10. Wayne Rooney (2004-present, 236 appearances, 97 goals )
Ferguson does not always strike it lucky when he goes for broke in the transfer market but the £25million that he spent on Rooney in August 2004 already looks like a bargain. Rooney plays from the heart and his commitment to the cause, tireless displays and crucial goals have made him one the greatest players ever to have worn the club’s famous red shirt. And he’s still only 23.
9. Rio Ferdinand (2002-present, 309 appearances, 7 goals)
Not everyone was convinced that United were getting value for money when Ferdinand turned up in a white suit at Old Trafford to seal his £30million transfer from Leeds United in July 2002. There was no doubting the former West Ham United defender’s ability, but serious questions had been asked about his attitude and his ability to concentrate for 90 minutes. There was no need to worry. Once Ferguson got hold of him, the dodgy hairstyles disappeared and Ferdinand fulfilled his potential by becoming one of the best defenders in the world.
8. Paul Scholes (1994-present, 604 appearances, 142 goals)
Will there ever be another player like Scholes? The former England midfield player started training with United when he was 14 and his self-effacing and down-to-earth style has made him one of the most popular figures at Old Trafford. Forget flash cars, diamond earrings and late nights, Scholes has been the model professional since he made his United debut – notwithstanding one out-of-character hissy fit after he was asked to play for the reserves – and in his prime he was described by Zinedine Zidane as being technically the best player in the world
7. George Best (1963-74, 470 starts, 179 goals)
Northern Irish professional football player, best known for his years with Manchester United. He was a winger whose game combined pace, acceleration, balance, two-footedness, goalscoring and the ability to beat defenders. In 1968, his annus mirabilis, he won the European Cup with Manchester United, and was named the European Footballer of the Year. When fit, he was an automatic choice for the Northern Ireland team, but he was unable to lead them to the World Cup qualification, despite being capped 37 times and scoring nine goals.
6. Peter Schmeichel (1991-99, 398 starts,1 Goal)
Schmeichel is probably the greatest goalkeeper to have worn the club’s famous green, yellow, blue or black jersey. The Denmark No 1 was brought for £530,000 from Brondby in 1991 and Sir Alex Ferguson described his transfer as the bargain of the century and he spent the next eight years frightening opponents – and his own defenders – with his total command of his penalty area, his imposing presence and his lethal long throws. He left Old Trafford at the peak of his powers in 1999 but only after he had kept United on course for the Treble by saving Dennis Bergkamp’s late penalty in the FA semi-final replay at against Arsenal at Villa Park.
5. Roy Keane (1993-2006, 458 starts, 51 goals)
In 1990 Brian Clough spent only £10,000 on an Irish teenager who would become one of the best players in the world. Roy Keane made his name at Nottingham Forest before he found the perfect stage for his talents at Old Trafford. Who can forget the bust-ups, the dust-ups, the snarling confrontations, the fierce determination and burning desire to always come out on top? Anyone lucky enough to have been at the Stadio Del Alpi in Turin in April 1999 when United recovered from 2-0 down to beat Juventus 3-2 witnessed one of the greatest ever performances by a player on a football pitch. “Pounding over every blade of grass, competing as if he would rather die of exhaustion than lose, he inspired all around him,” Ferguson said. “I felt it was an honour to be associated with such a player.”
4. Ryan Giggs (1990-present, 805 appearances, 148 goals )
Things you need to know about Ryan Giggs: 1. He doesn’t dive. 2. He’s never put in a transfer request. 3. No-one’s played more games for United. 4. He’s won 11 titles, two European Cups and four FA Cups. 5. Hello! didn’t pay for his wedding.
3. David Beckham (1991-2003, 356 starts, 85 goals)
Before Beckham became a brand he was a very good midfield player with an endless supply of energy and a right foot that could put the ball anywhere on the pitch. Having helped United to dominate the Premier League he then started hanging out with pop stars and playing for England and it was downhill from there. He loves marketing, so he can be No 23, his shirt number at Real Madrid.
One of the rules of writing for The Times is that you avoid referring to yourself in the first person unless you have been on the newspaper for about 20 years, but, for once, I’m going to let my hair down. Cristiano Ronaldo is probably the second most naturally gifted United player of all time and there’s a good chance that one day he will be mentioned in the same breath as Pele and Diego Maradona. But there’s also a very good chance that he won’t be at Old Trafford for much longer. I’m not trying to be controversial by making him No 50, it’s just that real United legends don’t want to play for Real Madrid and real United legends don’t dive. Anyway, I’d feel like an idiot if he signed for Real this summer after I’d put him in front of Bryan Robson, Roger Byrne and Denis Law. If Cristiano Ronaldo dos Santos Aveiro kept his mouth shut and stayed on his feet, he would have been No 3. As things stand, on this list he’s No 50.
1. Eric Cantona (1992-97, 184 starts, 82 goals)
He came. He turned up his collar. He conquered. “If there was ever one player, anywhere in the world, who was made for Manchester United, it was Cantona,” Ferguson said. “He’d been searching all his life for somewhere he could look at and feel: this is my home. When he came here, he knew: this is my place.”