Manchester United: 10 Best Foreign Players to Arrive at Old Trafford

Jaideep Vaidya@@jaideepjournoAnalyst ISeptember 15, 2011

Manchester United: 10 Best Foreign Players to Arrive at Old Trafford

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    Manchester United have attracted the crème de la crème of the football world ever since international transfers came into being.

    Along with the best local talent, Old Trafford has been graced by top players with their origins spread across the globe—from Trinidad and Tobago to Timbuktu!

    Here's a list of the best foreign players to have plied their trade at Manchester United in the Premier League era:

10. Andrei Kanchelskis

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    Andrei Kanchelskis signed for Manchester United from Dynamo Kyiv in March 1991 in a deal worth £650,000. 

    During the 1992-93 season, the Russian winger was one of only 13 non-British or Irish players to be a part of the first day of play in the Premier League era. Kanchelskis made 27 appearances that season and soon established himself on the right side of United's midfield.

    After winning the inaugural Premier League title, the Reds claimed the league and FA Cup double the next season.

    Kanchelskis, who wore No. 14, was part of a midfield quartet that included Ryan Giggs, Roy Keane and Paul Ince—widely considered to be one of the strongest midfields ever at United.

    The 1994-95 season was Kanchelskis'  most productive one at Manchester United: he scored 19 goals, including a hat-trick in the 5-0 thrashing of neighbours and archrivals Manchester City.

    Unfortunately for United, this turned out to be his last season in the red jersey, due to a fallout with Sir Alex Ferguson. Kanchelskis was sold in the summer to Everton and was replaced at the club by a young lad from the youth setup, named David Beckham.

    However, Kanchelskis remains a favorite among the United faithful, who will never forget his 48 memorable goals for the club.

9. Nemanja Vidic

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    Sir Alex Ferguson had been trailing Nemanja Vidic for almost two-and-a-half years before he finally made his move in the January 2006 transfer window. 

    Manchester United fans had hardly heard about the big Serb when he completed his £7 million move from Spartak Moscow, and they were highly skeptical about the signing.

    Vidic made his United debut that year as a substitute for Ruud van Nistelrooy in the Carling Cup semifinal against Blackburn. He had a shaky start but didn't take much time to get used to the physicality of the English game.

    Vidic started making more appearances in the 2006-07 season and soon formed a formidable centre-back partnership with Rio Ferdinand.

    The Serbian soon became the heartbeat of United's renowned defense, which kept a record-breaking 14 consecutive clean sheets in the 2008-09 season, en route to the league title. Vidic won the Barclays Player of the Season gong.

    Today, Nemanja Vidic is one of the most feared defenders in the world and is known for literally throwing his stocky 6'3" frame at the opponent. More often than not, Vidic gets the ball and leaves the opponent on the floor like a freight train has hit him!

    Vidic is admired and feared among his teammates for his no-nonsense approach to the game and is often heard blaring out expletives on the field and motivating his team forward. It's no wonder that he took over the captain's armband after Gary Neville retired.

8. Edwin Van Der Sar

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    The image on your left will remain embedded in every Manchester United fan's mind for eternity.

    Edwin van der Sar, who came through Ajax's famed youth academy, played for the Dutch side for nine years. The 6'7" shot-stopper carved his name among Europe's top goalkeepers during his time in Amsterdam and won the Champions League in the 1994-95 season. 

    Manchester United, who won the Champions League four years later in 1999, were on the lookout for a new keeper after Peter Schmeichel announced his retirement.

    Sir Alex Ferguson wanted to sign van der Sar immediately after Schmeichel's retirement, but was 24-hours too late to make the call as the Dutchman joined Italian side Juventus.

    Sir Alex got another chance six years later as van der Sar left Fulham to join United for a cut-price of £2 million.

    This turned out to be quite the bargain, considering what the Dutchman did in the six years after his move to Old Trafford. He was named Europe's best goalkeeper on three occasions between 2005 and 2011.

    Van der Sar won a lot of trophies at Manchester United, including four league titles and a second Champions League winners medal in 2008. 

    In United's title-winning 2008-09 season, he set the world record by not conceding a single goal for 1,311 minutes.

    Van der Sar, after a lot of deliberations, finally decided to call it quits after the 2010-11 season. Few would argue that lifting United's record 19th league title at the end of the season was a fitting goodbye for the 40-year-old.

    Van der Sar remains an idol for millions of shot-stoppers across the world, including this writer.

7. Jaap Stam

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    In 1998, Jaap Stam became the most expensive defender and Dutch footballer in history when Manchester United signed him for £10.6 million from PSV Eindhoven.

    The Dutchman soon demonstrated why Sir Alex put so much faith and money on him, as he went on to become one of the world's best and most feared defenders.

    Stam played a crucial part in Manchester United's amazing treble-winning season of 1998-99

    Standing at 6'3", the bald-headed Stam was an intimidating presence on the field. He was a brilliant tackler and had a fantastic awareness that allowed him to break down attacks even before they began.

    Thus, it came as no surprise that the Old Trafford faithful began challenging the opposition to "get past him if you can."

    Dutch legend Johan Cruyff even described him as "a one-man defense."

    Unfortunately, due to some misunderstanding with Sir Alex, Stam remained at the club for only three seasons and was sold off to Lazio for a whopping £16.5 million in 2001. However, Sir Alex later went on to describe it as his one of his biggest mistakes.

    Stam is still considered as one of United's best-ever defenders.

6. Ruud Van Nistelrooy

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    Ruud van Nistelrooy was first spotted by Sir Alex Ferguson's son, Darren Ferguson, when the Dutchman played for PSV Eindhoven. When Ferguson the Younger begged daddy to sign the striker, Sir Alex immediately obliged by sending club representatives to seal the deal in the summer of 2000. 

    But due to a niggling knee injury, van Nistelrooy's arrival at Old Trafford was delayed by a year. Sir Alex finally got his man the following summer for around £19 million—a British record at the time.

    Van Nistelrooy wasted no time in justifying his price tag, scoring 33 goals in his first season for the Red Devils—a feat that won him the PFA Players' Player of the Year Award.

    The following season saw the Dutchman become the highest scorer in the Premier League by netting 25 goals.

    Van Nistelrooy scored 150 goals in 219 appearances for the Red Devils. But a fallout with Sir Alex at the end of the 2006 season saw him sign for Real Madrid that summer.

    Van Nistelrooy remains one of United's most celebrated No. 10s.

5. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer

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    Ole Gunnar Solskjaer had scored 31 goals in 42 matches for Norwegian side Molde when Sir Alex Ferguson signed the 23-year-old for £1.5 million.

    The signing left many a United fan surprised, since Alan Shearer had been the target that season. Shearer went on to sign for Newcastle for 10 times the amount United paid for Solskjaer—£15 million.

    However, Solskjaer put everyone's doubts to rest by scoring six minutes into his debut as a substitute against Blackburn. 

    The baby-faced Solskjaer then went on to define the term "super sub" as he made cheeky little appearances at the fag end of the game to eventually nick the winner.

    The defining moment of his career obviously came in the 1999 Champions League final that catapulted him into the United folklore.

    Solskjaer remains one of Sir Alex's shrewdest signings. Javier Hernandez comes a very close second.

4. Peter Schmeichel

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    Sir Alex Ferguson landed a 6'4" Danish shot-stopper for a cut-price of £550,000 in the summer of 1991.

    This later turned out to be one of the deals of the century, as Peter Schmeichel went on to become United's greatest-ever keeper.

    Schmeichel recorded 22 clean sheets in the 1992-93 season—thereby helping United win their first league title in 26 years. He was voted the "World's Best Goalkeeper" two consecutive years in 1992 and 1993.

    The "Great Dane," as he was known, was an intimidating presence in front of goal. He used to wear tailor-made XXXL jerseys on the pitch, such was his stature.

    Schmeichel often defied the laws of gravity between the sticks and was hardly ever seen with his feet on the ground.

    It's usually the goalkeepers who are intimidated by forwards charging towards them with the ball. But when Schmeichel was involved, it was the other way round!

    Schmeichel spent eight glorious years at Old Trafford. His last season with the Red Devils was truly a historic one, as United won the treble in 1999. His last game for United was as captain in the Champions League final, which United won 2-1 against Bayern Munich.

    Schmeichel remains the best goalkeeper Manchester United have ever had in their ranks. It took Sir Alex a lot of trial-and-error keepers to finally find a worthy replacement in Edwin van der Sar, six years after Schmeichel hung up his gloves.

3. Cristiano Ronaldo

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    Cristiano Ronaldo dos Santos Aveiro began his football career in his hometown of Madeira, Portugal. 

    After starting off with a couple of local clubs, Ronaldo moved to Portuguese giants Sporting Lisbon in 1997 after being spotted and tagged as a gifted boy.

    Ronaldo soon became the only player in Sporting's history to play for their under-16, under-17, under-18, B and first teams all at the same time. Then-Liverpool manager Gerard Houllier wanted to snap him up at 16, but the club declined because of his age.

    In the summer of 2003, Manchester United played an exhibition match at Sporting's new stadium, and young Ronaldo caught the eyes of the United players and manager alike.

    Sir Alex Ferguson immediately made a move for the 18-year-old, and Cristiano Ronaldo arrived at Old Trafford in a deal worth £12 million.

    Sir Alex gave Ronaldo the coveted No. 7 jersey, previously worn by greats such as Bobby Charlton, Bryan Robson, Eric Cantona and David Beckham. The youngster had some big shoes to fill.

    In November that year, young Ronaldo stepped up to take a free kick against Portsmouth. United fans, who had just lost their beloved Beckham, watched with bated breath as the new guy attempted to fill Beckham's shoes.

    Ronaldo calmly took his wide-legged stance behind the ball, observed the goal, calculated the angle and the distance, and then shot.

    The rest, as they say, is history.

2. Roy Keane

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    After signing for Nottingham Forest at the age of 19, Irishman Roy Keane began to make noise around the English football circle and attracted the attention of top Premier League clubs.

    Kenny Dalglish, who managed Blackburn Rovers then, was the first one to speak to the Irishman about a possible switch to Ewood Park. With Forest nearing relegation, Keane replied in the affirmative and was all set to join the Riversiders in the summer of 1993.

    However, a cheeky phone call from Sir Alex Ferguson dramatically made Keane sign for Manchester United instead, for a British record fee of £3.75 million, to Dalglish's rage.

    Keane took a while to break into the first team but got his chance when captain Bryan Robson went out with injury. The Irishman took full advantage of his opportunity by scoring a brace on his home debut against Sheffield United.

    Keane then slowly began to find himself as a first-team regular in the United midfield alongside the likes of Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs and David Beckham.

    Known for his shrewd no-nonsense attitude, Keane eventually took over as club captain after Eric Cantona's retirement. Keane carried forward Cantona's legacy of astuteness and aggressiveness and became one of the most dynamic captains United ever produced. No one could take Roy Keane for granted. Ask Patrick Vieira.

    Keane led United to nine major titles and remains one of the most successful captains in club history.

1. Eric Cantona

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    "I am not a man. I am Cantona." Eric Cantona's memorable line in the 2009 film Looking for Eric.

    After just one year at hated rivals Leeds United, Frenchman Eric Cantona joined Manchester United for £1.2 million in November 1992. 

    United were in dire need of a striker, and Cantona, who had moved to England from France under the advise of Gerard Houllier, fit the bill completely.

    He quickly settled on the big stage at Old Trafford. His subtle skills and flair for the unexpected delighted the Old Trafford faithful. His delightfully weighted chips and flicks into open spaces sent them into a frenzy. 

    The hot-tempered Frenchman, under Sir Alex Ferguson's guidance, was molded into a striker who would be feared for both his on- and off-field capers.

    Kung fu kicks on opposition fans and metaphorical rants at the media involving seagulls put aside, Eric Cantona remains one of Ferguson's finest signings and one of the finest captains the club has graced.

    King Cantona, as he is known among the United faithful, scored 80 goals for the club in five glorious seasons. His charisma, dynamism and temper is missed even today.

    Merci beaucoup, Eric!

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