Ranking Manchester United's 13 Best Strikers of the Ferguson Era

Terry CarrollContributor IIIFebruary 21, 2013

Ranking Manchester United's 13 Best Strikers of the Ferguson Era

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    Depending on your definition, there have been at least 17 strikers at Manchester United since Sir Alex Ferguson's arrival in 1986. Here, we attempt to rank just 13 of them.

    As a quick test, see how many you can think of. To start with, here are four of them that don't make our final selection:

    Frank Stapleton, Peter Davenport, Louis Saha and, simply because he is a relative newcomer to a regular start, Danny Welbeck.

    Stapleton soon went; Davenport was a mistake; but Saha would have been a top striker if he could only stay fit. Danny's day will come, and even as one of the four, many people think United's current crop tops the 1999 contingent.

    So who do you think is on the list?

13. Brian McClair

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    While the final selection is ranked in order, it is not based just on number of goals scored, rate of goalscoring, or just any one factor.

    One of the reasons why is that different goalscorers played at different times, in different teams and circumstances. Where would you rank Stuart Pearson, for example, who played in a barren period before Sir Alex arrived?

    So No. 13 is Brian "Choccy" McClair, who in some ways was similar to Wayne Rooney. He would do anything for the team and play where the Boss wanted him.

    He arrived with a bang from Celtic, with 24 goals in his first season, more than any other player in 20 years. That says a lot about United's "wilderness years."

    But after Eric Cantona's arrival, Choccy was switched into central midfield, where he was eventually supplanted by Roy Keane.

    In many ways the archetypical "old-fashioned centre-forward," McClair was an intelligent hard-working player.

    Although he only scored 126 goals in his 11 seasons, 468 appearances is testament to his all-round value to the team. 

12. Teddy Sheringham

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    What price can you put on Teddy Sheringham's contribution at Manchester United.

    Once again he was not a prolific scorer and usually sat on the bench. But Sir Alex knows a class footballer when he sees one and, like Henrik Larsson and Robin van Persie, bought Teddy to do a job.

    Who else could have come off the bench in the cauldron of the Nou Camp, with United beaten and scored with his first touch. Solskjaer gets the plaudits, but Sheringham changed the game.

    He played on well into his 40s, which just goes to show what an astute signing can do, even at the wrong end of his career.

    He scored 355 goals in a first-class career of 898 matches, 46 of which were at United in just 145. 

11. Javier Hernandez

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    Those of you who are young, or have only supported United for 10 years or less may well be disappointed to find Javier Hernandez so low in the rankings.

    There is no doubt that this lad can become a United legend. He wants to stay. The Boss has no intention of letting him go. He is working his socks off to constantly improve and he is getting better by the month.

    He still needs to sharpen up his first touch, his dribbling and not get caught offside so much. But there are very few sides in world football who wouldn't sign him.

    Why?

    Like David de Gea, because of his instincts and reaction time. It is the one thing that marks Andy Murray out for future greatness in world tennis.

    You are born with an instinct like that, you can't learn it. Barry Bonds has it, like Babe Ruth, Willie Mays and Joe DiMaggio had it.

    In English parlance, Hernandez is a "sniffer" or a "poacher." Every one of his goals for United has been scored in the box. He is a latter-day Jimmy Greaves or Robbie Fowler.

    He is also United's second top scorer this season, despite being the "supersub." Like RVP he has the knack of scoring critical goals.

    His record of 47 in 107 so far is PDG!

10. Dimitar Berbatov

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    Oh Dimi, Dimi, Dimi...

    If only you never smoked and had Ashley Young's pace.

    Sir Alex loves players with silky skills. Berbatov is a Rolls Royce of a player. Expensive to buy but purrs along like whipped cream.

    In another era he would have been first-choice, playing every match. He would surely have done very well in Serie A or La Liga.

    Everyone remembers Wayne Rooney's overhead against Manchester City, but Berbatov's against Liverpool was better. He scored a hat-trick to win the match against them.

    It is a pity he is only a legend for some. I still have his shirt, his scarf and his woolly hat. Up there with Juan Sebastian Veron, Eric Cantona and Van Persie as one of the most sublime footballers ever to grace the Old Trafford turf.

    He had 56 goals in 149 matches. Good enough for most teams in the world. RVP is not a bad replacement, though...

9. Dwight Yorke

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    Dwight Yorke and Andy Cole; Rooney and Van Persie? Which is the better pair?

    What they all have in common is not just goalscoring. They are all four intelligent footballers. You only have to listen to an interview to realise that these guys are no mugs.

    Some people may have swallowed hard when Sir Alex paid £12.6 million for "the Smiling Assassin," but he knew he was getting guaranteed goals.

    The partnership he formed with Andy Cole was one of the best ever in English football. A pity for England, therefore, that Yorky came from Trinidad!

    Only four years at Old Trafford but 65 goals in 147 matches, three EPL titles, the Champions League and the only Treble in history...so far. 

8. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer

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    He could dine out for free for the rest of his life on that one magic moment in May 1999.

    One of the best-loved players to ever pull on the red shirt, the "baby-faced assassin" isn't just remembered for that life-changing contribution.

    Who could forget his selfless act in hacking down Robert Lee against Newcastle that could have won United the League?

    He has in common with his modern day equivalent, Chicharito, the boyish looks, the humility and the team ethic running through his veins.

    Such a tragedy that Ole's career was cut short by injury. Already a legend and surely a United manager in the making?

    He scored 126 goals in 366 appearances.

7. Mark Hughes

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    Such a pity that "Sparky" managed Manchester City and failed so badly at QPR, because he can never return to Old Trafford.

    Like Choccy McClair, Hughes might have featured more prominently in the record books and been higher up this ranking if he'd been in the current United squad.

    He was good enough for Barcelona to sign him and you can't say fairer than that.

    He was a fearless striker, both for United and Wales. His 167 goals in 463 appearances between his two stints neither reflects his ability nor his tireless work for the team.

    In many ways the Rooney of the 1980s and early 90s.

6. Andrew Cole

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    Andy Cole is rightly an ambassador for Manchester United. A top professional, a top bloke and a cracking footballer.

    Some people never rated him and quite a few were shocked when Sir Alex brought him from Newcastle to Old Trafford.

    And yet he formed one of the most prolific pairings ever in the game with Dwight Yorke.

    Some people will always remember him as missing goals, but some of us thing it was a scandal that he didn't get more games for England.

    If you could watch all his footage again you would find that very few players hit the target as many times as Cole did. He made striking simple. If you hit the target you will eventually score.

    Cole had 121 goals in 275 matches for United and career stats of 229 in 509.

    Mr Consistency.

5. Wayne Rooney

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    When Wayne's career is finished he will be No.1 on this list.

    So why isn't he already? Well there are a couple of seriously good strikers ahead of him, at least two of whom are bound to cause controversy.

    I wear Rooney's shirt. He is an utter professional who has made some serious errors of judgement in the past. He is maturing fast and is undoubtedly a potential United and probably the next England captain.

    The main reason why he is here is down to his selflessness. Together with one or two annoying fitness issues over the last couple of seasons, Wayne has sacrificed himself for the team cause.

    In the season after Cristiano Ronaldo left, Wayne was a world-class striker. Since then he has played all over the park and will surely end up in midfield.

    The result is that his touch isn't so sharp, although you can reasonably expect he will score 20 goals again this season.

    The best complement to pay him is that he isn't a striker. In fact he isn't anything other than a consummate footballer. Just like Duncan Edwards was.

    With the same make-up and personality you would have been talking about Wayne as one of the greatest English footballers ever.

    Meanwhile, 194 goals in 391 appearances ain't half bad!

4. Eric Cantona

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    Was Eric a striker? Like Wayne he could play anywhere in the front six. As an out-and-out striker he was world-class, but he was up there with Zinedine Zidane in terms of playing skills.

    Always a legend, despite or because of his mystique.

    He was an inspired signing, possibly the best ever, and he kick-started Sir Alex's trophy-fest.

    In just five seasons at Old Trafford, Eric won nine trophies including four EPL titles.

    Did somebody mention an eight-month suspension, a criminal record and a "kung-fu kick"?

    His 82 goals in 185 appearances doesn't do him justice.

3. Ruud van Nistelrooy

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    Statistics can't lie. Ruud was a goal machine.

    And yet his name isn't chanted on the Stretford End terraces. Why?

    Maybe it's because he was selfish. All strikers have to be selfish to a degree, but they also need an eye for their fellow player.

    RVP will play someone in. RVN only had eyes for the goal.

    Eventually he left after a training ground bust-up with Cristiano Ronaldo. 

    Guess who will be remembered better in 10 years' time?

    You can't argue with 150 goals in 219 appearances, though.

2. Robin van Persie

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    OK so this is where the arguments start.

    How can you pick a player who has only been here five minutes?

    Well, the criteria set out at the start were wider than just statistics.

    I don't think I've ever seen a more confident finisher in my life. Surely in the last two years he has been one of the top three strikers in the world?

    There is no need to explain his qualities, just read Wednesday's article:

    If United win the Treble this year, he will be the main reason. 

    Look at the games he has saved, like Southampton; and those he has won, like City. Look at his immediate impact and the space he freed up for his colleagues when he came on last Monday.

    In terms of stats:

    Manchester United 23 in 32 matches

    Career so far: 176 in 386.

    Destined to be one of the greats.

1. Cristiano Ronaldo

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    What!?

    (Breakfast cereal spluttered all over the table)

    "But he's not a striker!"

    So what is he?

    Have you ever in your life seen a better headed goal than the one against United?

    Lionel Messi isn't a striker, he's a goalscorer.

    CR7 is a striker. And if he comes back to Old Trafford that's where he will play.

    He has everything a world-class striker needs. 

    OK, so he starts from the wing. So what? So does RVP a lot of the time.

    He has the best shot I've ever seen on a two-footed player and is a better header even than John Charles. 

    And in this case statistics don't lie.

    He has 118 goals in 292 appearances for United. And 183 in 181 since he joined Real Madrid.

    Game set and match!

    CR, come home...