After 12 months of being vacant, the Manchester United number 7 shirt adorns the back of a new hero. Alexis Sánchez has taken the legendary shirt number, which has proven to be a burden for those who have worn it over most of the last decade.
Johnny Berry joined United in 1951 from Birmingham City, and won three league titles under Matt Busby. A fast, exciting right winger with an eye for goal, he scored 45 goals in 276 appearances s, and won four caps for England. In the months leading up to the 1958 Munich Air Disaster, Berry had lost his place in the starting line up to Welsh youngster Kenny Morgans. Up until this point, Berry had been a crucial member of the United squad, a key part of all that they had achieved.
What happened on that fateful day effectively killed the careers of both men. Neither player actually died in the crash, but Berry suffered injuries so severe that he never played football again, retiring at the age of 31. Morgans only suffered minor injuries, but, having been making a name for himself up until that point, he was unable to recapture his previous form, and made just four further appearances for the club, before being sold to Swansea Town (now known as Swansea City) and played out the rest of his days in his native Wales, also featuring for Newport County and Barry Town, before hanging up his boots aged 28.
Berry usually wore the number seven shirt on match days, and is referred to by those who remember him as a United legend fit to wear the number. He died in 1994, being the first surviving member of the Munich Air Disaster to do so, following a short illness.
Following Munich, nobody really made the number 7 shirt their own until a young lad from Belfast stepped onto the Old Trafford pitch in September 1963 against West Bromwich Albion. It’s fair to say there has probably never been a more talented player to emerge from the British Isles than George Best. He had it all – pace, skill, strength, balance and courage. He would waltz past players like they weren’t even there, wait for them to catch up to him and then beat them again, just for good measure.
Following his performance against Benfica at the Stadium of Light in 1966, in which he scored twice as United destroyed one of the best teams in Europe. Two years later, he tormented the Portuguese giants again, scoring a great goal against them at Wembley as United became the first English club to win the European Cup. Following the arrival of Willie Morgan from Burnley later that summer, Best often wore the number 11, but it is the legendary seven shirt that most people associate him with.
After their European triumph, United went into freefall, and although Best would still produce the goods on the pitch, his well-documented private life was giving him more front page headlines than back page ones. He left Manchester United in 1974, and United were relegated to Division 2 at the end of that season. He is still rated by many as the greatest footballer ever to grace the Old Trafford turf.
When Scottish winger Willie Morgan moved to Old Trafford in 1968, he asked Matt Busby if he could wear the number 7 shirt, as he had throughout the majority of his career. Busby agreed, and Best was more than happy to accommodate him, often wearing either 8 or 11 on his back.
Morgan was a brilliant winger, who just happened to join United in one of the most dismal periods in their history. In that time, the Red Devils went from European Champions to relegation in just six seasons. Following the arrival of Steve Coppell in 1975, Morgan found first team football hard to come by. He returned to Burnley following their promotion back to Division One, and remains a United fan to this day.
In March 1975, Manchester United manager Tommy Docherty took a £60,000 punt on Steve Coppell, an unknown winger from Tranmere Rovers. He slotted straight into the side as United marched on to win promotion.
United immediately began to set the old Division 1 alight, winning five of their first six league games, and finished third in their first season back in the top flight. Coppell was an old fashioned right winger, who would bomb down the flanks and take players on, but unusually, he also had a great work ethic, and would always help out his full back, never neglecting his defensive duties. Between 1977 and 1981, he played 207 consecutive games for the club – a record which, as of 2018, still hasn’t been broken.
Coppell’s only trophies for the club came in 1977, winning both the FA Cup and Charity Shield. In a 1982 World Cup Qualifier, Coppell was on the wrong end of a high challenge that shattered his knee. He had a quick-fix surgery, which allowed him to make England’s World Cup squad, but towards the end of the 1982 – 83 season, Coppell’s knee broke down again. This time there was to be no answer to the problem. He missed the 1983 FA Cup Final win over Brighton & Hove Albion.
The surgery which allowed him to continue playing had probably done more harm than good, as it had done no more than mask the problem. A second surgery failed to correct the problem, and he announced his retirement from playing in October 1983, aged just 28.
Now known to fans of the Premier League for his managerial stints at Crystal Palace and Reading, it’s easy to forget that, at one time, he was one of Manchester United’s most dangerous players.
The man who basically carried Manchester United in the 1980’s. When Coppell retired, “Robbo” took up his shirt number. Signed from West Bromwich Albion in 1981, Robson took over the captain’s armband from Ray Wilkins when his midfield partner picked up an injury. It’s safe to say that both United and England would probably have achieved a lot more than they did if it hadn’t been for a succession of injuries. Essentially, he WAS Manchester United in that decade.
Fearless, tireless and with the heart of a lion, Robson was universally respected throughout world football. In 1984, he almost signed for Juventus following his exploits in the Cup Winners Cup (which the Italians went on to win, ironically eliminating United in the Semi Finals). In 1991, United would go on to win the trophy, beating Barcelona in Rotterdam in a match that Robson completely dominated, which was no mean feat at the age of 34.
During his final two seasons, he finally got his hands on the league title that had eluded him throughout his career, and added a second the following season, but injuries and his advancing years meant that his number seven shirt was often bequeathed to the likes of Lee Sharpe and Andrei Kanchelskis. By the time the Premier League squad numbers were introduced, the number 7 shirt had been allocated to a man who would go on to become an even bigger Old Trafford legend than Bryan Robson.
Another man who needs no introduction, the mercurial Frenchman made such an impact after joining United in 1992 that his name is still sung by the Stretford End more than two decades after his retirement.
With his influence in the side, United ended their 26 year wait for the league title, and retained it the following season. Without Eric Cantona, this almost certainly wouldn’t have happened. Constantly wound up by opposing players and fans alike, who loved to taunt him, especially after the kick on that Crystal Palace fan in 1995, it’s gotten to the point where even football fans who hate United now appreciate Cantona, and actually remember him fondly.
The arrogance, the charisma and overall talent of the man ensures that he will never be forgotten by the Old Trafford faithful. He is just one of those players you would be happy to pay to go and watch. In fact, the man who took over his number 7 shirt, following his retirement in 1997, said he would pay just to watch him train. Considering that David Beckham actually got paid to train with him, that is some compliment.
Without a doubt, the most famous footballer ever to lace up a pair of boots. Beckham broke into the United side on a regular basis in 1995, following the sale of Andrei Kanchelskis to Everton, there was a slot on the right side of midfield. Beckham had usually played in central midfield for the reserves, but certain attributes to his game made him perfect for the position he adopted.
He wasn’t a traditional winger, not blessed with explosive pace or trickery, but a strong determination to succeed, as well as devastating accuracy when striking a ball. Whether it be a cross or shot, open play or dead ball, he soon became one of those players that, if his name was missing from the team sheet, the fans would be asking, “where’s Beckham?”
When he struck THAT goal against Wimbledon from the halfway line in 1996, he found himself catapulted to fame that even Ryan Giggs didn’t receive when he first broke into the United team. When Cantona retired, Beckham immediately requested the number 7 shirt, and wore it for the next six years. When he married Victoria, his profile throughout the world escalated much further than that of players with superior ability to his.
The reason Beckham made himself the worldwide icon that he is today is hard work, and an intelligence that nobody ever credits him with. He made the most of the talents he was given. He perfected his striking of a ball, he always retained the same work ethic and no matter how far his star rose, the attention rarely affected his performances on the pitch – he always gave 100% for the club. He harnessed all of this, together with his model good looks, to become the most marketable name in football, despite not being the best player.
It’s no secret that he didn’t want to leave United in 2003, but he moved to a club with the same kind of profile in Real Madrid, and by this time he was England captain. The reception he received at Old Trafford when he played against United for AC Milan in 2010 brought a tear to his eye. He remains a United fan to this day.
Possibly the best player to ever grace the Premier League, but it is safe to say that, had he not had the lifelong dream of playing for Real Madrid, we would probably now be talking about Manchester United’s greatest ever player. It’s unlikely have scored the amount of times that he has in La Liga, defences tend to be a lot tighter in the Premier League, but he would probably be a more devastating player than he already. Unlike Lionel Messi, however, he has already proved himself in this country.
He originally wanted the number 28 shirt he had worn at Sporting Lisbon when he signed in 2003, but Sir Alex Ferguson saw the character of the lad, or he wouldn’t have placed United’s most iconic number on a teenager. United made a £68 million profit on the Portuguese winger when they sold him in 2009, and it is safe to say that nobody has made a success of wearing the number following his departure.
Some United fans have expressed some resentment at the fact that Michael Owen was handed the number 7 shirt, following his transfer from Newcastle in 2009. It’s a fair point, as Owen was 29 and not the same player who had burst onto the scene a decade earlier, having lost more than a yard of pace. There is also the fact that, until he joined United, he was classed as a Liverpool legend.
Despite these concerns, he seemed the perfect person to wear the shirt. The one thing he hadn’t lost, as he showed whenever he was fit enough to start, was his eye for goal. Another thing he never lost throughout his career was confidence, which you need if the cross on your back is the United number 7 shirt. Added to the fact that he was a free transfer, rather than a big money buy coming into replace the recently departed world’s best player, it actually made sense.
Unfortunately, despite some magic moments such as THAT derby winner, and a hat-trick against Wolfsburg, Owen spent most of his three seasons at Old Trafford struggling with the injuries that would force his retirement at the age of 33. He even injured himself scoring United’s equaliser against Aston Villa in the 2010 League Cup Final.
If nothing else, at least he managed to get his hands on a Premier League winners’ medal. Several of his former team mates didn’t.
On the face of it, this seemed like a perfect move. The Ecuador international had finished the 2011-12 season as United’s player of the year, following some scintillating performances. When Michael Owen departed that summer, switching Antonio Valencia’s squad number from 25 to 7 seemed like a no brainer. It just didn’t work out.
United reclaimed the League title from Manchester City, but Valencia seemed to go backwards, and turned into a player devoid of all confidence. Gone were the explosive runs down the wing, past his defender and sending over a quality cross, he seemed to retreat into his shell to the point where he became a hard working member of the side, rather than the player who Real Madrid had been sniffing around the previous season.
Following Ferguson’s retirement in 2013, Valencia handed back his number 7 shirt after just one season and returned to donning the number 25. Under Louis van Gaal, and now José Mourinho, he has reinvented himself as one of the best right-backs in the country.
Ángel Di María
The shirt remained vacant during the 2013-14 season, as United went from Champions to (ironically) 7th. During the summer transfer window, Manchester United spent a British record £59.7 million on a player who had had an unbelievable year. He was man of the match for Real Madrid in the previous season’s Champions League Final, and one of the players of the tournament at 2014 World Cup in Brazil, despite missing the Final through injury.
United fans had been crying out for a marquee signing for years, the type of player who got bums off seats and Ángel Di María certainly fitted that description. Initially he started off very well, with three goals in his first five games, but as the season wore on his effectiveness declined at an alarming rate. Van Gaal tried him in a number of positions, including up front, and although he was criticised for this, it did look as though Di María couldn’t be bothered putting the effort in when the going got tough.
He was subbed off the pitch in United’s final game of the season against Hull City with a very dubious looking injury. During the summer, United cut their losses and took a £15 million hit on the Argentine winger, selling him to Paris Saint Germain for £44 million. He showed decent form in the early days, but has struggled this season, leading him to be linked with a move to Barcelona.
A £25 million transfer from PSV Eindhoven in 2015, Memphis showed glimpses of his talent at first, mainly in the Champions League, where his two goals against Club Brugges gave United a nice cushion to qualify for the group stages.
Unfortunately questions were raised about his attitude, despite his undoubted talent. The Premier League was a big step up from the Eredivisie, and his performances soon deteriorated to the point that he didn’t even travel to London for the 2016 F.A. Cup Final. He started just one game under Mourinho last season, before being offloaded to Lyon in January 2017.
Up until Cristiano Ronaldo left Manchester United in 2009, every player who had made the number seven shirt their own can be quite rightly classed as a Manchester United legend. Serving the club tirelessly, and becoming a hero on the Stretford End in the meantime.
Alexis Sánchez is the latest player to take on the burden, following his transfer from Arsenal earlier this week, and made a promising debut against Yeovil in the F.A. Cup. He has the profile, and the pedigree, to do the number 7 shirt justice.
The 175thManchester Derby takes place at Old Trafford this weekend, a day which usually has both sides of the city sitting on the edge of their seats. The Theatre of Dreams has seen some memorable matches in this fixture down the years. From last minute goals to red cards for violent conduct, this fixture has seen it all.
Here are some moments that made eight Derbies stick in the memory more than others over the last 25 years.
The first Manchester Derby of the Premier League era in December 1992 is notable for the fact that Eric Cantona made his first competitive appearance in a ManchesterUnited shirt. Paul Ince had already put the Red Devils a goal up when the French maestro was introduced from the bench at half-time. Mark Hughes hit a stunning second from 25 yards to effectively seal the win.
Niall Quinn later pulled one back for the visitors, but Cantona had begun his United career in the fashion he would become accustomed to; winning. The Frenchman never experienced anything other than victory against Manchester City, and this was the only Derby he played in without scoring.
Kanchelskis Hat Trick
In November 1994, City arrived at Old Trafford in confident mood. Brian Horton’s side were in and around the top six, and had recently put five past Tottenham. United, on the other hand, had been on the receiving end of a 4-0 thrashing in Barcelona the previous week, and had already lost three times in the league, despite being in second place.
United took control of the game, with Cantona opening the scoring midway through the first half. Russian winger Andrei Kanchelskis added a second on the stroke of half time with a deflected shot, and from here the result never looked in doubt. Shortly after the restart, Kanchelskis latched onto a Cantona header which sent him through on goal. The winger’s first shot was stopped by Simon Tracey but Kanchelskis tucked away the rebound. Hughes added a fourth with twenty minutes to go to heap more Derby misery on their neighbours.
With stoppage time approaching, United executed a swift counter-attack which was concluded when Cantona played a square ball to Kanchelskis who found himself one on one with Tracey. As was the case with his second, the on-loan goalkeeper saved the first effort but couldn’t hold it, and the winger completed his hat trick at the second attempt. It was the first Derby hat trick by a United player for 34 years. No player from either side has managed it since.
In February 1996, United and City met in the F.A. Cup for the first time in nine years. The Blues were battling relegation, while the Red Devils were trying to catch Newcastle at the top of the Premier League. It was City, however, who took the early impetus, when GeorgiouKinkladze’s pass put Uwe Rösler clear. The German striker calmly chipped the ball over Peter Schmeichel to give City the lead.
United were not playing particularly well at this point, and were given a gift wrapped opportunity near the end of the first half. The referee indicated that Michael Frontzeck had held down Eric Cantona and awarded United a penalty, which the Frenchman duly scored. It was such a soft decision that it outraged rival fans up and down the country, especially as it seemed to wake United up. The Red Devils won the match 2-1 thanks to a winner by Lee Sharpe in the 78th minute.
The Roy Keane-Alf-Inge Håland Incident
In April 2001, Old Trafford saw its first Manchester Derby in five years, with United going for a third successive title. City were battling relegation from the Premier League, having struggled on their return to the top flight. The game itself ended in a 1-1 draw, with Steve Howey cancelling out a penalty from Teddy Sheringham.
What followed City’s 80th minute equaliser has become one of the most recognisable images of English football. United captain RoyKeane and City midfielder Alf-Inge Håland were involved in a challenge which saw Keane receive a straight red card, as he put in a high challenge on the Norwegian, and then stood over him screaming.
When Keane published his autobiography, it was revealed that this was a vicious act of revenge. The two players did have history from when the Norwegian was at Leeds United. Keane had gone down in the box at Elland Road, and Håland stood over him accusing him of faking injury to get a penalty, but Keane would not play again for the rest of the season. Following the revelations in his book about the incident in the Derby, Keane received a five match ban, added to the three he received for the initial sending off, and a £150,000 fine
The fallout from this incident was that Keane ended Alf-Inge Håland’s career, however, this is incorrect. While nobody is defending the Irishman’s actions, Keane hit Håland with a tackle to his right knee. The Norwegian played the rest of the game, and played for his country a week later. The thing that finished Håland’s career was his failure to recover from surgery to his left knee, which he had been struggling with prior to the Derby, and he retired in 2003.
Gary Neville will always divide opinion, be it as a player, manager or pundit. It was, however, something of a surprise when he was sent off in an F.A. Cup tie at Old Trafford in 2004 for nutting Steve McManaman. Although he was the sort of player opposition fans loved to hate, this kind of action seemed quite out of character.
United had taken the lead through a Paul Scholes strike, and a few minutes later, Neville went down rather easily in the penalty area, following a challenge from Michael Tarnat. The right back found himself surrounded by City players, incensed at his actions. One of these was McManaman, who had originally been nowhere near the incident, but had sprinted over to get involved. After an exchange of verbals, Neville planted his head into the City midfielders face. Although there was minimal contact, no danger of causing damage, he did this in front of referee Jeff Winter, who showed Neville a yellow card for the dive and a straight red for the headbutt.
Despite being a man down, United comfortably won 4-2, with a double from Ruud van Nistelrooy and a strike from Cristiano Ronaldo. City’s goals from Tarnat and Robbie Fowler were little more than consolation.
97th Minute Winner
The Manchester Derby that took place in September 2009 was one of the most eagerly awaited in living memory at the time, and the game itself did not disappoint. It had been just over a year since Sheikh Mansoor had taken charge at Eastlands, effectively giving City unlimited spending potential, before Financial Fair Play was a consideration. In addition to the many millions spent since his arrival, the Blues had convinced Carlos Tevez to leave Old Trafford to join their revolution, once his loan spell had come to an end.
United opened the scoring through Wayne Rooney with the game just two minutes old. City soon recovered from that early shock to equalise after quarter of an hour, when Tevez harried Ben Foster into spilling the ball, which he laid off to Gareth Barry, who calmly passed it into an empty net. The second half saw two headed goals from Darren Fletcher sandwiching a 25 yard screamer from Craig Bellamy. With full time approaching, United seemed to be home and dry with a 3-2 win.
In the 90th minute, RioFerdinand’s lapse in concentration gave the ball back to City, and Bellamy charged towards goal, and squeezed in a second equaliser. It looked like the Blues had carved out a point, and it took over a minute for the game to restart following Bellamy’s celebrations in front of the City fans. With five minutes of injury time already played, United surged forward, throwing everything at their neighbours. With virtually the last kick of the game, Ryan Giggs played in Michael Owen, who had found himself in acres of space and dinked it past Shay Given. The red half of Manchester were ecstatic. The blue half, including their manager Mark Hughes, were outraged because apparently, it was only United who had seven minutes of injury time to score a winner. Maybe the idea never occurred to City.
A match that no fan of any Premier League club will ever forget, simply because of the quality of the goal which proved the winner. Wayne Rooney had endured a torrid season, both personally and professionally. Having returned after the 2010 World Cup, he had been unable to repeat his devastating form of the previous season, where he had scored a personal best 34 goals. An injury sustained against Bayern Munich had curtailed his hot form, and having been unfit throughout the tournament in South Africa, had been struggling to get it back. It had taken him until New Year’s Day to register his first goal of the season from open play. This was after the ridiculous saga that saw him hand in a transfer request, and within a week sign a new five year contract.
Mansoor’s City dream team was now starting to take shape, and after an inconsistent start to the season, they were starting to put together a good run of form. In February 2011, they headed to Old Trafford in confident mood. The two teams were superbly matched, but it was United who went ahead in the first half, when Nani latched onto a through ball and coolly dispatched it past Joe Hart. To their credit, City didn’t let their heads drop, and forced an equaliser midway through the second half, when Edin Džeko deflected David Silva’s mis-hit shot past Edwin van der Sar.
All bets were now off as the two sides went toe-to-toe, and there was a sense that it was going to take something special to win this Derby. The moment, when it arrived, was worthy of winning any game, on any occasion. With United attacking the old scoreboard end, Nani’s cross took a deflection and headed towards Rooney, who performed an overhead scissor kick. The ball actually went off his shin, but sailed perfectly past Hart into the top corner, causing Old Trafford to erupt. Alex Ferguson later claimed it to be the best goal he had seen at Old Trafford.
United hit City for Four
The 6-1 defeat inflicted by the noisy neighbours a few years previously still hurts most United fans to this, and probably always will. There was, however, a measure of revenge when City visited Old Trafford in April 2015. The Red Devils were on a good run of form, having beaten Liverpool at Anfield a few weeks earlier, but most pundits fancied City as favourites going into this game. It looked like it was going to be a long day when Agüero opened the scoring after eight minutes.
Undeterred by that early setback, United went on the attack, and got their reward five minutes later with an unorthodox goal. Herrera played in a cross which bounced under Ashley Young, hitting him on the backside, but the winger acted quickly and scooped it past Hart to level the scores, falling over in the process. Shortly before the half hour mark, the goalscorer turned creator. Young’s cross deceived the City backline to find Marouane Fellaini, whose header crashed into the net. Before the end of the half, Vincent Kompany was rather fortunate to receive only a yellow after a hard challenge on Blind.
Those who were expecting a City backlash in the second half would be disappointed, as United sensed there were more goals in this game. Rooney went close with a free kick that Hart had to be very alert to keep out. The United captain then turned creator, sliding Anfield hero Juan Mata in on goal. In spite of the act that he was marginally offside, Mata advanced on Hart and coolly slotted it under him to make it 3-1. With just over 15 minutes remaining, Young capped a man of the match performance by floating a free kick onto the head of Chris Smalling, who gratefully accepted the present to make it four. Agüero pulled one back for City, but his lack of celebration told the story. This was United’s day.
Marcus Rashford has now turned 20 years old, and is without a doubt one of Manchester United’s most dangerous attacking threats. In less than two years of being a first team player, he has lifted three trophies and become an important player for club and country.
Manchester United have a rich history of giving young players a chance, whether they have graduated from the academy or been brought in from other clubs. This article looks at how Rashford’s time as a teenager at Old Trafford measures up to some of the players who preceded him.
We have compared him to eleven past United heroes, all of whom made at least fifty appearances for the club before their twentieth birthday. Because of this criteria, United legends such as Bobby Charlton, Mark Hughes, Paul Scholes and David Beckham do not make the list. All of the statistics below relate to their respective Manchester United careers while still a teenager.
Trophies Won: 1 Cup Finals Played: 0 Cup Final Goals: 0
No surprise to see that the most iconic of the Busby Babes heads this list. Making his debut for the club while still at schoolboy age, he quickly became one of the first names on the team sheet. By the time the Munich Air Disaster claimed his life at the age of just 21, he had made 177 appearances. He won the first of two league titles at the age of 19, and repeated this the following year.
Trophies Won: 0 Cup Finals Played: 0 Cup Final Goals: 0
A born and bred United fan who became an automatic starter from the day the first put on the shirt. Although the club was still recovering from the aftermath of Munich when Stiles broke through, he became an important part of one of their best ever sides. The defensive midfielder would go on to lift the World Cup with England, and the European Cup with United in addition to two league titles and an F.A. Cup.
Trophies Won: 1 Cup Finals Played: 0 Cup Final Goals: 0
The man who many rate as the finest player ever to grace Old Trafford was thrown into the deep end as a raw 17 year old against West Bromwich Albion in a 1-0 victory. By the time he turned twenty he was known to football fans all over the world for his one-man destruction of Benfica in Lisbon. By this point he had already lifted his first league title at the age of 18, and would go on to star in the 1968 European Cup Final against the same opponents.
Many articles have been written about his off-field lifestyle, but the fact that he retired at 27, having played in the first team for over ten years, shows what an impact he made at such a young age.
Trophies Won: 1 Cup Finals Played: 1 Cup Final Goals: 1
A man who will always be synonymous with United history, and his achievements should not be undervalued for his association with cross-town rivals ManchesterCity. Many modern fans will remember him as Alex Ferguson’s assistant during the 1990’s, but Kidd had already engraved his name in United folklore long before then. During his debut season, he was drafted in as replacement for injured striker David Herd. He finished that season by scoring United’s third goal against Benfica in the 1968 European Cup Final, on his 19th birthday of all things.
Trophies Won: 0 Cup Finals Played: 0 Cup Final Goals: 0
The man known as the “Last Busby Babe” was actually given his debut by Frank O’Farrell, and became an instant hero to United fans. His first appearance saw him score in a 3-3 draw at Maine Road in the Manchester Derby. In the 1973-74 season, while still only 19, McIlroy was the clubs joint top scorer, although the fact that six goals was enough to achieve this is a good indication of why the club were relegated that season. The Northern Ireland midfielder player at Old Trafford for over ten years, and represented his country at two World Cups after leaving United in 1982.
Trophies Won: 1 Cup Finals Played: 2 Cup Final Goals: 2
Without a doubt, Whiteside was one of United’s greatest players of the 1980’s, and in terms of natural talent he was probably the best. After just two appearances as a 16 year old at the back-end of the 1981-82 season, he was selected by the Northern Ireland for their World Cup squad, breaking Pelé’s record as the youngest player to appear at the tournament. Over the following twelve months he would break even more records, as the youngest player to score a senior goal for Manchester United, but also to score in both League and F.A. Cup Finals (both in 1983). To this day, none of the records have been eclipsed by any other player.
In 1985, Whiteside once again scored in the final of the F.A. Cup, although this goal came just eleven days after his twentieth birthday. By this time he had played almost 150 games for the club. It is frightening to think of what he achieved at such a young age, and saddening to think that his career was ended by injury at the age of just 26, while playing for Everton.
Trophies Won: 1 Cup Finals Played: 2 Cup Final Goals: 0
The first player on this list not to have come directly from United’s academy, but signed from Torquay United after just a handful of first team appearances. Sharpe was used sparingly at first, and left out of the 1990 F.A. Cup Final. The following year, however, he became an integral part of the team, starting both the League Cup Final defeat to Sheffield Wednesday, and the Cup Winners’ Cup Final win over Barcelona. One of United’s most popular players of the 1990’s, we all remember the Sharpey Shuffle.
Trophies Won: 3 Cup Finals Played: 2 Cup Final Goals: 0
After making his debut as a substitute against Everton in 1991, Giggs scored on his first start, a winning goal against City, which was helped into the net by Colin Hendry. Over the next three years, Giggs would become a phenomenon in English football, with comparisons to George Best muted every time he scored another wonder goal. The electric pace and close control were one of the deadliest weapons in Ferguson’s first title winning side. Giggs lifted the Premier League title while aged just 19, to add to the League Cup and UEFA Super Cup medals already sitting in his trophy cabinet. He would win a few more trophies before retiring in 2014, a few months before his 41st birthday.
Trophies Won: 2 Cup Finals Played: 1 Cup Final Goals: 0
Despite the media circus that surrounds the “Class of 92”, Phil Neville is the only one of that side to reach 50 Manchester United appearances while still a teenager, and he only just scraped that. Phil was seen as the more talented of the two brothers, although both he and Gary made their debut at the same age. In his first few years at the club he was used primarily as a full back, although in later years he was shifted into midfield when certain marking jobs were required. By the time he reached his twentieth birthday, Neville had already won a Premier League and F.A. Cup double.
Trophies Won: 1 Cup Finals Played: 1 Cup Final Goals: 1
One of the best footballers the planet has ever seen honed his craft at Old Trafford. Brought into the club as an 18 year old after running rings round John O’Shea in a pre-season friendly against Sporting Lisbon, Ronaldo’s then-club. He was instantly given the recently departed David Beckham’s number 7 shirt, and came off the bench for a half hour cameo against Bolton Wanderers, with a performance that instantly had the Old Trafford crowd off their seats.
Ronaldo capped his first season by opening the scoring in the 2004 F.A. Cup Final against Millwall. His raw talent could be frustrating at times, seemingly trying to win games on his own, but it was clear to most that we were looking at future Ballon d’Or winner. What was not so predictable, however, was that he would go on to the one of the greatest of all time, which is now not in question.
Trophies Won: 1 Cup Finals Played: 1 Cup Final Goals: 1
Few players have made an Old Trafford debut as impressive as Wayne Rooney. Fenerbahçe goalkeeper Rüştü Reçber looked very foolish for his pre-match comments that he was not worried about Rooney due to the fact he hadn’t previously played Champions League football. The young striker’s response was to promptly smash a hat trick past him.
At the time of his signing, Ruud van Nistelrooy was the main striker at Old Trafford, but Rooney showed a maturity in adapting to the bigger stage. It’s probably fair to say that in his early years, Rooney was more advanced in his development than Ronaldo, although this did not last long after they both left their teenage years behind.
Trophies Won: 3 Cup Finals Played: 4 Cup Final Goals: 0
The young Mancunian has become universally loved by the Old Trafford faithful. His combination of electric pace, exceptional work rate and the fact that he is a local boy are all contributing factors to this. One of the most impressive statistics in his career is that he has scored on his first appearance in the Premier League, the League Cup, the Europa League, the Champions League and the Manchester Derby. Just for good measure, he also scored on his England debut.
Rashford was drafted into the squad when Manchester United were having an injury crisis, which was so bad that even reserve team striker Will Keane found himself on the sidelines. Rashford scored twice on his debut against FC Midtjylland, and repeated the trick against Arsenal a few days later. He has never looked back, and won the F.A. Cup, League Cup and Europa League in his brief career to date.
There are some real United legends on the list above, and all of them went onto to make their mark at Old Trafford at different stages of their careers. But who had the best teenage career?
For me, it’s a toss-up between George Best, Ryan Giggs and Norman Whiteside. I am edging towards the latter simply for the fact that, while most lads his age were attending college, starting their first job, signing on, Whiteside was leading the attack for one of the biggest clubs in the world, and was one of the most important players in the team. Best played in a team with Denis Law and Bobby Charlton, Giggs played with Mark Hughes and Eric Cantona. Throw in the fact that he scored in two cup finals before the age of 18, and broke several records which still stand to this day, and it is hard to argue against him.
You could probably make a case, however, for many of the players above being the best teenager in Manchester United’s history. To play fifty or more games for the club at such a young age takes some doing. Some of the best players in the clubs’ history didn’t manage it, as is noted by their absence from this list.
Manchester United’s summer business appears to be already done, with José Mourinho seemingly content to stick with what he already has as his disposal. He has made no secret of the fact that he wanted four signings in particular, and has acquired three of them. He has also tied down Zlatan Ibrahimović for a further year, although he was not originally on that list.
It is only in recent years that United have been particularly active on the last day of the summer transfer window. Sir Alex Ferguson only ever made two signings on the last day, albeit high profile ones. Since his retirement, however, United have made quite a few last minute signings, with varied success.
2004 – Wayne Rooney
Ferguson had long earmarked Wayne Rooney for a place at Old Trafford, well before his barnstorming Euro 2004 performances. He had handed in a transfer request at Everton at the beginning of August, after turning down a £50,000 per week contract that would have made him the club’s highest ever earner. Newcastle United made a £20 million bid which was rejected by the Toffees, but on the final day of the window, Ferguson made his move.
United paid £27 million for the 18 year old striker, but had to wait a few weeks while he recovered from the injury that ended his participation in Euro 2004 prematurely. It was, however, worth the wait as he blasted a hat trick past Fenerbahçe on his debut. 13 years later, he returned to Goodison Park as both Manchester United and England’s all-time top scorer, and a legend for both.
2008 – Dimitar Berbatov
When Manchester United broke their own personal transfer record in 2008, it looked like they were about to become unstoppable. With an attack that already included Wayne Rooney, Cristiano Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez, adding Berbatov would surely cause nightmares for any defence. At Tottenham, the Bulgarian had scored 46 goals in two seasons, earning him a place in the official Premier League team of the season in his first year.
The transfer was not as straight forward as it might have seemed. This was also the day that Sheikh Mansoor completed his takeover of Manchester City, and Tottenham accepted a bid from them, before United stepped in to match it. The deal was completed with minutes to spare, and he made his debut at Anfield a fortnight later.
Over four seasons at Old Trafford, Berbatov scored 56 goals, winning two Premier League titles and two League Cups. In spite of his immense talent, he never looked like he would become the main man at United. This was highlighted by the fact that he didn’t start either of the two Champions League finals United reached in that time. He didn’t even make the bench for the 2011 one.
When Ferguson signed Robin van Persie from Arsenal in 2012, Berbatov accepted a cut-price move to Fulham. Following spells in France and Greece, with Monaco and PAOK respectively, he recently signed for Indian Super League side Kerala Blasters.
A player who will always divide opinion amongst Manchester United fans. After David Moyes chased and then hesitated over several potential signings after succeeding Alex Ferguson, his last minute deadline day move for the Belgian was seen as a desperation signing by many. One of the reasons for this is that Fellaini had a clause in his contract that expired midway through the summer. Had Moyes acted sooner, he could have bought him for £4 million less than the £27.5 million they ended up paying. Instead they had tried to get Fellaini and his team mate, Leighton Baines for that price. They got one for the price they wanted to pay for two!
In his four seasons at Old Trafford, Fellaini has infuriated some fans, who will claim that he is not a United player. His tendency to get attract the attention of the officials, leading to several unneccesary cards has also seen him singled out for criticism. One thing that is not in question, however, is the value his managers have placed upon him. Following Moyes’ sacking, both Louis van Gaal and Mourinho have integrated him as a key member of their squad. Their faith has been repaid in the fact that he has scored in each of United’s last three semi-finals, all of which were victories.
Whatever his haters may say, there can be no questioning his commitment to the cause. He gives 100% every time he puts on the red shirt, which is probably why his managers rate him so highly. When Galatasaray expressed an interest earlier in the summer, Mourinho himself said that they had more chance of signing him than Fellaini. This should tell you everything about his immediate future.
2013 – Saidy Janko
On the same day that United signed Fellaini, Moyes made another, less high profile purchase. Swiss wing-back Saidy Janko was signed from FC Zürich for an undisclosed fee. He made an immediate impression within the club, and was voted United’s Reserve Player of the Year in his first season.
This was as good as it would get for Janko, as he was handed his debut for the club in the 4-0 League Cup defeat to MK Dons. Although not the worst player on the pitch, he was substituted at half time and replaced by Andreas Perreira. This would turn out to be his only appearance for the club, and he was loaned to Bolton Wanderers the following January. He left permanently for Celtic in the summer of 2015, and now plays for French side Saint-Étienne.
2014 – Radamel Falcao
The only loanee on the list, and a painful experience it was too, for the player and the fans. Falcao was signed on a season-long loan from Monaco, who needed to relieve their astronomical wage bill. It became very apparent that van Gaal didn’t rate him, and that Falcao didn’t fit in with his style of play.
Looking back, it seems that this signing was a statement of intent, rather than a tactical signing. Having had a disastrous season that saw United not even qualify for the Champions League, it was as if Ed Woodward was determined to prove that United could still attract the biggest names. At this time, Falcao was seen as one of the best players on the planet, despite the injury that had robbed him of a place at that summer’s World Cup.
The Colombian scored just four goals for United, who decided not to make his deal permanent or extend his loan. In spite of his on-field struggles, which seemed to indicate he had lost a yard of pace, many United fans took Falcao to their hearts, and wanted him to stay. He joined Chelsea on a similar deal, and struggled even more than he had at Old Trafford. He is now back at Monaco, and has shown glimpses of the player he once was. Just a shame he couldn’t do that at United.
At the same time United were tying up the Falcao deal, United were negotiating with Ajax for two of their players. The first of these was Daley Blind, the son of Dutch football legend Danny, who was the captain of van Gaal’s 1995 Champions League winning team.
Having come through Ajax’s famous youth system to become a full international, his profile fitted exactly what United seemed to be lacking; a defensive midfielder. Although he started his first few games for the club in that position, he has rarely featured there since his early days. His role has become something of a utility player, having been deployed mainly at left-back or in the centre of defence.
His lack of pace can sometimes count against him, but his technical ability is not in question. His versatility, added to the fact that he seems content to be a squad player, makes it likely that he will be at Old Trafford for years to come.
2014 – Tim Fosu-Mensah
Of the three signings that van Gaal made on the last day of the 2014 window, Fosu-Mensah’s gathered the least amount of headlines. It would be fair to say, however, that he is a player that many United fans have high hopes for. A monster of a player, who is primarily a midfielder, but can play anywhere across the back four.
After starring for the reserves in his first year, he was promoted to the senior squad during the 2015-16 season during an injury crisis. He made ten appearances under van Gaal, but rarely featured under Mourinho last term. Earlier this month, he was sent on a season-long loan to Crystal Palace, in the hope of gaining valuable Premier League experience. How he does in this spell will be key to whether he has a future under the Portuguese manager. He has, however, been called up to Holland’s senior squad for their upcoming World Cup qualifiers.
2015 – Regan Poole
The cheapest, and least known, of all the players in this list. The Welsh centre-back made his senior debut for his hometown club, Newport County, aged just 16. Fast forward a year, and having made almost twenty appearances, he joined Manchester United for a fee of £100,000, which could quadruple depending on his development.
Four months before his 18th birthday, Poole made his debut as a late substitute against FC Midtjylland in the Europa League. He has yet to feature under José Mourinho, and will spend this season on loan to League One side Northampton Town.
2015 – Anthony Martial
A signing that, quite literally, came out of nowhere. United hadn’t even been linked with Martial by any of the usual sources, when it was announced that they had made him the world’s most expensive teenager. The deal was a payment of £36 million upfront to Monaco, which could rise to almost £60 million with add-ons.
There was no denying that United needed reinforcements upfront, having let Robin van Persie move to Fenerbahçe earlier that summer. Martial made an immediate impact, scoring on his debut against Liverpool. He netted 17 times in his first season in England, finishing as the club’s top scorer. The most important of these was arguably against Everton in the F.A. Cup semi-final.
While his second season didn’t live up to his first, not helped in any way by off-field personal problems, Martial has begun this campaign impressively. After scoring against West Ham and Swansea, he was handed his first start of the season against Leicester City. Hopefully he will go on to prove that last season was just a blip, as the potential is there for all to see.
During Manchester United’s 1-0 Europa League victory over Celta Vigo on Thursday, Argentine international goalkeeper Sergio Romero had another fine game. While never seriously tested, only having to make one major save, it is worth noting that he is certainly a worthwhile backup.
One post on Twitter stated that he is best back up goalkeeper Manchester United have ever had. While that is a bold statement, it is one that seems to carry some weight. The list below takes a look at the other goalkeepers who have been backup to the number one spot at Old Trafford in recent history.
Contrary to popular belief, Gary Walsh was not actually a totally home-grown player. He was spotted playing for Wigan Athletic by Ron Atkinson a few months before he was sacked as manager of Manchester United in 1986. He took him to Old Trafford, and fielded him against City in that year’s F.A. Youth Cup final.
An injury to first choice Gary Bailey meant that Walsh was handed his debut by Alex Ferguson aged just 18, in a 3-3 draw at Villa Park. Bailey’s failure to recover, and subsequent retirement, meant that Walsh briefly became first choice keeper for most of the 1986-87 season. The following season saw him vying with Chris Turner for the position. Walsh sustained a head injury on the club’s tour of Bermuda in 1988, and Ferguson’s decision to buy Jim Leighton made it difficult for Walsh to establish himself further. This, combined with further injuries meant that Walsh went a full two seasons without making an appearance.
He finally returned to the team in the 1990-91 season, but as back up to F.A. Cup final hero Les Sealey. When Peter Schmeichelwas signed the following summer, Walsh seemed destined to remain on the bench, and that is how it was for the remainder of his United career.
In his final season, 1994-95, Walsh was used sixteen times, thanks mainly to an injury suffered by the Danish keeper. Many United fans, however, will forever associate him with the 4-0 defeat in Barcelona. Walsh was drafted in because of UEFA’s three foreigner rule, but couldn’t really be blamed for any of the goals that night. At the end of that season, he joined former team mate Bryan Robson at Middlesbrough.
Although the late Les Sealey was at one time the first choice goalkeeper at Old Trafford, his second spell at United saw him make less headlines. Despite winning the 1990 F.A. Cup, and the European Cup Winner’s Cup a year later, Schmeichel’s arrival in 1991 signalled the end of Sealey’s time as number one. He transferred to Aston Villa, where he was largely backup to Nigel Spink, and later Mark Bosnich.
He returned to Old Trafford in 1993, and his main job was to battle Gary Walsh for the number two spot. He didn’t make a single Premier League appearance for Manchester United, and played only twice in his second spell in all competitions. The first appearance was as a substitute in the F.A. Cup against Charlton Athletic, following Schmeichel’s sending off. His subsequent suspension meant that Sealey started the 1994 League Cup Final, a 3-1 defeat to his old club Aston Villa.
Towads the end of the 1993-94 season, Schmeichel picked up an injury against Ipswich Town. Walsh was on the bench that day, and came on to replace the Dane. He was then picked for the remaining two league matches, while United battled to get Schmeichel fit for the F.A. Cup Final against Chelsea. At the end of that season, Sealey was given a free transfer to Blackpool, and later played for West Ham. Following his retirement in 1998, he moved onto the coaching staff at Upton Park. He was still employed by the Hammers in 2001, when he suffered a fatal heart attack at the age of 43.
During the summer of 1996, Manchester United needed a backup goalkeeper. They turned to the previously unheard of Dutch stopper Raimond van Der Gouw, who was signed from Vitesse. He made his debut within a month of signing, in a 0-0 draw at Villa Park, and made a couple of appearances in the League Cup. His most notable appearance was in the Champions League semi-final against Borussia Dortmund. A late replaced for Schmeichel, who was injured in the warm up, but even he would have struggled to stop René Tretschok’s deflected goal. Van der Gouw’s performance stopped a couple of Dortmund goals that night.
Over the next two seasons, he was understudy to the Danish keeper, making sporadic Premier League appearances and first choice for the League Cup. In was only after Schmeichel left in 1999 following the Treble that van der Gouw began to be selected regularly. The main reason was that the Dane’s replacement, Mark Bosnich, could not be relied upon to stay fit, and didn’t convince anyone when available. The less said about Massimo Taibi’s short-lived spell, the better. The 1999-00 season was the only season that Raimond van der Gouw made more than twenty appearances for the club. It was also the only season he wasn’t used in the League Cup.
In the summer of 2000, Alex Ferguson bought Fabien Barthez from Monaco, and van der Gouw was once again reduced to a bit-part role. He remained at Old Trafford until the summer of 2002, when he completed a free transfer to West Ham.
Over a six year spell at Old Trafford, the Polish international made more than 60 appearances for the club. Brought in on loan from West Bromwich Albion during the summer of 2006, he made an impressive debut against Arsenal. Despite a 1-0 defeat, Kuszczak saved a penalty and won praise for his overall performance. As understudy to Edwin van der Sar, he was mainly used in both the F.A. and League Cups. At the end of that season, his transfer was made permanent.
Over the next five seasons, Kuszczak would battle with Ben Foster and later Anders Lindegaard for the role of second choice goalkeeper at the club. He saw plenty of game time simply because of the amount of games United played in that time. They would regularly get to the latter stages of the domestic cup competitions. In 2008, he received a red card in the F.A. Cup quarter-final against Portsmouth, and because United had used all of their substitutes, Rio Ferdinand had to go in net and face the resulting penalty.
Following David de Gea’s transfer to United in 2011, Kuszczak did not make a further appearance, and was loaned out to Watford. His contract expired in 2012, and then joined Brighton & Hove Albion. After a frustrating spell at Wolverhampton Wanderers, he is now in his third season at Birmingham City. Having won the Premier League, League Cup, Champions League and FIFA World Club Cup largely as a reserve, he is the most successful back-up goalkeeper in United’s history.
Ben Foster was spotted by Sir Alex Ferguson during the Football League Trophy Final in 2005. He had gone to watch his son, former United player Darren, who scored the winner in that game. Foster, on loan at Wrexham from Stoke City, caught Ferguson’s attention enough to convince him to bid for his services. Foster was immediately loaned out to Watford, spending two years at Vicarage Road. During this time, he helped them get promotion to the Premier League in his first season, and played in it for them in his second.
Despite Watford wanting to keep Foster for a further year, he was recalled back to Old Trafford for the 2007-08 season. He made just one appearance, his debut in a 1-0 win at Derby. The following season he was used mainly in the domestic cup competitions. He started the 2009 League Cup Final, and his heroics won the penalty shootout which followed a goalless 120 minutes. This performance saw him given his England debut by Fabio Capello.
Ferguson had hinted that he saw Ben Foster being the club’s future number one, and van der Sar’s injury at the start of the 2009-10 season gave him the chance to prove it. Unfortunately for the goalkeeper, errors against Arsenal, Manchester City and Sunderland didn’t exactly give the manager a selection headache when the Dutchman was fit again.
Foster only made two more appearances for the club, with Tomasz Kuszczak preferred as van der Sar’s understudy for the remainder of the campaign. In the summer of 2010, he was sold to Birmingham City. When they were relegated a year later, he moved to West Bromwich Albion, where he remains first choice goalkeeper.
It seems strange to imagine wanting David de Gea dropped from the team because he was costing the team points. This was the situation, however, less than five years ago when some United fans preferred Lindegaard to the Spanish goalkeeper.
Brought into the club in January 2011, Lindegaard was given his first team debut soon afterwards in an F.A. Cup win at Southampton. It was no secret that United were scouting for van der Sar’s replacement, following the announcement of his intention to retire. His replacement was, of course, de Gea, who took a while to adjust to the rigors of the Premier League. In his first two seasons, Ferguson regularly juggled between the two goalkeepers, but eventually settled on de Gea. As the Spanish goalkeeper rapidly became one of the world’s best shot-stoppers, Lindegaard began to be well acquainted with the substitute’s bench.
Following Ferguson’s retirement in 2013, Lindegaard only played three more games for the club, all under David Moyes. When Louis van Gaal took over the following year, Lindegaard was largely pushed out of the first team picture altogether. When his contract expired in 2015, he joined West Bromwich Albion, later moving on to his current club, Preston North End.
In the summer of 2015, Romero had just been realised by Italian club Sampdoria. At that time it looked like de Gea was about to move to Real Madrid, and United swooped to sign the Argentina international. With Víctor Valdés banished from the first team squad following an argument with van Gaal, Romero started the season as United’s first choice goalkeeper. He initially looked rather solid, but was criticised by some fans for a poor performance at Swansea.
When a dodgy fax machine put paid to de Gea’s transfer, the Spanish keeper signed a new contract and was immediately reinstated to the first team. Romero was consigned to the cup competitions after this, making ten appearances in total last season.
This season Romero has featured in the majority of United’s Europa League fixtures. Should United reach the final, many fans are speculating whether he will keep his place. Romero has played in a World Cup Final, and would not be fazed by the big stage. That said, with a return to the Champions League at stake, few would be surprised if he selects de Gea. Only Mourinho can answer that question, but the chances are he would want to select his strongest possible side.
So who is the Best Backup goalkeeper United have ever had?
There are several others who didn’t make the list, such as Tim Howard, Roy Carroll and Mark Bosnich, however, they were all first choice for the club at some time or another.
It’s actually hard to see past Romero as the best backup goalkeeper in our recent history. Out of all of the above, he has a higher pedigree than any of them. An Argentina international with over 80 caps, who played in the biggest game of all less than three years ago. In spite of spending certain parts of his career as a backup at several clubs, he has been first choice for his country for over a decade. In fact, no other goalkeeper has won more caps for Argentina in their history.
If David de Gea does leave Old Trafford in the summer, as the rumours suggest he will, United will no doubt be linked with several replacements. It is fair to say, however, that whoever comes in will be thought of as a downgrade. With that in mind, Romero has done nothing to suggest he isn’t worth giving a try.