modern age, Ronaldo was just as happy to assist his teammates as he was scoring goals, and he helped the club win the Champions League in 2008.
Always consistent, always underrated. It has been that way for much of Michael Carrick's career.
He was nominated last season for the PFA Player of the Year Award having quietly yet efficiently pulled the strings in United's midfield en route to their Premier League title win, but was typically overlooked.
Yet Carrick's importance to the champions, and his passing abilities, cannot be overstated.
Once dubbed the "Rolls Royce" of the United team by the legendary Paul Scholes, Carrick learned all he could from the retired veteran.
And he has started to earn recognition for his Scholes-esque passing from the Old Trafford faithful with the terrace chant: "Hard to believe it's not Scholes."
Indeed, since the retirement of Scholes, Carrick has taken on a greater degree of importance at United, and his clever distribution of the ball last season was one of the reasons why the Red Devils won the title.
In the Red Devils' most successful season, 1998-99, the England midfielder was behind some of the most crucial goals scored during that campaign.
His equalising goal against Tottenham in the Premier League on the final day of the season started a 2-1 comeback that won United the title at Old Trafford, and his two deliveries from a corner, first to Teddy Sheringham, then to Ole Gunnar Solskjær, won United the Champions League.
Beckham was a consistent menace on the wings for United during his 10-year spell, with his pin-point crosses from the flanks, and lethal accuracy from corners and free-kicks, he will go down as one of the Premier League's greatest players.
For the past 23 years, Ryan Giggs has been pulling the strings from the Manchester United midfield. Be it from the wing, as was his customary position in his youth, or through the middle, having emigrated to a more central role with his advancing age, the Welsh international has and continues to be—to use the age-old cliche unabashedly—the Red Devils' midfield maestro.
Giggs holds the record for the most assists in Premier League history with 282, which far bests his 168 overall goals for the champions, showing he is perhaps one of the single most selfless players in the club's recent history.
Giggs is the most decorated player in the Premier League era, with 13 titles to his name, and the reason why United have enjoyed such success over the last two decades has been partly to do with the inimitable skills of the Welsh veteran.
Andrea Pirlo, Andres Iniesta, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard...The best midfielder of the last 20 years? None of them, according to Barcelona legend Xavi.
The Nou Camp pass master believes Paul Scholes is the greatest ever midfielder of the past 20 years and it is difficult not to agree with him. Scholes' distribution and passing abilities were marveled at for decades and his eye for an assist was rarely second to none.
Perhaps one of the Premier League's most technically gifted players, the central midfielder had racked up 138 assists by the time he finally announced his retirement last season.
And he may well have provided even more had he been a winger. Scholes, more often than not, distributed the ball to the wide areas rather than directly to the strikers and mostly assisted the "assisters."
Though Giggs provided more goals for the club, it was only because of players like Scholes why he was able to rack up as many as he did, and, in those regards, as much as the former England international is off the field, Scholes was happy to remain in the back rather than foreground.