50 Greatest Manchester United Players Ever

Max TowleAnalyst IAugust 21, 2013

50 Greatest Manchester United Players Ever

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    Picking 50 of the greatest Manchester United players of all time is easy.

    Old Trafford has seen countless greats come and go, their brilliance living long in the memory.

    Ranking them is a little harder.

    In judging the 50 greatest United players of all time, longevity, legendary status and pure quality have been taken into account.

    Agree or disagree, this article is intended to spark debate rather than end it.


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    50. Stuart Pearson

    In 50th place is centre-forward Stuart Pearson, who scored 66 goals in 180 appearances for Manchester United in his five years at the club.

    The technically-gifted Englishman was a popular player at Old Trafford, utilising his intelligent movement to get into excellent goal-scoring positions.

    49. David Herd

    David Herd may not have been selected by Matt Busby for the European Cup final in 1968, but he was a vastly-underrated player.

    The Scotsman was born to find the back of the net, scoring almost 150 goals for the side in a seven-year stint.

    48. Brian Kidd

    Forget his current role at Manchester City, Brian Kidd is United through and through.

    A seemingly-eternally fresh-faced youngster, the forward made more than 200 league appearances for the Red Devils, scoring 52 goals.

    47. Eddie Colman

    Eddie Colman was one of several United players taken too soon when he died in the Munich air disaster in 1958.

    The prodigious wing-half was already a regular for Matt Busby's side as a teenager, marauding up and down the flanks with vigour.

    46. Brian McClair

    Brian McClair played for Aston Villa, Motherwell and Celtic, but it is for his 11 years at Manchester United that he is best remembered. 

    A prolific goal-scorer, McClair could find the back of the net from close range or distance, bagging 24 league goals in his first season to become the first United player to surpass 20 since George Best. 

    45. Paul Ince

    The sour taste left in the mouth by Paul Ince's departure from United should not detract from his quality.

    The Guv'nor was a central midfielder who brought an immense presence and physicality to the pitch.

    44. Lou Macari

    Diminutive Scotsman Lou Macari made the switch from forward to midfielder later in his career and United reaped the dividends.

    He was an imaginative player, capable of leading an attack with creative poise.

    43. Andy Cole

    It is almost criminal that Andy Cole only ever won 15 caps for England.

    He may not have delivered on the international stage, but he was a key member of the treble-winning side of 1998/99, scoring legendary goals against Juventus and Tottenham Hotspur that season.

    42. Paul McGrath

    It is a shame Paul McGrath was unable to prevent his demons from allowing him to become a true Old Trafford legend.

    The Irish centre-back's later days at Aston Villa proved he still had plenty to give, well into his 30s.

    41. Joe Spence

    Joe Spence may have been the Red Devils' original heroic flying winger.

    Between 1898 and 1919, the Englishman enthralled fans with his exceptional skill and speed. Sadly, no footage of him in action exists.


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    40. Alex Stepney

    Somewhat surprisingly, Manchester United haven't had a glut of world-class goalkeepers during the club's history.

    That makes Alex Stepney one of the exceptions. He played for United for 12 years, but most fans remember him for his key saves in the 1968 European Cup final.

    39. Norman Whiteside

    Norman Whiteside may not have been the most prolific forward in United history, but his influence was enduring.

    He was a great during the 1980s, a decade that didn't see much greatness emanate from Old Trafford.

    38. Tony Dunne

    Manchester United have a fine history of producing quality full-backs.

    Tony Dunne made more than 400 appearances for the Red Devils in the league alone, playing through the 1960s and into the 1970s.

    37. Steve Coppell

    Attacking midfielder Steve Coppell was an indispensable member of the Red Devils' team in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

    His work ethic on the right flank was tremendous and his pure athleticism scared the wits out of opposing defenders.

    36. Jaap Stam

    It is one of Sir Alex Ferguson's greatest regrets that Jaap Stam did not play more games for his United side.

    But in three years at Old Trafford, the hulking defender was a mainstay in one of the strongest back lines in Europe.

    35. Gary Pallister

    Another centre-back, Gary Pallister formed one of the key defensive partnerships in Manchester United history with Steve Bruce in the early 1990s.

    A physically-gifted player, Pallister was a calming influence at the back.

    34. Billy Meredith

    Billy Meredith was a vastly-intelligent player who spent 15 years playing for United between 1906 and 1921.

    He was a leader both on the pitch and off, eventually being inducted into the English Football Hall of Fame in 2007.

    33. Shay Brennan

    Shay Brennan was at Manchester United during the Munich air disaster, and the club's eventual rebirth and European Cup triumph.

    The full-back was a popular dressing-room influence who could always be relied upon to deliver consistent performances on the pitch.

    32. Harry Gregg

    Like Brennan, Harry Gregg survived the Munich air disaster, the goalkeeper displaying immense heroism that night to help pull teammates out of the wreckage.

    He was voted best keeper at the 1958 World Cup for Northern Ireland.

    31. Gary Neville

    Gary Neville may not have been the most naturally talented of "Fergie's Fledglings," but his loyalty to Manchester United was as great as any.

    His combination with best friend David Beckham down the right wing was one of the best double acts in football.


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    30. Jack Rowley

    Jack Rowley is in an elite group of players to have scored more than 200 goals for the Red Devils.

    The forward utilised his lethal left foot to terrific effect, smashing in goals from all over the park.

    29. Rio Ferdinand

    Has there ever been a United defender who oozes more class on the pitch than Rio Ferdinand?

    After a difficult start to his Old Trafford career, the former England international has been a world-class defender for the side for close to 10 years.

    28. Denis Irwin

    Another class act, Denis Irwin patrolled the left flank with intelligent defending and controlled aggression.

    The full-back was also one of the most reliable penalty takers in Britain, too, scoring at least a goal a season for nine years.

    27. Steve Bruce

    Captain of the Red Devils in the side's first Premier League-winning campaign, central defender Steve Bruce was a born leader.

    He is surely one of the best English players to have never earned an international cap.

    26. Tommy Taylor

    There are some die-hard United fans who regard Tommy Taylor as the greatest forward ever to play for the Red Devils.

    A superb finisher and aerial player, Taylor scored 131 goals for the club in fewer than 200 total appearances.

    25. Nemanja Vidic

    Tough and uncompromising are two of the words that best describe Nemanja Vidic.

    The Serbian brute has formed a dominant central-defensive partnership with Rio Ferdinand, each complementing the other perfectly.

    24. Ruud van Nistelrooy

    Dutch forward Ruud van Nistelrooy may have been higher up this list if he had won more silverware at Old Trafford.

    But in the five years he played for United, his 150 goals and incredible instincts in the box mean he won't soon be forgotten by the United faithful.

    23. Dennis Viollet

    The Red Devils have been graced with many prolific goalscorers. Dennis Viollet's 179 goals in fewer than 300 appearances put him near the top of the list of the best.

    The English forward was devastatingly clinical in the box, playing at Old Trafford between 1949 and 1962.

    22. Martin Buchan

    Before Vidic, before Roy Keane, Martin Buchan was the side's most domineering, influential player and captain.

    The centre-back was a true professional, but also capable of physically overpowering his opponents when necessary.

    21. Paddy Crerand

    Paddy Crerand is perhaps best known for his rants these days but, in his heyday, he was a top-class central midfielder.

    He was a devoted United player who made more than 400 appearances for the club.


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    20. Edwin van der Sar

    Edwin van der Sar had as steady a pair of gloves as they come.

    The Netherlands legend brought a calmness to the pitch that saw the Red Devils break records in defensive stinginess.

    19. Nobby Stiles

    Nobby Stiles was as unfashionable a player as they come, but his quality was undeniable.

    The holding midfielder played with an understated excellence, controlling the game with his immense footballing intelligence.

    18. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer

    There are few players who have attracted greater cult status from their time with Manchester United than Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

    The clinical forward scored arguably the most memorable goal in club history with the winner in the 1999 Champions League final.

    17. Wayne Rooney

    Forgetting the unfortunate current situation regarding his desire to leave the club, Wayne Rooney is one of the greatest forwards in United history.

    Let's just say something about his 197 goals and leave it at that.

    16. David Beckham

    Don't be distracted by the celebrity effect—David Beckham was an unbelievable talent and an England great.

    During the 1990s and early years of the last decade, he had pace, skill and could deliver a cross with unerring accuracy.

    15. Mark Hughes

    In his two separate stints at the club, Mark Hughes was a committed, reliable goalscorer.

    His determination never went unnoticed, nor did his 163 goals for the Red Devils. He scored many important goals for the side, including doubles in an FA Cup final and a UEFA Cup Winners' Cup final.

    14. Johnny Carey

    As Manchester United's first post-war captain, Johnny Carey exuded class and authority on the pitch.

    The 1949 Footballer of the Year winner was a technically-gifted full-back who played for the Red Devils between 1936 and 1953.

    13. Bill Foulkes

    In almost 700 appearances in the Manchester United back line, Bill Foulkes was a wholly-respected club legend.

    A Munich air survivor, Foulkes was always one of the first names on Matt Busby's team sheet.

    12. Roger Byrne

    With Roger Byrne's passing in the Munich air disaster, the Red Devils lost their captain and one of the best-ever full-backs to grace the game.

    The Manchester-born lad was a versatile player who could play just about any position and play it well.

    11. Cristiano Ronaldo

    Just outside the top 10 is Portuguese superstar Cristiano Ronaldo.

    His 42 goals in the 2007/08 season still boggles the mind. But then, 115 in two seasons for Real Madrid dwarfs this accomplishment.

10. Paul Scholes

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    Pass-master Paul Scholes is as unassuming as they come off the pitch. But then, he preferred to let his feet do the talking.

    The ginger wizard could pick out a teammate from just about anywhere with his incredible passing range.

    He was a creative threat who loved to get forward, especially early in his career.

9. Peter Schmeichel

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    No one had more presence in the box than United keeper Peter Schmeichel.

    The Great Dane could not only make the acrobatic saves, but was also able to marshal the side's defenders in front of him with a resounding authority.

    He played for Manchester City later in his career, but don't hold that against him.

8. Bryan Robson

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    How Manchester United could use a player like Bryan Robson now.

    Captain Marvel was an elite motivator of men, leading by example in central midfield.

    He was aggressive and relentless, but also a creative box-to-box player with supreme technique.

7. Denis Law

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    Denis Law is another player who switched United red for City blue late in his career, but he had already done enough at Old Trafford to secure legendary status.

    The Scottish forward scored 237 goals for the Red Devils between 1962 and 1973.

    He was tricky with exceptional ball skills, capable of creating something from nothing to win games.

6. Roy Keane

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    Roy Keane was another of the great inspirational United captains.

    The Irishman was physical and tenacious in defence, but also a vastly underrated technical player.

    If there is one moment to define his Old Trafford career, it would be his stirring Champions League performance against Juventus in the 1999 semi-final.

5. Eric Cantona

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    Without Eric Cantona, it is doubtful the Red Devils would be where they are today.

    The Frenchman's effervescent displays in the early 1990s inspired Sir Alex Ferguson's side to its first few Premier league titles.

    He was technically superb, capable doing things with a ball few could dream of.

4. Duncan Edwards

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    Duncan Edwards' death in Munich remains one of the great tragedies in sporting history.

    At 21, he had the world at his feet and limitless potential.

    He was physically remarkable with an authority that dominated the pitch. A versatile player, Edwards could make any position his own.

3. Bobby Charlton

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    With the possible exception of Sir Alex and Sir Matt, is there another man who better embodies the qualities of Manchester United Football Club than Sir Bobby Charlton?

    During 17 years of devoted service playing for the Red Devils, Charlton won three league titles and the European Cup.

    After the horrors of Munich, the attacking midfielder was central to the club picking itself off the ground and eventually prospering.

2. George Best

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    There has never been a player with the same style and natural charisma as George Best.

    The winger was electric on the pitch, scoring the types of goals fans had never seen before.

    He had everything a footballer could want. With almost 500 appearances for the Red Devils, he is woven into the fabric of the club.

1. Ryan Giggs

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    The greatest Manchester United player of all time has to be Ryan Giggs.

    From his early days as a flying winger to his current incarnation as a creative midfielder, Giggs has constantly reinvented himself to stay relevant to the changing game.

    He has won 13 Premier League titles, four FA Cups and two Champions League titles.

    Giggs will turn 40 this year. His longevity is an example for any sportsman.

    How would your list of the 50 greatest Man Utd players of all time look?