Man Utd’s Best Ever Players

MANCHESTER, UK - MAY 19 2018: The United Trinity bronze sculpture which composed with George Best, Denis Law and Sir Bobby Charlton in front of Old Trafford stadium

For a club that had its share of success in different eras, Manchester United fans have the privilege of witnessing greatness at every department of the pitch. As such, it won’t be an easier task to select the ten all-time best players. 

Before delving deep into the careers of our top 10, here are some honourable mentions that narrowly missed to cut.

  • Bryan Robson: 1981-1994 (461 games, 99 goals) – long-serving club captain
  • David Beckham: 1991-2003 (394 games, 85 goals) – iconic brand for Fergie’s Fledglings 
  • Rio Ferdinand: 2002-2014 (455 games, 8 goals) – colossal partnership with Nemanja Vidic
  • Gary Neville: 1991-2011 (entire career) (602 games, 7 goals) – most-capped defender 
  • Norman Whiteside: 1978-1989 (238 games, 57 goals) – great career plagued by injuries 
  • Mark Hughes: 1978-1986, 1988-1995 (467 games, 163 goals) – crucial in Man Utd’s resurgence under Sir Alex
  • Duncan Edwards: 1953-1958 (177 games, 21 goals) – Star of Busby Babes team before losing his life at Munich Air Disaster 
  1. Peter Schmeichel

1991-1999 (398 games, 328 goals conceded, 180 clean sheets)

Major titles: 5 Premier Leagues, Champions League, 3 FA Cups

Best remembered for his intimidating physique and commanding abilities, the Great Dane departed the club with a treble – the Premier League, Champions League and FA Cup.

He joined United from his local club Brondby in 1991. At the end of his first season in England, he led Denmark to an improbable European Championship success. In six of his eight seasons at Old Trafford, Schmeichel conceded fewer goals than games.

Keeping 21 clean sheets from 35 Premier League appearances in 1994/95 was his best number. Only David de Gea made more appearances as a goalkeeper for the Red Devils. 

A year after his move to Sporting CP in the wake of winning it all at Manchester, the shot-stopper returned to England with brief spells at Aston Villa, where he became the first goalkeeper to score a goal in the Premier League era, and Manchester City.

Nowadays, he’s working for American-based CBS where his passion for the club stands tall in their UEFA Champions League broadcast.

  1. Eric Cantona

1992-1997 (185 games, 82 goals)

Major titles: 4 Premier Leagues, 2 FA Cups

It’s an understatement to say Frenchmen Arsene Wenger and Eric Cantona shaped the new Premier League brand. After helping them to a league triumph in his first England experience, Leeds United fans were angered to see Cantona joining their fiercest rivals.

Although disciplinary issues were feared because of incidents at Marseille and Leeds, his excellence and grace were more on display here, apart from the infamous kung-fu incident that had him suspended for nine months.

Curiously, that was the only season he didn’t win the league. It all started with his first half-season at Manchester United where he lifted the side from fifth-place to the club’s first league title in 26 years. In 1996, he was voted Football of the Year. In his relatively short spell at United, Cantona did more than enough to be considered as one of the greats.

Since retiring from the beautiful game at only 31, Cantona embarked on all sorts of ventures not familiar with professional footballers. The King is still in the spotlight whether because of his acting career or strong comments on political and philosophical matters.

  1. Roy Keane

1993-2006 (478 games, 51 goals)

Major titles: 7 Premier Leagues, Champions League, 4 FA Cups

Another player full of self-confidence and controversies, Roy Keane is one of the best captains in the Premier League era. While his footballing ability seemed to be overshadowed by his aggressiveness and attitude, he gets his flowers as a true leader in a dominant side.

Keano joined Manchester United from Nottingham Forest for what was a British record sum at the time. He didn’t leave the club and Sir Alex on good terms, but his Manchester United connection is still visible in his punditry career.

Perhaps the biggest regret would be missing out on the historic Champions League win against Bayern Munich due to suspension. He won Football of the Year and Players’ Player of the Year the next season. Keane had those career-defining harsh tackles, but he was also known for his efficiency in passing the ball.

  1. Cristiano Ronaldo

2003-2009, 2021-2022 (346 games, 145 goals)

Major titles: 3 Premier Leagues, Champions League, Club World Cup, FA Cup

CR7 at seventh. He’ll surely have a better ranking in the discussions of the all-time best footballers. At Manchester, Cristiano had his first breakthrough. His debut against Bolton had many doubting his readiness, but he won the first of his five Ballon d’Or awards after a starring role in Manchester United’s 2018 Champions League triumph.

He also topped the Premier League scoring list with 31 goals in that 2017/18 season. With goals in all knockout stage games, he was also a key factor in Man Utd reaching another final the following term. The mega transfer to Real Madrid had the same storyline as David Beckham’s move six years earlier.

The Portuguese megastar is still going strong with Al-Nassr in the Saudi Pro League. Just before fleeing to the Middle East, CR7 returned home to Old Trafford, where he finished as the club’s top-scorer in his first season before falling out with the new boss Erik ten Hag.

  1. Paul Scholes

1991-2011, 2012-2013 (entire career) (716 games, 155 goals)

Major titles: 11 Premier Leagues, 2 Champions League, Club World Cup, 4 FA Cups

The next one on our list also played for the club in two spells. But he has never worn another badge. After enjoying (or suffering, it seems) retirement for a bit, Scholsey came back to play for the Red Devils for 18 months.

The most-capped English international for Manchester United, Scholes is regarded as one of the finest midfielders of his era. His long-range passes and shots were delightful to watch.

Only one game short of the 500 Premier League club, Scholes’ longevity at one club will always be exemplary. He bid farewell to the game alongside Sir Alex Ferguson with his 11th league title and a memorable 5-5 away at West Brom.

Scholes is another former Man Utd legend to enter the media landscape after hanging up his boots. He also has a 10% share at fourth-tier Greater Manchester club Salford City.

  1. Denis Law

1962-1973 (404 games, 237 goals)

Major titles: 2 First Division, European Cup, FA Cup

The 1964 Ballon d’Or winner first played First Division football and ended his career at Manchester City in two spells, but it was on the other side of Manchester his name rose to the untouchable.

After a single season with Torino, the clinical Scott joined Matt Busby’s historic team. On his return to Manchester, he didn’t even have to find a new home as he boarded with the same landlady.

And his form was only getting better. He scored more than 20 goals in each of his first three seasons. Although he didn’t play a part in the extra-time win against Benfica, Law added the European Cup to his trophy collection in 1967/68.

He finished top-scorer of the next season’s competition. The Scotland international scored the third-most goals in Manchester United’s history. Law is the only man to have two statues dedicated to him at Old Trafford.

  1. George Best

1961-1974 (470 games, 179 goals)

Major titles: 2 First Division, European Cup, FA Cup

470 games isn’t a mean feat and he won it all at Man United, but George Best could’ve been a bigger star if it wasn’t for his troubled life outside of the pitch. That was a testament to El Beatie’s unique talent and dazzling wing play.

The 1968 European Cup final was his biggest moment as he won the Ballon d’Or at the end of the year. That same season he was the league’s top-scorer as well as the Footballer of the Year. He was the undeniable best.

The Northern Ireland star joined Manchester United’s academy at the age of 15. Including spells in South Africa, Hong Kong and Australia, he played for 14 clubs in just about a decade since leaving Manchester United. 

Due to his extravagant lifestyle including severe alcoholism, Best suffered financial and health problems even on his playing days. He died at the age of 59 as a result of lung infection and multiple organ failure.

  1. Ryan Giggs

1987-2014 (entire professional career) (963 games, 168 goals)

Major titles: 13 Premier Leagues, 2 Champions League, Club World Cup, 4 FA Cups

Only Gareth Barry played more Premier League games than Ryan Giggs. He is also top of the appearance list at Manchester United. Paul Scholes, who is also a one-club man, had 247 fewer games despite sitting second on this all-time list.

All the more impressive when you consider the Welshman has never been sent off in 24 seasons. He won 45 trophies at Manchester United, including a record 13 league titles.

While he later played briefly as a central midfielder, the left wing was his forte down the years. He scored one of the most iconic goals in the club’s history in the 1999 FA Cup semi-final against Arsenal. That moment and his subsequent celebration were beyond iconic.

He briefly worked as David Moyes’ assistant while he was still kicking the ball around. That role even grew into an interim player-manager title for the final four games of the 2013-14 season after the Scotsman’s sacking.

Life after retirement hasn’t been smooth sailing, however. Until he lost the job due to assault charges, Giggs served as the Wales national team manager for four years.

  1. Wayne Rooney

2004-2017 (559 games, 253 goals)                           

Major titles: 5 Premier Leagues, Champions League, Europa League. FA Cup, Club World Cup


The same is true for Wazza. Time and again, Rooney finds himself in tabloids for the wrong reasons. And his managerial tenures haven’t been inspiring.

But the story is strikingly different when he used to do the talking with the ball on the pitch. Wayne Rooney was a big reason to have a generation of fans get into Manchester United. 

An epitome of a player sacrificing his potential for the best of the club, Rooney shoehorned into different roles and systems when he had the capabilities to be the main actor. Still, he left the club as an all-time top-scorer with 253 goals.

Some of those goals have been nothing short of spectacular. A delightful chip over Portsmouth’s David James, a long-range volley against Newcastle United and an immortalized bicycle kick in the Manchester Derby. Those are simply the pick of the bunch. 

Rooney’s all-roundedness would make it difficult to pick a standout quality of his. And it’s very rare to see a top individual in both his work rate and technical ability like the former Evertonian possessed for two decades.

  1. Sir Bobby Charlton

1953-1973 (758 games, 249 goals)

Major titles: 3 First Division, European Cup, FA Cup

When the news broke that Sir Bobby Charlton passed away, the memorials and testimonies gave the younger generation glimpses of the man’s extraordinary influence at the club.

Without a doubt, he was Mr. Manchester United. And he stayed a prominent figure even after retirement as the director of the board and ambassadorial role. Sir Bobby has a larger-than-life status at Manchester United.

Back in his playing days, the 1966 World Cup winner was the first Manchester United player to win the Ballon d’Or. And, two years later, he helped the club to its first European Cup glory as he scored twice against the favorites Benfica.

A survivor of the Munich Air Disaster, that triumph had a special place for Bobby Charlton and his beloved coach Matt Busby. He wasn’t a typical striker as his mesmerizing passing range helped him dictate matches from midfielder 

Yet he was the club’s all-time top-scorer before Rooney, who can also be identified as a midfielder, finally broke the record. 

And that’s it. We concluded the list with the two top goal-getters. But they’re simply more than that. These are some of the eternal legends at England’s most successful club.

 

About Tony 9 Articles
I'm Tony, a football writer since 2005, from Warrington in the UK. I support Liverpool and have done since I was a kid. I've previously ran other footy sites, and have a love for the game overall (not just LFC). Find out more about me & my background on the about page, linked to in the site's main navigation.

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