By Ryan McCann.
Manchester United Football Club’s trophy cabinet is enriched with glorious memories of past successes and triumphs. Since the club was formed as Newton Heath in 1878, countless players have bore the infamous red jersey in the Theatre of Dreams, capturing the hearts and imaginations of adoring fans all over the world. Manchester United are renowned for their flair and fearless attacking approach to football. I found myself voyaging through the differing periods and eras in Manchester United’s history, and it was that journey that provided the basis for this piece. I began to wonder, who was our greatest and most fearless front man?
Based on a litany of footballing attributes, coupled with appearances and goals, I sought to answer my own problem. In such an article, there are likely to be differences in opinion, and at the end, you are welcome to shine your light of wisdom on some of my decisions and inclusions. Football related debates are commonplace and necessary. So here goes…
10- Mark Hughes
Mark Hughes left Manchester United in 1986, to play for Terry Venables’ Barcelona. Hughes was attracted to the European style of football, although found it hard to adapt to the Catalan style. The flowing season, Hughes was sent out on loan to Bayern Munich where he swiftly recaptured his form. In his heart, Hughes knew he was a Man United player and in 1988, he returned to Old Trafford.
The Welsh magician will always be remembered for his tenacity and marvellous technique. In his first season back at Old Trafford, Hughes was voted PFA Player of the Year and went on to become a stalwart in Fergie’s teams for the next 7 years. Towards the end of his Manchester United career, new blood, in the form of Giggs, Beckham, Scholes and Neville, was coming through and Hughes moved on to Chelsea for £1.5million.
Hughes eventually turned to management and although he managed fierce rivals Manchester City for a brief spell, Mark Hughes will always be remembered as a Man United legend. I just hope Cristiano Ronaldo realises what Hughes realised. The bright lights of La Liga are nothing in comparison to the Theatre of Dreams. The grass, in fact, is not always greener on the other side
9- Ole Gunnar Solskjaer
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is known across the world, and in most cases, he is notorious for being one of the greatest subs ever. Six minutes into his debut against Blackburn in 1996, United fans knew they had a gem on their hands.
His selfless contribution to Manchester United for 11 years can only be admired and is a rare attribute among professional footballers in the modern era. The term super sub began to define Solskjaer after his performance against Nottingham Forest, when he came off the bench, bagged four goals and left with the match ball, in an 8-1 hammering. However, in the midst of United’s success, the Norwegian stayed grounded.
Solskjaer will always be remembered by Man United fans, and will go down in folklore for ‘that goal’ in the Camp Nou. Trailing 1-0 to Bayern Munich in the 1999 Champions League Final, Solskjaer came off the bench, and with the help of Teddy Sheringham, clawed The Red Devils back from the brink of despair, scoring the winner late into stoppage time. The Germans were distraught. Man United Fans were in a footballing euphoria that the club had not experienced for 30 long years. And the Baby Faced Assassin was to thank.
A banner currently hangs proudly in the Stretford End of Old Trafford. 20LEGEND. And rightly so. A true servant to the Theatre of Dreams.
Andy Cole’s arrival at Manchester United from Newcastle for £7million in 1995, displayed Alex Ferguson’s desire and ambition to stay on top, and not loosen the grip of his chokehold on English football.
Ferguson targeted one of England’s most prolific marksmen in Andy Cole, a piece of business that would help establish the greatest and most successful period in the history of Manchester United Football Club.
Andy Cole helped Manchester United light up the Premiership and Europe with his scintillating displays. Cole played alongside the captivating Eric Cantona, but as his career at Old Trafford lengthened, it was through his deadly partnership with Dwight Yorke that Andy Cole had his most enjoyable period. The partnership with Yorke was world famous, and they were widely regarded as one the most feared attacking duos on the planet.
Cole’s finest hour in front of goal was arguably his winning goal in Turin, when Man United defeated the mighty Juventus to secure their place in the European Cup Final for the first time in three decades. Full steam ahead Barcelona!
7- Dennis Viollet
The oldest striker to make the list is none other than Man United legend Dennis Violett. Violett played for Manchester United during the 1950’s and early 1960’s. Violett, alongside his strike partner Tommy Taylor, wreaked havoc up and down the country. Violett’s goalscoring record at Manchester United was astonishing, finding the net 159 times in 259 appearances.
Tragically though, Viollet and his Manchester United teammates were involved in the Munich air disaster, which claimed the lives of 8 Manchester United players on the 6th February 1958. Viollet survived the crash, but his strike partner and loyal friend Tommy Taylor, did not.
The Munich air disaster shook Manchester United and football to its very core. The rebuilding process would be long and fruitless for many of the players and staff, but Viollet’s excellent goalscoring form continued, breathing life into a football team, city and country, even without the help of his trusted strike partner and partner in crime, Tommy Taylor.
Dennis Violett died of cancer in March 1999. Sadly, he did not live to see his beloved and adored Manchester United win their memorable treble, and conquer Europe on that unforgettable night in Barcelona.
Sometimes in football, you need a bit of luck, a moment of class or bizarre and unexplainable fortune. Part of me wants to believe that Viollet, along with the other Busby Babes, might have provided it from above on that fateful night in the Camp Nou. Without Viollet, Sir Matt Busby,
Tommy Taylor and the other Busby Babes, Manchester United would not be where they are today. We are eternally in their debt.
6- Ruud Van Nistelrooy
Ruud Van Nistelrooy eventually arrived at Manchester United in 2001 for a British record fee of £19million, and quickly became one of the most ruthless finishers the game has ever seen. Often ridiculed for his inability to score outside the 18 yard box, Van Nistelrooy, however, had no problem scoring inside it. In the modern era, his poaching skills and ability to steal a goal from nowhere are as common as hen’s teeth.
Van Nistelrooy was adored by Man United fans and really came to the fore on those wonderful, atmospheric Champions League nights. He is currently the second highest scorer in Champions League history with a remarkable 56 goals in 81 games. His time at Manchester United however, was cut short, and the majority of his legacy left unfulfilled.
After a bust up with Sir Alex Ferguson, and alleged fallouts with rising star Cristiano Ronaldo, Van the Man, as he was affectionately known, was benched for long periods and inevitably shown the door, never to return. Real Madrid secured his services in a €24million deal, and to this day, is still tearing defences apart with German side Hamburg.
If it was not for the bust up with ruthless and uncompromising boss Sir Alex Ferguson, I am convinced that Van Nistelrooy would have served Manchester United for at least another 5 years. He could have been a lot higher on this list, but instead, was shown the same door as McGrath, Ince, Stam and Beckham, to name but a few.
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