This close season has been no different to any before; several actual comings and goings, and a whole host of potential changes to our title winning squad.
With transfers in mind, instead of listing a raft of players that Sir Alex could or should break the bank for this summer, let’s take a look back at some of the signings that have defined the Alex Ferguson era at Manchester United.
This list compiles the top ten signings the greatest manager in club football has made in his 25 years at the helm. Feel free to agree or disagree, and comment on your thoughts. Just a note, this list doesn’t include trainees, so despite their collective brilliance, Giggs, Scholes, Beckham etc aren’t included.
10.) Andy “Andrew” Cole (£6million + plus £1 million-rated Keith Gillespie)
Signed from title rivals Newcastle (those were the days…) in January 1995, Cole arrived with a reputation as a classy striker, having already proven himself at Premier League level. In his debut season, he managed an impressive goal return despite joining mid way through, the highlight being 5 goals in a 9-0 romp against Ipswich Town. However, the mercurial talents of “The King” and a less than expected goal return saw him on the periphery in his first full season. In ’97 he suffered a double leg break which ruled out the front man for a large period of the season, but late on in the campaign Cole fought hard and won his place back in the team, scoring vital goals that ultimately resulted in silverware. Once Cantona had retired, Coley regained a starting berth, and would go on to become part of what is quite possibly the most complete array of strikers the club has had at any given time – the awesome foursome of Cole, Yorke, Sheringham and Solskjaer. Finishing up with 5 Premier League titles, 2 FA cups, a Champions’ League winners medal and an Intercontinental Cup medal, Andrew Cole is a fine player to start the countdown of Fergie’s top ten.
9.) Dwight Yorke (£12.26 million)
As one half on one of the greatest strike partnerships Old Trafford has had the fortune to host, Yorkie managed to win the lot in his first season as a Red Devil. With his and Andy Cole’s goals, United ended up securing the unprecedented Treble in ’99. He was also a key player in the 1999/2000 title winning side. A good United servant, Yorke’s off field antics seemed to curtail his United career as his party lifestyle threatened to overshadow his football. But take nothing away from his contributions while a Red, Yorke did the business, which is why Sir Alex parted with £12 million to get him.
8.) Wayne Rooney (£25.6million)
Wayne is one of the English game’s brightest stars and has been for quite a number of years now. Man United paid heavily to secure his services in 2004, but by then he had already shown that he was going to be a world beater. Since joining the club, he has always been one of the first names on the team sheet, not just for his goal threat, but for the quality of his all round game. A winner of 4 Premier League medals, a Champions’ league title, 2 Champions’ League runner up medals and 2 League cup winners’ medals, the only major honour to escape him is the FA Cup.
7.) Edwin van der Sar (£2million reportedly)
Edwin van der Sar is the only goalkeeper since the great Peter Schmeichel to genuinely fill the void the Great Dane left. Reliable, skilful, agile, Edwin allowed the defence in front of him to play with the calming knowledge that he was behind them. While his shot stopping and catching were second to none, his skill with the ball at his feet marked him out as one of the best around, at times being as good as a fifth defender, or a sweeper. His impressive displays were justly rewarded in Moscow in 2008, where it was his penalty save from Nicolas Anelka that clinched the club’s third European Cup. Now he has retired, Sir Alex has a similarly difficult task replacing him as he did Peter Schmeichel.
6.) Ole Gunnar Solskjaer (£1.5 million)
The Baby-Faced Assassin needs no introduction at all. He is undoubtedly a genuine, bona fide Manchester United legend. Signed in 1996, Ole knew where the net was right from the off, setting the tone for his career at United. He also earned himself the reputation of Super-Sub, as he so often would come off the bench to score vital goals. According to Fergie, he would studiously watch every detail of a game from the sidelines, and when called upon, would invariably come up with the goods. His finest hour came in the Nou Camp in ’99, where his predatory instinct and super sub reputation were on display as he prodded home the winner to seal a comeback that will live forever in the memories of Red Devils. It’s a shame he suffered so much with injury, but his return in 2006 after a lengthy lay off was one of the highlights of a successful title winning season. He was a true great, who never complained, but just did whatever he needed to do for the club.
5.) Ruud van Nistelrooy (£19 million)
Van the man; one of the most deadly finishers not just to play for United, but to have played the game. He could have been a United player earlier than when he signed in 2001, had it not been for a career-threatening knee injury he picked up at PSV. While the injury was indeed a bad one, Fergie wanted to get his man, and stuck by him through his rehab and signed him once he had regained fitness. Thankfully! Ruud’s goals were key to winning a haul of silverware, not least the awesome 44 goal haul n 02/03. He also seemed to thrive on European nights, becoming the club’s all time European Cup goal scorer with a tally of 38 strikes.
4.) Cristiano Ronaldo (£12.24 million)
Manchester United’s first ever Portuguese player didn’t turn out to be too bad a player now, did he? From the moment he came on against Bolton at Old Trafford for is debut, you just knew that he had something extra special, something that made the team beg the Boss to sign him after a pre season friendly in Lisbon. He went on to be an outstanding player for United, winning every trophy available during his time. His 42 goal haul in 07/08 was something to behold, considering he was rarely deployed as a striker. Then there were the brilliant free kicks, step overs, and THAT goal away at Porto. Wow! The only unfortunate thing was his burning desire to play for Real Madrid, but we can forgive him for this for two reasons: firstly, he always made it clear that it was his dream to play for Madrid, yet he always gave his best in a Red shirt. And secondly, he is Cristiano Ronaldo. Viva Ronaldooooo!
3.) Roy Keane (£3.75 million)
There’s only one Keano! And that is why Sir Alex decided to part with the best part of £4million to sign him, for a then British record. Keane gave 100% commitment whenever he pulled on the United shirt, and demanded no less from any of the other ten players who joined him, making him one of the club’s greatest ever captains. The one phrase that sums Keano up has to be “no nonsense”, as Alan Shearer, Patrick Vieira, Alf Inge Haaland and numerous more will testify. The driving force behind many a successful campaign, the stand out performance for me has to be the ’99 European Cup semi final 2nd leg away in Turin. Knowing a yellow card had ruled him out of the showpiece occasion, rather than let his head drop, he turned in a warrior-like performance, with his goal sparking the comeback that saw United book their berth in Barcelona.
2.) Peter Schmeichel (£530,000)
“Bargain of the Century” is how Sir Alex described the fee paid for Pete in an interview in the year 2000, and I think even David Dickinson himself would give that the seal of approval! We all know that the boss is rarely, if ever, wrong on such matters. But to sign one of the greatest goalkeepers ever to don the gloves in the game, for such a meagre sum is bordering on incredible. No ‘keeper until Edwin Van Der Sar has come close to replacing the Great Dane, in terms of pure footballing ability, and the presence on the pitch. The treble winning season was a fitting curtain call to his Manchester United career, allowing him to get his hands on the Champions’ League trophy to go along with numerous league and cup winners’ medals. One of the most memorable moments involving Schmeichel has to be him surging up the field in injury time at the Nou Camp in ’99, and the celebratory acrobatics after Ole’s winner. Shame he then had to join City a few years later mind…
1.) Eric Cantona (£1.2million)
Quite simply, The King Eric Cantona was the final piece of the master mind jigsaw that led to Manchester United winning our first league title in 26 years, a win which paved the way for the Red Devils to dominate the English game for the best part of the following 2 decades, up until the present day. Signed from the old enemy Leeds, Eric joined a team which was full of talent and determination, but was looking slightly out of sorts, falling behind early on in the inaugural Premier League title race. Mark Hughes, Brian McClair, and an ageing Captain Marvel were all still working their magic, but Cantona proved to be the catalyst that propelled the club to long awaited glory, inspiring the team by scoring and creating goals. The following season, United clinched their first league and FA cup double, with the brilliant Frenchman bagging 25 goals in the 93/94 season. 93/94 was significantly the season Eric inherited the number 7 shirt from one of the all time greats Bryan Robson.
While a genius on the pitch, Eric was a veritable firebrand off of it, as a certain Selhurst Park match goer will undoubtedly testify. However this was what made the man what he was; as uncompromising as he was unpredictable.
The £1.2million price tag seems incomprehensible in terms of today’s hyper inflated market, as that sum nowadays would, tragically, barely buy Nicklas Bendtner’s left boot. In today’s market, Eric would easily fetch £50million plus. But, the insanity of today’s game put to one side for a minute, a player of Cantona’s undeniable genius and ability signed for mere pennies make him Alex Ferguson’s all time greatest signing. Though I’d probably say the same if he had paid ten or twenty times that…
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