Manchester United's Top 7 Playmakers of All Time
Manchester United have not had many playmakers grace the pitch of Old Trafford, but the club has certainly had some of the best.
First, however, it must be answered what exactly a playmaker is. It is typically the player who dictates the attacking flow of the game, often from a midfield role.
Such a player possesses exceptional passing, vision and awareness. They can read the game and influence it with their play, creating attacking opportunities for the players around them.
Although the playmaker is not limited to a single position, they are usually deployed in the center of midfield. The two types of playmakers are the trequartista, who plays in an advance position behind the forwards, and the regista, the deep-lying playmaker in front of the defense.
United do not often use such playmakers in their tactics, instead utilizing two box-to-box midfielders in a 4-4-2 formation. It has only been in recent seasons that United have truly come to embrace the playmaker role, as Sir Alex Ferguson has adapted his tactics for success in the European game.
Although they are a rare breed in United history, these seven players have done well in the playmaker role at Old Trafford.
Juan Sebastián Verón
Juan Sebastián Verón would be at the top of most lists for Manchester United flops, but because there have been so few playmakers in the club's history, he also creeps onto this list by default.
His two-year stay at Old Trafford was not particularly successful, but he did have his moments as one of the rare playmakers in United's history.
Verón was of the regista style of a playmaker, sitting deep to orchestrate the attack.
His success in this role at Lazio that earned him a record-breaking £28.1 million transfer to United in July, 2001.
Like many players, though, Verón failed to adapt to the physical style of play in England. He was not allowed the same space to perform as in Italy and never really fit in with United.
Despite this, Verón still showed moments of class for the club, particularly in European competition. He was technically gifted, and did show signs of improvement before ultimately being shipped off to Chelsea as a flop.
Much of his status as a flop was due to the expectations that came with such large price tag, but he was not necessarily a poor player. It is worth wondering if he would've fulfilled his potential with more time.
During his time at the club, United simply did not use tactics that would utilize a player such as Verón. Some have suggested the Argentine would be better suited to United's recent tactics.
It would be interesting to see if he would've found success in the current team, as he could likely thrive in the deep-lying role Michael Carrick currently occupies. He had all the technical ability to succeed—he just didn't come to United at the right time.
It is unusual for a winger to be the playmaker in a team, but Cristiano Ronaldo is no usual player, and he was a playmaker for Manchester United.
During his final few seasons at Old Trafford, the attack focused around Ronaldo.
Being allowed more freedom to float around the attacking third, Ronaldo not only scored goals but created them as well.
His flair and creativity allowed him to unlock a defense and influence the attack.
Ronaldo became something of a pseudo-trequartista around the time that United ended Chelsea's brief spell of Premier League dominance. He became the nightmare of defenders, roaming the attacking third in menacing fashion. Once he had the ball, it might as well have been game over.
There was little that could be done to stop him. He was the all-around attacking threat for United, possessing all the attributes to split open a defense either with his dribbling or his passing.
Ronaldo was also a brilliant goal scorer, and while he still created opportunities for his teammates, in his final season his flaw was perhaps being a bit too selfish and taking the shot himself.
Although he was an unorthodox playmaker, he was also one of the best.
Ronaldo completed his transformation from playmaker to out-and-out goalscorer at Real Madrid, but nothing from his career will be as good as the memories from 2006 to 2009, watching him run through defenses and play the killer ball that unraveled many a club.
Wayne Rooney has only recently become the playmaker for Manchester United, and in the role of trequartista, he may have found his best position.
After the 2009/10 season, when he scored a personal-best 34 goals, Rooney was dropped back to play between the midfield and striker.
Sir Alex Ferguson realized he could get the most from his star man by utilizing his all-round game.
Rooney's overall influence on the game increased significantly from this move, much to the benefit of United.
Not only is Rooney still scoring goals, he is now orchestrating the entire attack and creating opportunities for his teammates.
His performances as the trequartista even had some suggesting he could be the heir to United's greatest playmaker, Paul Scholes.
He has a unique ability to elevate the players around him, making his teammates better with his influence. Rooney can hold up play and get others involved with an excellent range of passing, or push forward and unleash a venomous shot on goal.
Such complete skill makes him unpredictable, which is excellent. Just in front of the midfield, he can provide an all-round threat, whether that be as the creator or the scorer. He'll often even drop back deeper to collect the ball, sometimes orchestrating the play from an unusually deep position.
Some supporters are concerned that it does not utilize his goalscoring prowess, but he is better suited playing just behind a pacy strike, like Danny Welbeck or Javier Hernandez, the likes of which Rooney seems to complement fantastically.
When you have a player such as Rooney, seemingly skilled in every aspect of the game, it makes sense to have him dictating the attack, and he has done so brilliantly the past few seasons.
Bryan Robson was the traditional box-to-box midfielder, but he was essentially the playmaker for Manchester United as well, greatly influencing the team's attack from midfield.
Simply put, Robson was the heart of United during most of his years at the club.
He was the captain of the team and the engine in midfield.
If one man was going to be pushing the team forward in attack and looking to create, it was Robson.
Robson is another nontraditional playmaker. He had a tenacity that is rare into today's players, getting back to do the dirty work and then urging the team forward to attack.
He was not a particularly flashy player like recent playmakers—he was simply efficient and got the job done.
As the team's leader, he had a brilliant influence over all those around him, pushing his teammates to be better, and he lifted them to a new level. He orchestrated everything and quite literally controlled the entire team from midfield. If anyone was going to set United's tempo in those days, it was Robson.
He wasn't an attacking midfielder, nor was he a deep-lying midfielder. It may seem unusual to classify Robson has the playmaker, but there is little doubt that during his time at the club, he was the man who dictated the team's play.
Few players will ever have the influence over a team that Robson had for United. He was the heartbeat that set the rhythm for the team.
Michael Carrick is the under-appreciated playmaker of the current Manchester United squad, and it is of little surprise that the start of the club's current period of success started when Carrick signed in 2006.
When Carrick signed from Tottenham Hotspur, the deal was met by much criticism, many claiming he was overpriced.
Nevertheless, United won the Premier League in Carrick's first three seasons as he struck up an excellent midfield partnership with Paul Scholes.
Carrick was not a replacement for Roy Keane, but he was the missing piece for Sir Alex Ferguson's new tactics to overthrow Chelsea during their brief spell of Premier League superiority.
However, following a midfield domination at the hands of Barcelona's Xavi and Iniesta in the 2009 Champions League final, it seemed Carrick was stuck in a rut that he'd never escape.
Late in the 2010/11 season, however, Carrick started to rediscover his form and has been a key player for the club this season.
Now the United attack runs through Carrick, who can dictate the play from a deep-lying role with his ability to maintain possession and his wide range of passing. He is very understated in this regista role, and only recently has he earned appreciation for the job he does.
United are now blessed to have Carrick sitting deep to control the flow of the attack, with Wayne Rooney in the attacking third, providing an entirely different threat as the trequartista.
He may be under-appreciated, but Carrick is certainly the man who drives the United attack.
George Best was arguably the greatest Manchester United player of all time, perhaps even the greatest player of all time.
His supreme talent allowed him to control the attack from midfield as something of an unorthodox playmaker during his time at Old Trafford.
Much like Cristiano Ronaldo four decades later, Best was a nontraditional winger whose skill allowed him to flourish cutting inside in the attack.
He could play anywhere across the attacking third, on either flank and behind the striker.
If you were looking for the complete attacking threat, it had to be Best. He could score, he could pass, he could dribble his way through an entire defense. Alongside Denis Law and Bobby Charlton, Best had the best players in the game to create a lethal attack.
Again, another unconventional playmaker for United, but that's typical of United. Terrifically talented players like Best don't let their position restrict them. Best played with freedom and flair, making defenders look clumsy as he weaved through them before playing the final ball or taking the shot himself.
With such an abundance of skill, he could create something from nothing. He didn't so much control the tempo of the game, as you would expect from a playmaker, but when he had the ball at his feet there was nothing he couldn't do.
The playmaker makes plays, it's that simple, and Best made some of the best plays in United history.
Nothing more needs to be said of Best than...
Maradona Good, Pele Better, George Best.
Paul Scholes is the quintessential example of a playmaker from Manchester United's long and illustrious history and is one of the best playmakers to ever grace the game.
It is with good reason that the world-class playmakers of generation past and present have such admiration for Scholes.
This slide essentially writes itself with the praise from some of the game's all-time greats.
Barcelona playmaker Xavi Hernandez said of Scholes: "In the last 15 to 20 years the best central midfielder that I have seen—the most complete—is Scholes. Scholes is a spectacular player who has everything. He can play the final pass, he can score, he is strong, he never gets knocked off the ball and he doesn't give possession away."
The great French playmaker Zinedine Zidane also had high praise for Scholes, "...there is no doubt for me that Paul Scholes is still in a class of his own. He’s almost untouchable in what he does. I never tire of watching him play. You rarely come across the complete footballer, but Scholes is as close to it as you can get. One of my regrets is that the opportunity to play alongside him never presented itself during my career."
Never has United had such a playmaker as Scholes, and likely never will again. He remains the supreme midfield talent of the club's history.
Scholes has everything you want from a midfielder. As both Zidane and Xavi said, he was the most complete they had ever seen.
The goals have faded as he aged, but the passing and reading of the game has only improved with age, and at the age of 37, his continued influence on United is remarkable. His return to the team in January transformed a team that was losing games in midfield and instead United started winning games in midfield.
Scholes dominates possession for the team, holding up play, getting others involved, reading the game and seeing the way forward. He asserts his authority from midfield and controls the game. He not only has the ability to see the best route of attack and pick a pass, but also has the passing ability to execute it.
His return against Manchester City summarized the genius that is Paul Scholes. Coming on as a second-half substitute after seven months of retirement, Scholes attempted more passes than any of City's players (71) and did so with a 97-percent success rate.
When even his peers, who themselves will go down in history as the greatest in the game, are calling Scholes the best, you know the man is a truly deserved legend. The best playmaker for Manchester United of all time can be none other than Paul Scholes.