Manchester United's 10 Most Influential Transfers of All Time

Dan TalintyreSenior Analyst IIJuly 31, 2013

Manchester United's 10 Most Influential Transfers of All Time

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    Manchester United have had—without exaggerating—hundreds of world-class players walk through the gates of Old Trafford at some point or another.

    So to pick the greatest transfers of all time certainly isn't an easy feat.

    I've opted to do this list in no particular order, simply because the players mentioned are all worthy of taking the No. 1 spot in their own right. All have been incredibly great servants for the Red Devils and all are (again, without exaggerating) some of the best players the world has ever seen.

    Read on to see which names make the list.

    As always, if there's a name you think should (or shouldn't) be on the list, make sure you include it in the comments below.

Peter Schmeichel

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    Transfer Fee: £505,000 from Brondby

    Trophies Won at United: 15 (including 1999 treble)

    To kick off this list, we might as well start with the most influential man at the back for Manchester United—Peter Schmeichel.

    The Danish international arrived to Old Trafford in 1991. While he might have left in 1999 to join Sporting CP (before eventually joining rivals Manchester City), the goalkeeper's legacy and reputation lives on with the defending English champions.

    In his time at United, Schmeichel won five Premier League titles, three FA Cups and the UEFA Champions League—setting the bar incredibly high for the likes of Edwin van der Sar and others to follow. In addition to captaining United's treble-winning side in 1999, he was named UEFA's Goalkeeper of the Year four times at United and was subsequently inducted into the English Football Hall of Fame in 2003.

    To this day, Schmeichel holds the record for the greatest clean sheets-per-games ratio in the English Premier League—an incredible 42 percent—leading to Sir Alex Ferguson praising the star shot-stopper by saying that he was "the signing of the century" (per Total Football Mag).

     

Roy Keane

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    Transfer Fee: £3.75 million from Nottingham Forrest

    Trophies Won at United: 17 (including 1999 treble)

    Another member of United's treble-winning side in 1999, Roy Keane was one of the most determined midfielders ever to wear the Red Devils' jersey—and it showed. He won nearly everything there was to win at United. He left an impressive legacy behind him that few midfielders will ever be able to match.

    Current United midfielder Darren Fletcher said of Keane:

    He was our captain, he was our leader and he left a mark: where we are now is down to him, our dedication comes from the standards he set.

    The rules about time-keeping, about getting in a half-hour early, they were his instructions back in the day and those traditions continue...

    Regardless of how his time at United ended, Keane was one of the greatest fighters ever to play at Old Trafford and certainly one of the best transfers the Red Devils have made.

Ruud Van Nistelrooy

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    Transfer Fee: £19 million from PSV Eindhoven

    Trophies Won at United: 4

    Ruud Van Nistelrooy might not have won the trophies that others did at Manchester United, but there is little doubting that the Red Devils were still the big winners from his £19 million move in 2001. The striker was named PFA Player of the Year in his debut season at the club.

    Tracked by Sir Alex Ferguson for several years before his transfer, Van Nistelrooy certainly wasn't the cheapest signing ever made—but he was one of the best. He scored over 150 goals in 215 appearances for the Red Devils and remains the club's top European goalscorer, even if he was forced out sooner than he probably deserved due to United's consecutive trophy-less seasons.

    One of the best strikers United have ever had.

Bryan Robson

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    Transfer Fee: £1.5 million from West Bromwich Albion

    Trophies Won at United: 11

    Inducted into English Football's Hall of Fame in 2002, Bryan Robson was certainly excellent value from a United point of view. Unable to find a regular starting spot with the Baggies, Robson would go on to make the No. 7 shirt his own—chalking up over 450 games and netting 99 goals.

    Robson was fundamental to the early success of Sir Alex Ferguson—winning two Premier League titles, three FA Cups and a UEFA Super Cup in his 13-year spell at the club.

Cristiano Ronaldo

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    Transfer Fee: £12.2 million from Sporting CP

    Trophies Won at United: 8

    In 2003, United made a bold move to wrap up a deal for talented Sporting CP winger Cristiano Ronaldo. He would be the first Portuguese player ever to sign for United, and without doubt, one of the greatest ever—on and off the football field.

    Ronaldo originally didn't want the No. 7 jersey at United given the rich history that it had, but manager Sir Alex Ferguson was adamant that he would wear it—a move that turned out to be very correct indeed. The mazy dribbling skills and brilliant attacking play helped Ronaldo become one of the best in the English Premier League, winning the Ballon d'Or in 2008 as a result.

    He would go on to win three Premier League titles, an FA Cup and the UEFA Champions League. But his greatest achievement came in praise he drew from Ferguson in 2009, as he declared that the Portuguese international was truly one of the greatest players ever.

    I have nothing but praise for the boy. He is easily the best player in the world. He is better than Kaka and better than Messi; he is streets ahead of them all. His contribution as a goal threat is unbelievable. His stats are incredible. Strikes at goal, attempts on goal, raids into the penalty box, headers. It's all there. Absolutely astounding.

     

Eric Cantona

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    Transfer Fee: £1.2 million from Leeds

    Trophies Won at United: 9

    Regardless of what might have happened at Crystal Palace that fateful day in 1995, there is little doubting Eric Cantona's billing as one of the great Manchester United players of all time. After all, it was Cantona who led United to their first title in 26 years, and Ferguson to his first as a Premier League manager—something few players can attest to in their time at Old Trafford.

    Cantona's presence in midfield was unrivaled by any at the time, and still to this day. His confidence and sublime skill were exceptional. The Frenchman won more than his share of fans over thanks to his brilliant attacking play and finishing skills.

    Oh, and who could forget the collar?

Denis Law

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    Transfer Fee: £115,000 from Torino

    Trophies Won at United: 4

    One third of the "United trinity," Denis Law is a living legend at Old Trafford.

    After the Munich air disaster in the late 1950s, United's form had been erratic at best. They struggled for consistent wins and could not mount any real challenge to the league heavyweights as a result—at least, not until players like Law started to come into the team.

    Law led United to an FA Cup title in 1963 and then followed that up with a Football League First Division title. He was named European Footballer of the Year in 1964 as a result and eventually tasted European success when the Red Devils clinched the European Cup in 1968.

    It might have only been an 11-year career at Old Trafford, but Law's spell was one of the most important and iconic careers the English champions have ever had.

Denis Irwin

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    Transfer Fee: £625,000 from Oldham Athletic

    Trophies Won at United: 19 (including 1999 treble)

    Want to know what made Leighton Baines and Philipp Lahm so great?

    Well, it's in part thanks to Denis Irwin, whose superb attacking play and crossing skills revolutionized the way in which defenders (in a customary 4-4-2 formation) interacted with the team's attack. Maybe that's a bit of a stretch, but it's not that far off.

    Irwin was one of the first in a new breed of attacking defenders—scoring 22 goals in his 368 appearances at United. As a result, he was an integral part of United's treble-winning side in 1999, as he finished his career at Old Trafford with one of the most impressive resumes ever seen.

    • 7 x English Premier League 
    • 3 x FA Cup 
    • 4 x Charity Shield
    • 1 x League Cup
    • 1 x UEFA Champions League
    • 1 x Cup Winners' Cup
    • 1 x European Super Cup
    • 1 x Intercontinental Cup

     

Martin Buchan

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    Transfer Fee: £120,000 from Aberdeen

    Trophies Won at United: 1

    A record signing in 1972, Martin Buchan was one of United's finest centre-backs ever and one whose legacy at the club is well and truly deserved. The Scotland international might not have won the sheer volume of trophies that others on this list have—given that United were struggling even to stay in First Division at the time of Buchan's career—but his impact was nonetheless important.

    In addition to winning Second Division in 1974 (putting the Red Devils back in the top-flight), Buchan was a part of a United squad that made three FA Cup Finals in the space of seven years. The photo above is from the final they did win—2-1 against bitter rivals Liverpool in 1977.

Steve Bruce

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    Transfer Fee: £825,000 from Norwich City

    Trophies Won at United: 12

    Last but certainly not least is bustling defender Steve Bruce, who was more than a solid defender and leader at the time. Bruce was a prolific goalscorer as far as defenders go (scoring 36 goals in his 10-year career at Old Trafford), with none being more important than the goal he scored against Sheffield Wednesday in 1993—a moment that marked the start of "Fergie Time."

    In the eighth minute of stoppage time (yes, you read that correctly), Bruce managed to sneak the ball home off a cross and give United the three points on the day. That win would be enough to see them clinch the Premier League title from Aston Villa and then start the reign of United that we know today.

    From 1993 onwards, Bruce won three Premier League titles, two FA Cups and two Charity Shield trophies. He was fundamental to the start of United's impressive dynasty.

    Talk about an impressive transfer.

     

    Obviously there are plenty of others who could have made this list; any that you think definitely should (or shouldn't) be on this list? Comment below or hit me up on Twitter—