Ranking the Top 5 Dutchmen to Have Played for Manchester United
Manchester United have been blessed with some extraordinary Dutch talent, and ranking them is a real challenge.
As Louis van Gaal prepares to lead the side out for their first friendly under his charge, which of his countrymen have had the most impact at United?
A total of eight Dutchmen have made first-team appearances for United. The three not included in the top five are:
- Alexander Buttner, who had a couple of decent games but will not be remembered as a great.
- Jordi Cruyff, who spent a long time at United, making 58 appearances between 1996 and 2000, but he was loaned out to Celta Vigo in 1999. His United career was plagued by injuries, and he never really made a place in the first team his own.
- Raimond van der Gouw, who arrived at United at the age of 33 and served primarily as an understudy to Peter Schmeichel.
None of them made a serious run at the top five. However, as easy at it was to choose the five players in contention, separating the top four was a very challenging task.
When I asked people on Twitter in what order they would put them in, they answered with every possible combination. Whilst there were patterns, people argued vehemently that each of the eventual top two should be the outright winner, and it was not close.
So, here are the top five Dutchmen to play for Manchester United, in an order with which you may profoundly disagree.
5. Arnold Muhren
The wonderfully named Arnold Johannes Hyacinthus Muhren was United's first Dutch signing, arriving in 1982. He had been a hit at Bobby Robson's Ipswich Town. At United he won the FA Cup twice, in 1983 and 1985, although he was not in the matchday squad for the 1985 cup final. He left the club in the summer that followed.
Muhren was a pioneer, arriving in England at a time when domestic players dominated the game. He was a success at Ipswich and again at United, scoring 18 goals in 98 games from midfield.
He is fifth in this list because he made a much more significant impact than the three Dutchmen who came outside of the top five, but he sits below the rest in terms of his impact on United.
A wonderful career was capped off in style, as Muhren provided the assist for Marco van Basten's extraordinary volley in the 1988 European Championships. Muhren played just 23 times for the Netherlands, but he will always be remembered for that.
4. Robin Van Persie
Robin van Persie's arrival electrified United. He arrived in the summer of 2012, a signing few of us foresaw. Sir Alex Ferguson's last significant purchase, Van Persie enable Fergie's last hurrah to be triumphant.
In the immediate aftermath of the 2012/13 season, the giddy Van Persie glow may have bumped him up this list, but the cold facts are that the Dutch striker has had two seasons at United and one of them was a disaster.
Speaking personally, the best thing about Van Persie's arrival was discovering just how good a player he was. When a player plays for a club other than your own, you may not pay him the same kind of attention. Discovering that his link-up play was so impressive and his range of finishing was so exceptional has been a joy. Long may it continue.
Every hope remains that under Van Gaal, Van Persie can claim a place at the very top of this list, but for now, the brilliant striker will have to be content with fourth. The silverware he helped the club win was perfectly timed, as it meant Sir Alex could go out on top, but the people above Van Persie either contributed for longer or won more.
3. Jaap Stam
Jaap Stam spent three seasons at United and is simply one of the finest defenders ever to grace the club. An imposing, dominant figure, Stam also had excellent touch and technique for a centre-half. He was Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic rolled into one.
United won the league every season Stam was there. Of course, in 1999 they won the League, FA Cup and Champions League treble in the most dramatic fashion imaginable. Stam was absolutely key to that 1999 side, helping United become genuine European contenders.
Some would argue Stam belongs at No. 1 on this list. Here, he sits above Van Persie for how much United won, and how consistent he was. He remains below the top two because his light shone so brightly at United, but it burnt out too soon.
He is fondly remembered, and his song is still sung at nearly every United game. If he had not been ignominiously sold, he may well have had a chance to cement a higher position.
2. Ruud Van Nistelrooy
Another spectacularly named Dutchmen at No. 2, the incomparable Rutgerus Johannes Martinus "Ruud" van Nistelrooy.
He scored 150 goals in 219 games, in a United side that was no match for the teams built on either side of Van Nistelrooy's Old Trafford tenure. Van Nistelrooy may be the finest out-and-out centre-forward ever to play at United. That he only won one league title under Sir Alex ill befits his remarkable talents.
Anyone who would place Van Nistelrooy at No. 1 in a list of all-time United Dutch greats would get no significant argument from me. He sits at No. 2 only because he won slightly less with the club, and, ultimately, United did not suffer from his departure.
Ferguson's United did not struggle to find new players to score goals. But they did struggle to find players to keep them out.
1. Edwin Van Der Sar
Peter Schmeichel left Manchester United in the summer of 1999, basking in the glow of European triumph. It took nine years for Sir Alex to win the big one again, and part of the reason it took so long was that Edwin Van Der Sar did not arrive to replace Schmeichel until 2005.
In the next six years, he stood in goal as United first won the Champions league and then found their way back to two more finals, defeated only by the brilliance of Barcelona.
Van Der Sar was pivotal in United's dominance at home and abroad in his era. He finally solved the problem created by Schmeichel's departure. With Ferdinand, Vidic and Van Der Sar, United's penalty area was extremely well-marshalled.
Four Premier League titles, two League Cups, a Champions League title, the FIFA Club World Cup title, two Champions League runner-up spots. Van Der Sar had a hand (or two) in all of the trophies United won in his time at the club.
For those reasons, with profound apologies to Van Nistelrooy and Stam, Edwin van der Sar is my No. 1 Dutchman.
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