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The 10 Greatest Manchester United Players of the Sir Alex Ferguson Era

Sriram IlangoCorrespondent IJuly 9, 2011

The 10 Greatest Manchester United Players of the Sir Alex Ferguson Era

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    Sir Alex Ferguson has been the major storyline in English club football for well over two decades now. With 47 major league trophies, he is one of the most decorated football managers in England.

    Since he took over Manchester United in 1986, the team has not turned back. Ferguson's club has won 12 league titles, overhauling Liverpool, and made four Champions League finals with two titles on top of several other trophies.

    Champions have been born under Ferguson. Stars turned into stalwarts and fledglings turned into world-class players.

    Here is the list of top 10 players who have played under "The Gaffer."

Honorable Mentions

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    Gary Neville

    It hurts me still not to put this man in the top 10. He does not have a skill set like Cristiano Ronaldo. He is not elegant like Ryan Giggs. He is not naturally gifted like Paul Schoes and still he is the greatest Red that ever lived!

    Gary Neville spent his entire career at United and made the right-back position as his own. After Roy Keane departed, he was made the captain of the team.

    He has openly stated about his hatred for rivals Liverpool and Manchester City. Fans at United consider him to be their biggest hero.

    Ole Gunnar Solskjaer

    The baby-faced assassin, he was called this by the Old Trafford faithfuls. We remember the Norwegian for the injury-time winner he hit against Bayern Munich in that dramatic 1999 Champions League final.

    He scored 126 goals in 366 games for a very good record considering the fact that he was mostly used as a sub. He never wanted to leave United and even today, he is with the coaching staff.

    Andy Cole

    After King Eric retired in 1998, it was Andy Cole who provided us with top class goal scoring. He along with Dwight Yorke formed one of the best attacking partnerships that United has had all these years.

    With 90-odd goals in 190-odd appearances, his stats will speak for himself.

10. Mark Hughes

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    As a youngster, Hughes was part of an United team which had no Ferguson. When Sir Alex came into the team in 1986, he was sold to Barcelona, one of the earliest English players to leave for Spain.

    He came back to United at 1988 and continued to be an important member of the team. Though United finished a disappointing 11th, Hughes was the PFA Player of the Year. 

    In his two stints at United, he has scored more than 100 goals and was the Club's top scorer for a handful of seasons.

    When Eric Cantona and Andy Cole arrived at the club, Hughes had to leave to Chelsea to find first team chances.

9. Ruud Van Nistelrooy

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    There has not been a better goal scorer than Ruud van Nistelrooy for United. In his very first season, he broke all records and scored 23 goals in 32 appearances. In addition to that, he also scored 10 Champions League goals. He has achieved a scoring streak of eight games twice.

    He had the eye for goal which no one at United ever had. He could score goals out of ease.

    With 150 goals in 220 appearances, he is only non-British player to achieve the 150 mark for United. In addition to that, he also had a record 32 European goals to his name.

    After a fallout with Sir Alex Ferguson, Nistelrooy left the club for Real Madrid in 2005. Ristelrooy is still widely loved at Manchester.

8. Peter Schmeichel

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    Schmeichel came into the team in 1991 for a price tag of £530,000. Sir Alex once described this deal as the "bargain of the century."

    He played a major part of his career at United. He won five league titles, three FA Cups and of course, that dramatic Champions League.

    The next year, he inspired Denmark to the European Championships where he saved many crucial shots.

    In spite of a fallout with Ferguson in 1994, Schmeichel still stayed at the Club and went on to win that Treble in 1999. Who can forget his cartwheel after Solksjaer scored that winner?

    United had great trouble replacing him. They tried five high profile keepers before finally finding Edwin van der Sar.

7. Cristiano Ronaldo

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    Quite fitting is the No. 7 for this man from Portugal. He did make it his own during his stint at Manchester United.

    When he arrived at the club in 2003 for a price of £12.24 million, many criticized Sir Alex for spending that much on a rather unknown teenager. What they didn't know was the fact that Cristiano Ronaldo would earn the team six times that amount in seven years.

    During the 2007-08 season, he scored 42 goals leading United to the Champions League title as well as the Premier League.

    The next year too, he helped the team win the Premier League.

    Ronaldo was well known for his charisma, speed, skill set, dead-ball techniques and goal scoring abilities. He left Manchester United for Real Madrid and described Ferguson as "his father in the sport."

6. David Beckham

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    How can you not mention Beckham while mentioning Manchester United? He was the man who placed United on the global radar due to his personal appeal and charisma.

    He was one of the prominent stars of the Fergie's Fledglings class of '92 and made his debut as a 17-year-old in 1992. 

    Beckham occupied the right midfield position at United and wore the famous No. 7 shirt. He was well known for his freekicks and corners. He took both the corners in that Champions League finals of 1999 and also had many crucial freekicks converted into goals.

    In the final league game of the 1999 season, United had to win against Tottenham Hotspurs. The London team took early lead but it was Beckham who equalized and made sure that United get their title.

    He fell out with Sir Alex and left the club in 2003. Still today, he is the most loved player at Manchester United and the Old Trafford faithfuls have welcomed him warmly at many occasions.

5. Paul Scholes

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    "The Ginger Ninja" the fans call him at Old Trafford. With players doing all kinds of commercials and modeling shoots, Paul Scholes is certainly an unique footballer. 

    Like his fellow Fledgling Gary Neville, Scholes spent his entire career at Manchester United. He rarely gave interviews and even avoided all the drama of retirement by announcing it unexpectedly. Scholes is probably the most naturally gifted player to have played under Ferguson.

    His talent oft is hidden due to his poor tackling. He had received 90 yellow cards and four red cards in the League making him the third most booked player.

    Many other contemporaries like Thierry Henry, Alan Hansen and Xavi have openly commented about their awe about Scholes.

    Like his teammate Nani said, Scholes can pass, score goals on left, right, head and literally do everything. He is THE complete footballer.

4. Bryan Robson

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    Bryan Robson came into Manchester United before Ferguson. He was made the captain in 1993 and lifted the FA Cup with the team. But in the later years, fortune was not on his side as United didn't win a single league title barring another FA Cup triumph. 

    That was until Ferguson came into the team in 1986. Robson still had to wait till 1990 to lift a cup. The team won the FA once again and Robson became the first British Captain to lift the cup three times.

    United defeated Barcelona 2-1 in the UEFA Cup Winner's Cup in 1991, and Robson was one of the reasons for that. He inspired the team into world beaters.

    He was still a major part of the team by 1992 when he lifted his first league title. He managed another league title the next year.

    He was dropped from the FA Cup final squad which Ferguson termed as "the most difficult choice of his career".

    He appeared 461 times for the club with 99 goals. He was one of the finest midfielders of the team's history.

3. Roy Keane

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    Probably, one of the greatest Premier League players of all time.

    Roy Keane exhibited high competitiveness and attitude which made him a very successful captain of Manchester United. He captained the team from 1997 till leaving the club in 2005.

    If you know the name Roy Keane, you will probably remember that 1999 Champions League semifinals against Juventus. United were 0-2 behind, and Keane single handedly inspired the team to win the game 3-2.

    Many described his performance on that game as the finest hour of football. Sir Alex on his own words said,

    "It was the most emphatic display of selflessness I have seen on a football field. Pounding over every blade of grass, competing if he would rather die of exhaustion than lose, he inspired all around him. I felt it was an honour to be associated with such a player."

    In another instance, he was seen challenging Patrick Viera during a faceoff at the tunnel.

    The Red fans see him as an inspirational leader and a prolific United legend.

    He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2004 and was also a member of the FIFA 100 list by Pele.

2. Eric Cantona

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    King Eric is definitely one of the most loved Manchester United players of all time. 

    He was another No. 7 legend at Old Trafford and was well known for his attitude and aggression. He came into the team in 1992 for a mere fee from rivals Leeds United

    He was very much responsible for changing the way Football was played. With his aggression, influence, power, strength and passion, he was truly the complete forward. He left Leeds high and dry by playing his best football at the Theater of Dreams.

    People often accuse him of underachieving in Europe. But I put that blame entirely on himself. His decision to retire at the age of just 30 reprieved him of some great moments. He could have easily been on that team which won the treble in 1999. 

    All if's and but's aside, Eric Cantona will be always loved by the Red Devils and rightfully so!

1. Ryan Giggs

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    • Twelve Premier League Winners Medals
    • Four FA Cups
    • Three League Cups
    • Two Champions League

    And a bunch of other individual honors make Ryan Giggs the most decorated footballer in England. The Manchester United fans voted him as the greatest Manchester United player ever in their Inside United magazine.

    He has never been sent off for Manchester United ever in his career which spans over two decades now. That is probably an under-rated achievement considering the fact that the game has become hyper-competitive these days.

    With 876 appearances and 159 goals, he is the most capped United player of all time. Taking aside that 159 goals, he should have at least made 1,000 odd assists for the team. He is truly a team player with no hint of selfishness whatsoever.

    Giggs in the 1999 FA Cup semifinal replay against Arsenal made a magnificent run from the center of the park to beat five players and finally get the goal with no help. It was one of his top moments at the Club.

    He is still a very important member of the team and it will take more than a titanic job to replace him. Ryan Giggs is the greatest Manchester United player of all time!

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