Over his 27-year reign, Sir Alex Ferguson had some magnificent strikers who lit up Old Trafford. They varied as the decades went by and the game adapted, but each played a pivotal role in making Manchester United what it is today. Their skills range from the lethal poacher ready to score at any moment and the more technically gifted player willing to drop deep and create chances for his teammates.
Firstly, so what makes a good United striker? For me it has to be bravery, confidence and consistency. This striker would be the team’s main source of goals, the player the team looks upon for a moment of magic or for them to take that one chance in the game and win it for them. Therefore, bravery, confidence and consistency are pivotal as if this striker isn’t brave, he won’t have the attitude to dive for every header and go in for every 50/50, but a player with bravery will score you those scrappy goals but these are the ones that make all the difference.
Confidence and consistency are simple terms but are necessary to make a great striker as without confidence the player won’t play at his best and could become a liability and without consistency the team can never fully rely on their striker which will massively hinder their team as the players around him need to know they can trust their striker. Hence why at the moment, Anthony Martial is sparking debate as to whether he’s good enough to play as United’s striker, as over his six years at the club he’s shown high potential and provided some good seasons especially the 2019/20 season where he scored 17 goals in the league and providing seven assists in 32 games, but he’s not managed to consistently equal these performances and his form has a tendency to slump often.
Ferguson had many strikers in his reign and this article will specifically look at five. These include, Andy Cole, Ruud Van Nistelrooy, Wayne Rooney, Robin van Persie and Dwight Yorke. Eric Cantona and Cristiano Ronaldo would have made the top five, but I wouldn’t consider them as an out and out strikers under Ferguson.
Firstly, Andy Cole. He was an £8.64 million signing in January of 1995 which at the time was a British transfer fee record so expectations were high. He played 274 games for the Red Devils slotting in 121 goals and providing 44 assists as well. He formed a great partnership with another player on this list; Dwight Yorke. Yorke was a Trinidadian striker who joined United in July 1998 for a huge fee at the time of £17.33 million, thus like Cole expectations were also extremely high. He manged 65 goals and 29 assists in 152 games before leaving United in 2002. The pair won the historic treble and will undoubtedly go down as United legends but who was better? Both were brilliant players and had excellent chemistry but for me Andy Cole was the better player due to his lethal finishing but if it wasn’t for the link up with Yorke, he wouldn’t have been so successful.
Ruud van Nistelrooy also came into United for a big fee in 2001 when he signed for £25.65 million from PSV Eindhoven. Van Nistelrooy epitomised the term poacher, as he was always in the right position at the right time with deadly finishing to score an abundance of goals. At his time at United he scored 150 goals with 20 assists in 219 games. In his best league season, he managed 25 goals in 34 games with three assists. In his five seasons in the Premier League, he managed to hit over 20 goals in 4 of them. He was a lethal finisher, with one of the highest goals per minute ratios in the Premier League of all time. However, one drawback to his ability was his overall game. As he was a poacher, he wasn’t that creative and his overall game wasn’t as strong as others on the list which means he can’t be ranked as United’s greatest striker under Ferguson.
The next striker is Wayne Rooney, he was a debatable one as arguably he can be seen as more of an allrounder and not a specific striker but he did play as a striker for Ferguson in certain seasons and parts of seasons so therefore I’d include him as a striker in Ferguson’s reign. Rooney signed for United in 2004 for £33.30 million and went onto play 559 games, scoring 223 goals and providing 146 assists. Then as a centre forward he managed 74 goals and 40 assists in 170 games. Statistically, he has an unbelievable record, scoring hundreds of goals and providing hundreds of assists even as a striker; and this defines Wayne Rooney as a player because he wasn’t one dimensional or limited in his game, he had everything, pace, power, finishing, passing, strength.
He could be the man to score the goals United needed but also provided that creative linkup bringing others into the game at the same time. As a striker he was quite unique, in this decade someone similar to Rooney would be Harry Kane who is blessed with brilliant vision and passing as well as great finishing. Furthermore, Rooney wasn’t one to shy away in the big games scoring one of the most iconic goals in Premier League history with a bicycle kick against local rivals Manchester City also managing many goals against the ‘Big Six’ scoring six goals against Liverpool, nine against Chelsea, ten against City and fifteen goals against Arsenal overall in his United and Everton Premier League career.
Rooney had what poachers like Van Nistelrooy didn’t and despite Yorke and Coles ability to partially do what Rooney could do, neither could do it to the level that Rooney could. Rooney’s overall game is what would place him above his fellow strikers at United as he wasn’t ever limited to just one dimension in a game, he could help his team in many ways which is pivotal to leading the team to success. Some of Rooney’s game came after Ferguson’s departure but a huge majority of his best performances and form came from under the management of Sir Alex Ferguson.
Finally, Robin Van Persie although not at the club for long is regarded by many as a United legend for his title winning contributions in the 2012/13 season in which he signed from big rivals Arsenal for £27.63 million. Van Persie was a proven striker who Wenger proclaimed to Ferguson after the signing that “he’s a better player than you think.” He was brought in to be the final piece in the puzzle for Ferguson’s men in which unbeknownst to him would be Fergusons last season at the club. In his first and only season under Ferguson, Van Persie scored 30 goals with 26 of those coming in the Premier League and three in the Champions League and one in the FA Cup.
He didn’t manage to win the Champions League in this season which Ferguson would have aimed to achieve, but this is more due to a controversial decision made by the referee Cuneyt Cakir in the Champions League Round of 16 against Real Madrid to send Nani off after United looked the stronger team. However, Van Persie did manage to secure United their famous 20th title with such a strong performance from him throughout the season meaning many have claimed he single handily won United the title in this season. His 15 assists show his ability to link well with Rooney, seen especially against Aston Villa with that iconic volley after a beautiful pass from Rooney. Overall, Van Persie with more years under Ferguson could have been the best but having only played one full season restricted him.
In conclusion, I feel all five off these strikers are brilliant United greats but the best of them all was Wayne Rooney. He was a loyal servant to the club, but in particular was a world class footballer with a unique ability to pick any pass and play it, helping better the fluidity and link up within the United forwards. He scored crucial goals in pivotal times for United winning 16 trophies and was a role model to others as he never gave in and always performed for the badge. Therefore, I feel Rooney despite not being the most clinical or most conventional CF was United’s best striker in Ferguson’s reign due to his completeness as a player having everything to his game which the others couldn’t boast to their names.
Written by Ethan Bents