Manchester United may not be scaling the heights of yesteryear but, by any measure, the Red Devils are still one of England’s biggest clubs.
From their first league title in 1907, United have been one of the most talked-about clubs in the world and the best supported too, regularly selling out Old Trafford and every stadium they play in.
With all the glory, plenty of fantastic footballers wore the red shirt but who are our top 10 best Manchester United players of all time?
If Manchester United could call on these players, they would be odds-on to win the Premier League. I mean, there is some serious talent on display in this list. Check it out.
10. Cristiano Ronaldo
When Alex Ferguson beat Arsenal to the signature of a raw 18-year-old Portuguese winger, nobody knew the footballing monster he would grow into.
Rio Ferdinand recalled how Ronaldo practised harder than any player he ever witnessed; in training, after and in the gym. The Portuguese international proved so much more than the ‘one-trick show pony’ opposition derided him.
The flair and striking of the ball developed over time as all the effort and hard work paid off.
In his six years at Old Trafford, he won three Premier League titles, an FA Cup, two League Cups, a Champions League and the Club World Cup.
And in 2008, his first Balon d’Or, as well as the FIFA and FIFPro Player of the Year awards. UEFA got in on the act as well with their Footballer of the Year and Forward of the Year gongs.
When he left United, there was a hint of what was to follow. 118 goals in 292 appearances aren’t outstanding; 91 goals in his final 155 games was more predictive.
9. Peter Schmeichel
‘The Great Dane’, the rock upon which the Premier League success was built. For eight years, Peter Schmeichel was indisputably the best goalkeeper in England, if not the world.
As a last line of defence, Schmeichel was mentally and physically intimidating for opponents. Brave and unorthodox, the Dane was a formidable barrier, introducing and perfecting the star jump as a goalkeeping technique.
Arguably, his finest moment came at Villa Park in the 1999 FA Cup semi-final replay. In the 90th minute with the scores level at 1 – 1, Phil Neville felled Ray Parlour in the penalty area.
Arsenal, on course for a league and cup double, would be at Wembley if Dennis Bergkamp held his nerve from the resultant spot-kick. Manchester United, chasing a treble, would be at Wembley if he didn’t.
Bergkamp struck the ball firmly to Schmeichel’s left and the Dane, at full stretch, parried the ball to safety.
The rest, as they say, is history. United completed the treble and the world got to see Ryan Giggs almost unnaturally hairy chest.
8. Wayne Rooney
England’s leading goalscorer at international level holds the most prestigious position of Manchester United’s top goalscorer with 253 goals in 559 appearances across all competitions.
It comes as some surprise then, that Wayne Rooney is only number 8 on our list of the top 10 best Manchester United players of all-time.
Signed from Everton in 2004 for a fee worth £26.5m, Rooney was pivotal as United ended Arsenal’s Invincibles era before it took hold of English football. From the moment he joined as an 18-year-old, he was always destined to enter the pantheon of Manchester United greats.
He adapted to life at Old Trafford quickly, winning major honours in six of his first seven seasons at the club. All domestic trophies were snapped up, as well as the Europa League when United beat Ajax in 2016.
Surprisingly, he only topped 20 goals in four seasons at Old Trafford. That hasn’t stopped him claiming the records for most Premier League goals for one club (183), most away goals in the EPL (94), and most seasons scoring double figures in goals (12).
Most treasured of the individual records is the Goal of 20 Seasons, celebrating the Premier League’s 20th anniversary, for his spectacular bicycle kick against Manchester City in February 2011.
7. Denis Law
Can you imagine scoring a backheel goal for your local rivals which all but condemned your former club to relegation? And still be revered by fans, as well as having a statue erected in your honour outside their ground?
If anyone doubts why Denis Law is in the top 10 best Manchester United players of all time, that story from 1974/75 underlines his contribution to the club’s glory days in the 1960s.
He was the first of the ‘Holy Trinity’ to win the Balon d’Or in 1964.
Law was a prolific goalscorer, setting the club record of 48 goals during the 1963/64 season despite serving a 28-day suspension.
The Scot led the way in the 1966-67 title-winning season with 23 goals in 36 games before going on to contribute to the victorious European Cup campaign a year later. Law, however, missed the semi-final and final through injury, watching from the sidelines as United beat Benfica 4 – 1 at Wembley.
When he left Old Trafford in 1973 after 11 seasons with the club, Law had scored 237 goals in 404 games and cast his reputation in bronze.
6. Paul Scholes
One of the Class of ’92, Paul Scholes is one of the most gifted midfield players England ever produced. He was the benchmark for attacking midfielders; outstanding vision to see passes, with an unerring eye in front of goal.
Add to that his willingness to battle for victory – not always within the boundaries of the law – and Scholes was the one United player every opposing fan wanted in their team.
Like fellow academy graduate Ryan Giggs, Scholes was a one-club man, making 755 appearances for Manchester United and scoring 155 goals between 1994 and 2013.
The quiet unassuming man from Oldham won 11 Premier League titles, three FA Cups, two League Cups as well as two Champions Leagues and the FIFA Club World Cup twice (in its’ various guises).
After he finished his playing days, he dipped his toe into management with Oldham very briefly before retiring to the pundit’s sofa.
Scholes shocked everyone at this point with his rapier tongue often going studs up into underperforming United players of recent years. A man who cares about the club; a legend, no more, no less.
5. Eric Cantona
When it comes to footballing philosophy, Eric Cantona knew his sardines from his trawlers. A mercurial talent; exquisite touch, control and vision married to a volatile temper which was never truly tamed.
One moment of madness at Selhurst Park casts a long shadow over a career rippling with magic moments. Cantona the magician ought to be more fondly remembered throughout football than he is.
A troubled genius, adept at picking fights with teammates, coaches and opponents as easily as he scored the impossible goal.
‘King Eric’ arrived from Leeds United, for a paltry £1.2m in 1992 and watched his first Manchester United game from the stands at Highbury.
“He just had that aura and presence. He took responsibility away from us. It was like he said: ‘I’m Eric, and I’m here to win the title for you.”
United won the title in four of his five seasons at the club; twice, they completed the league and cup double.
And in a puff of smoke, Cantona, aged 30, waved his wand and was gone. Fittingly, his last goal for the club was the only one in the 1996 FA Cup final; the winner against Liverpool is as good as it gets.
Flitting from beach soccer to politics, he settled on acting, taking on characters such as ‘The Stallion’ and ‘The Corsican’.
But for those who saw him play, he will always be the king: King Eric.
4. Bobby Charlton
A survivor of the Munich Air Disaster, Sir Bobby Charlton is the dictionary definition of club legend and a proud member of our top 10 best Manchester United players of all time.
Charlton joined United as a fifteen-year-old in 1953, making his debut against Charlton Athletic in October 1956. In seventeen seasons as a first-team player, he made 758 appearances, scoring 249 goals.
That, however, only tells half the story.
He was integral to United’s renaissance after Munich, spearheading the thrust toward glory on the pitch, never forgetting those dreadful events in February 1958.
Knighted for his contribution to football, Sir Bobby won every domestic honour as well as being a key member of Sir Alf Ramsey’s ‘wingless wonders’ who were crowned world champions in 1966.
Just as his fellow members of the ‘Holy Trinity’ did, Charlton won the Balon d’Or. His arrived in England’s World Cup year when he also won the Golden Ball for being top scorer at the 1966 finals.
Sir Bobby made his final appearance for the club at Chelsea on April 1973, having scored his last goal for United a month earlier.
After an unsuccessful stint in club management at Preston, Charlton returned to Old Trafford as an ambassador and director.
3. Ryan Giggs
The most hirsute member of the top 10 best Manchester United players of all time. Nobody who saw him rip off his shirt after his wonder goal against Arsenal in 1999 will forget.
Some people are scarred for life from the dead animal which clung to his chest as he wheeled away in celebration. Others were just envious.
Painfully shy off in front of the media, Giggs talent as a callow youth marked him out for greatness. Not on his debut, however.
That was a 2 – 0 home defeat to Everton in March 1991; he performed well but if you want to get the fans to like you, scoring the only goal in the Manchester derby in your first start for the club.
Then, of course, win every honour in the English game. Giggs did that and then some; 34 in total, making him the most decorated British footballer in terms of trophies won.
To underline his contribution to United’s success, he is the only player who won 13 Premier League titles with the club.
In total, he made 963 first-team appearances, a phenomenal number. He is the last of the ‘one-club’ men and almost certainly the last to spend his entire career in the Premier League.
2. Duncan Edwards
Those who saw Edwards play remember him as the most talented English footballer ever. That is some claim.
One of the Busby Babes, Duncan Edwards made his debut for Manchester United in a 4 – 1 defeat at Cardiff. At 16 years and 185 days, he remains the youngest player to start a top-flight game in English football.
Just shy of two years later, Edwards made his England debut against Scotland, the youngest player to do so until Michael Owen took that record in 1998.
Anyone who doubts how good he was needs to bear those two records in mind.
Footballers prior to the Premier League era were used to playing 60 – 70 matches per season. In 1955-56, Edwards won the title with United whilst completing the first year of his national service.
A year later and still in the army, he played in over 100 matches during the season as the armed forces and Manchester United call on his services. It is a testament to his fitness that he missed just eight matches that season.
In 1958, he was lost to the world in Munich. The Busby Babes last game on English soil was a 5 – 4 win at Arsenal; a fitting finale for one of the greatest players to wear the red shirt of Manchester United.
1. George Best
“Where did it all go wrong, George? I spent a lot of money on booze, birds and fast cars. The rest I just squandered.”
An apocryphal tale, quoted by the man himself which sums the mercurial talent which Manchester United saw the best of, and the worst.
Sir Matt Busby harnessed the most skilful player ever seen in English football. Best could control the ball in a way others dare not dream of. And left defenders with nightmares.
All too briefly. Headline maker, league champion, European champion; the European Footballer of the Year, completing the Holy Trinity’s hat-trick of wins and the last Briton to win for a decade.
Words barely do Best on the football pitch justice. This video captures the essence of George Best; #1 in our list of the top 10 best Manchester United players of all time.