25 Best Goals of Sir Alex Ferguson's 25 Years at Manchester United
In the lore of Manchester United's storied history, the club's allure and mystique rests largely on the backs of two Scotsmen dissimilar in temperament, alike in methodology and philosophy and forever linked by generation-defining success.
But while some segments of the United fandom will always argue over who was the better manager (I know my vote, considering who has more trophies), this year sees Sir Alex Ferguson overtake Sir Matt Busby in one historic factor: by reaching his 25th anniversary at the club. Sir Alex is now the longest-serving manager in United history.
Those 25 years have been full of ups and downs, all of them memorable. Who can forget finally beating Liverpool for the most championships in the league? Who can forget the thrilling last-minute comeback in Barcelona '99? And who can forget losing 6-1 to derby rivals City?
Oh, well, let's try to forget that last one.
Regardless, a defining characteristic of Sir Alex's teams has always been attacking football—a philosophy that has yielded bags of goals. Bags of them.
Some of these have been simple tap-ins of the most opportunistic nature. Some of them have been firecracker strikes—unstoppable missiles into the upper corner. And some of them have been so magnificent, or so meaningful, as to render them completely unforgettable.
Here are my picks for the 25 best goals of Sir Alex's 25-year reign. I'm not interested in ranking them in any set order. Rather, I wanted to pick my 25 and celebrate all of them equally.
Some of them got in on technical merit, while others based on their importance. And some of them are a little bit of both.
But all of them are memorable.
Paul Scholes vs. New York Cosmos (2011)
In a club full of special players, very few are more special than the ginger-haired prince.
Known for many things—terrible tackling, great passing—he also possessed one of the finest long range shots in the world.
This list will have a few of them, but it's only fitting that we begin with the last strike Paul Scholes would ever score for Manchester United.
Danny Welbeck vs. Stoke (2008)
Speaking of long-range strikes, how would you like to score a thunderbolt for your first goal as a member of one of the world's greatest ever teams?
That's exactly what young Danny Welbeck did against Stoke in 2006, showing the first glimmers of the promise that is now being fulfilled.
Cristiano Ronaldo vs. Portsmouth (2008)
When Cristiano Ronaldo first signed for United, he actually wanted nothing to do with the No. 7 shirt. He claimed that he didn't want the pressure associated with the number worn by Best, Robson, Cantona and Beckham. But Sir Alex persisted, and he proceeded to stamp his own legend on the number.
One of the ways he did this was to emulate his direct predecessor as United's free-kick taker extraordinaire. Shots like this, one of my favorites of his, made United fans say "Beck-who?"
For a while, anyway.
Paul Scholes vs. Aston Villa (2006)
We've already seen Paul Scholes score a long-range shot from a pass on the ground. But a long-range volley on a ball dropping down from on high?
Paul Scholes vs. Barcelona (2008)
In 2008, United won its second Champion's League trophy under Sir Alex's stewardship, beating Chelsea in the final.
But in order to get there, they had to go through Spanish titans Barcelona, already on their way to being the best team on the planet. Over the course of two extremely tight legs, goals were very hard to come by. Indeed, the aggregate score ended up being 1-0, with United advancing on a trademark Scholes strike.
And what a strike it was, swerving like it rarely had before and giving Victor Valdes no chance at all.
Ruud Van Nistelrooy vs. Fulham (2003)
Of all the strikers who have put on a red shirt, one of the best has to be Ruud van Nistelrooy, he of the unerring goal sense and poaching ability. He has scored bags of goals for United, mostly from within the penalty box, which makes this goal even more stunning.
Picking up the ball inside his own half, the Dutchman pulled a Ryan Giggs and took on the entire Fulham defense on his own before depositing it neatly into their net.
Eric Cantona vs. Liverpool (1996)
When Sir Alex first took the reigns at Manchester United, one of his stated goals was to "knock Liverpool of their perch." There's a man who understands the enmity that exists between the two clubs.
So when a United player scores a goal against the old foe, it's always a special one. But when that goal is on a volley where you had to backtrack, reshape your body and lash out while you're contorted, then that goal will be legendary.
Eric Cantona: Munich Air Disaster Memorial Match (1998)
It's only appropriate that, on a night the world remembered the lives lost on a terrible cold night in 1958, Eric Cantona scored a goal of such sublime skill and cockiness that Tommy Taylor and Duncan Edwards would have been proud of.
It was to be King Eric's last goal for United, and he couldn't have picked a better way to ride off into the sunset.
Nani vs. Manchester City (2011)
Barcelona beat Manchester United in two Champion's League finals by playing, as is their want, scintillating football filled with clever flicks and one-touch passes.
Sir Alex and the boys in red clearly learned a lesson from the Blaugrana and showcased their own brand of tiki-taka football against Manchester City in the Community Shield with Tom Cleverley, Wayne Rooney and Nani all giving the City defense, on that day at least, conniptions.
Dimitar Berbatov vs. Liverpool (2010)
The overhead kick is one of the most glorious moments in all of football. There will be one more on this list, but for now, here is Berbatov's magnificent strike against hated rivals Liverpool.
Teddy Sheringham vs. Bayern Munich (1999)
If you're talking about goals of extreme importance, this one should always be in the discussion. Although everyone remembers United's second goal, the game-winning one, this strike from Sheringham is what made it happen.
It wasn't an easy one either. From an errant shot by Ryan Giggs, Teddy had to reshape his body and sweep it past one of the world's best defenses and its great keeper.
Paul Scholes vs. Middlesborough (2000)
We can never have enough Paul Scholes Specials now, can we?
Andrei Kancheskis vs. Norwich (1993)
Counterattacking football is always the name of the game at Old Trafford. United have always had the ability to turn defense into attack in the blink of an eye, and they can often look stylish doing so.
Here's an early look at Barcelona style play at United.
Steve Bruce vs. Sheffield Wednesday (1993)
Every legend has a beginning, as the saying goes, and this goal marked the beginning of United's dominance over the 90s and 00s.
And talk about important!
Here's the story: the score was Wednesday 1, United 0. There were seven minutes of added time, and Sir Alex's first premiership title was on the line. Then, Steve Bruce met a corner and headed it into the goal, knotting it up at 1-all. But United needed the win.
And so...Bruce did it again.
And United just kept on winning.
Cristiano Ronaldo vs. Aston Villa (2008)
This goal (check the 55-second mark) encapsulates everything that is good about Cristiano Ronaldo: sublime and stylish all at the same time.
Frederico Macheda vs. Aston Villa (2009)
Frederico Macheda announced his arrival in a United shirt in grand style. The first touch, the turn and the swerve on the ball were all magical and promised a star in the making who has, sadly, yet to fulfill that promise.
Mark Hughes vs. Oldham Athletic (1994)
In 1994, Manchester United hadn't quite gotten the kind of winning expectations it would come to have. Already out of the League Cup, United was desperate to win the FA Cup. To do so, they would have to get past lowly Oldham Athletic. Amazingly, the winnows were the ones headed to victory after going up a goal through Neil Pointon.
United had to score. They needed to score.
So Mark Hughes did what came naturally to him: get into a great position, fight off opposing defenders and unleash an unstoppable shot while falling over backwards. Genius.
Eric Cantona vs Sunderland (1996)
A majestic chip from the king of Old Trafford, this goal by Eric Cantona is remembered as much for the skill that produced it as for the royal air that surrounded Le Roi after he scored it. Classic Cantona.
Cristiano Ronaldo vs. FC Porto (2009)
Cristiano Ronaldo has scored some amazing goals in his career at United. But this strike against FC Porto, a Paul Scholes special if I've ever seen one, is one of the best.
Coming as it did out of nowhere, it gave the Porto keeper no shot at saving it.
Wayne Rooney vs. Newcastle United (2005)
And here's Wayne Rooney doing his own impersonation of a Paul Scholes special, with the added difficulty of doing it on the volley and on the run.
He had barely started his United career, and already, he was a star.
Paul Scholes vs. Bradford City (2000)
Even by just looking back at this list, it's easy to see that Paul Scholes has scored a number of impressive goals in his career.
This one against Bradford, a long-range volley from a corner kick for heaven's sake, is, I believe, his very best.
Ryan Giggs vs. Arsenal (1999)
There's a song that goes something like this: "Ryan Giggs will tear you apart."
And on one magical night in 1999, poor Arsenal would discover that it's not just a song...it's a fact.
David Beckham vs. Wimbledon (1996)
Paul Scholes, Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney may have scored some impressive long-range goals.
But none of them have scored from beyond the half-line, a feat David Beckham did in 1996 against Wimbledon.
From that strike, from that moment, the Beckham legend was formed.
Wayne Rooney vs Manchester City (2010)
Dimitar Berbatov thought he had scored the goal of the season with his overhead kick against Liverpool.
Not to be outdone, Wayne Rooney took the field against United's other hated rival and unleashed one of the most beautiful goals ever seen.
Ole Solskjaer vs. Bayern Munich (1999)
Beckham corner. Sheringham flick. Solskjaer strike.
It was the goal that ended the drought.
It was the goal that earned Manchester United its first Champion's League trophy since 1968.
It was the goal that finally gave Sir Alex Ferguson the trophy that made him, in many's eyes, an equal to the great Sir Matt Busby himself.
It was the goal that won them the treble.
It is not the flashiest on this list. It is not the trickiest. But, for me, it is the best goal ever scored in Sir Alex's 25 years at the club.
So there you have it.
A lot of spectacular goals have been scored by United under Sir Alex's stewardship, and I'm sure I've left out a lot of people's favorite goals.
But in examining the rich scoring history of Sir Alex's United, these are the 25 I've picked to be the best in terms of skill, impact or both.
What are your favorite goals?