Menu

Manchester United’s best signing post-Sir Alex Ferguson

Manchester United have made 38 signings since Sir Alex Ferguson retired with some very successful players as well as others who failed to live up-to any expectations. Putting on that prestigious United shirt brings with it a lot of pressure and thus a sign of a good player is one who wears the shirt with pride but also lives up-to the names that followed before him. 

This article will explore the best signings, but firstly the lows. One of the worst signings Manchester United have made post Ferguson is Angel Di Maria. Di Maria arrived as a world class player from Real Madrid in 2014 but left within twelve months for Paris Saint-Germain. He cost the club £67.5 million but left for only £56.7 million. He was the perfect example of a player who didn’t want to play for the club but was transferred for the brand appeal, and shirt sales rather than his footballing impact.

Since his departure from United, reports have come out of him ‘hating the club’ and he’s widely seen as a massive flop. He showed glimpses of world class ability especially seen with a fantastic chip against Leicester but his poor attitude, and inability to deal with the physical aspects of the Premier League saw him become one of United’s worst ever signings.

Next is Alexis Sanchez. This was one of the most hyped-up deals in transfer history, as every United fan thought he was going to become the game changer. Through a swap deal with Arsenal for Henrikh Mkhitaryan, he went to United for free, but the best thing about his time at United was his announcement video… He had one standout game against Manchester City in that famous 3-2 turnaround but never lived up-to any expectations and with his astronomical wages became a signing to forget for United.

Now onto the better signings. Juan Mata was the second signing made post Ferguson and was one of the most successful as he’s still here to this day. Despite slowing down in recent seasons, Mata has been a loyal servant to the club who’s a fantastic role model to others around him. On the field he has a magnificent first touch and has vision like a hawk. 

Another good signing post Ferguson was Zlatan Ibrahimovic. The Swedish striker was a high-profile figure when he signed from PSG and brought that high profile ability as well. Before his injury he scored 17 goals in the league and was pivotal to the sustainability of this United team. The downfall of his United career was the long-term injury he obtained in a Europa league game which ultimately ended his chances at United.

Players like Luke Shaw, Harry Maguire, Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Sergio Romero have been decent signings who have helped this United team progress and move forward. Romero was a loyal second choice goalkeeper who always gave it his best and saved United on a couple occasions and Shaw, Wan-Bissaka and Maguire are regular first-teamers now who have helped improve United’s defending a lot since their arrivals.

But the best signing United have made since Sir Alex Ferguson retired is Bruno Fernandes. Bruno Fernandes came to United in the 2020 January transfer window in desperation as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer needed a midfielder due to the injuries of Paul Pogba and Scott McTominay at the time. Fernandes was hoped to be that creative player who could make that opportunity for the forwards like Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial but he proved to be a lot more than that. 

Since his arrival no other player in the Premier League has more goals and assists than Bruno Fernandes. He has 48 goals and assists in 52 league games which is a phenomenal output for an attacking midfielder. Often the sign of a good player is when rival fans can’t do anything but hate him and with Fernandes, he fits that category. At first, he was called ‘Penandes’ due to his high output of penalties that are supposedly easy, however, in the summer this proved harder than many thought, and now rival fans are calling him a centre forward because they can’t fathom how an attacking midfielder does what Fernandes does and jealousy is at the heartbeat of this as they would take him in a split-second if they could.

‘Inevitability’ is a common word used to describe Fernandes, as even when he’s not performing at his best he’ll always do something to change a game. This can be used against him though, as some critics will say his overall performances are weak and one five-yard pass then makes people call him world class, but often these critics don’t watch him enough or watch United enough to see the sheer impact he had on this United team.

Before he came in, United lacked all ability to create and had very little flow to their build up play, but when Fernandes came in this all changed. He has a brilliant ability to find pockets of space in between the oppositions defence piercing their shape, before picking up the ball, turning on it and either using his long-distance shooting ability or fantastic passing ability to progress the ball onto the forwards.

Fernandes becomes the link that connects the midfield to the forwards and without him, United struggle to have a man that can be this link and thus the attack becomes stationary and tends to go sideways rather than forwards and usually results in it withering out. Furthermore, another key attribute to his game is his leadership. In recent years, this United team has lacked vocal leaders with a winning mentality and Fernandes defines this. He’s a winner at heart and so if United don’t win you can see his disappointment.

In addition, his winning mentality helps spur on the other players bringing that belief that United can still win however little time is left which was seen on a number of occasions last season with late comebacks. Fernandes has now won over many fans but there still a split in the fanbase that creates divisions between players such that if Pogba is world class Fernandes can’t be. But for the majority his unbelievable numbers and performances in general have swayed their belief in his favour.

Another argument that is put up against him is his ability in big games. However, I feel many people have seen one person say it and now are firmly in belief of this agenda despite whatever Fernandes does he’ll be seen as weak in the big games. Whereas, in a number of big games like against AC Milan, Fernandes has shown up, but people choose to ignore this. Then finally, some feel that as he hasn’t won a trophy for United, he can’t be deemed as successful, but the overall impact he has had is impossible to ignore and United have only come close to winning these trophies as a result of his signing.

Therefore, despite signings like, Ibrahimovic and Mata, Fernandes is the best signing Manchester United have made post Sir Alex Ferguson as he’s had the biggest impact on the team providing impeccable numbers and has been a major factor in the team’s progression in recent years. Fernandes now must secure United a trophy to solidify himself as a United great.

Written by Ethan Bents

Ranking Manchester United’s Best XI post-Sir Alex Ferguson

Since Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement in 2013, Manchester United have been on a rocky path back to trying to win the Premier League title. When playing at this historic football club there is an expectation to win silverware, but United have only managed to win five trophies post-Ferguson. One FA Community Shield under David Moyes, an Emirates FA Cup with Louis van Gaal and the FA Community Shield, EFL Cup and the UEFA Europa League under Jose Mourinho.

During this period, United have seen some quality players come and go and this article will present my best Manchester United XI with all the players from this period.

Firstly, the easiest pick of the lot is David De Gea. The Spanish keeper has been at the club since 2011 and has established himself as a United great in this time. He’s put in some of the greatest individual goalkeeping performances in Premier League history with a famous game against Arsenal in which he made a record 14 saves including a tremendous double save to secure United a crucial victory. He has an unbelievable shot stopping ability and was seen as one of the best goalkeepers in the world at one point if not the best. The only competition for this spot would be Sergio Romero who has been a loyal servant to the club but no match for De Gea.

Next is Right-Back. This one is a trickier pick as there’s more competition between Antonio Valencia, Rafael da Silva and Aaron Wan-Bissaka. Unlike De Gea, United have changed right fullback a couple times in recent years but for me the best of the three was Antonio Valencia. Wan Bissaka is a fantastic tackler but his all-round game has lacked and can be a liability at the back post when defending. Rafael da Silva was a loyal player who always worked hard but he was shipped out in Van Gaal’s reign and Valencia took his spot at right back.

Valencia started off his career as right winger but was gradually pushed further back. He was a speedy full back who had a great longshot on his day. He was renowned for his step overs before using his good crossing ability to put a ball in the box. He may not be as strong defensively as Wan-Bissaka but going forward he was good and was robust defensively so he goes in at the right-back.

Next is the centre half partnership. The centre back positions at United have been a place for discussion in the last eight years as they’ve struggled to replace the conquering partnership of Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand. However, in this period, I feel the two best defenders have been Chris Smalling and Harry Maguire. Smalling was a key member of the United team for many years helping them stay afloat in troubling times.

Despite his latter years at the club not being too successful, his importance from post-Ferguson to 2016 is undoubted. Maguire may be a more controversial pick despite only having played two full seasons at the club, but for me he is in the team due to his impact he has had on this back four. Before his signing, United were consistently shaky always being bailed out by De Gea but his signing brought stability and leadership at the back which has helped United keep far more clean sheets and become far more solid defensively. 

At Left-Back its between Ashley Young and Luke Shaw. Young was a Ferguson signing and like Valencia was formally a winger converted into a left-back. At his best he was dangerous offensively with great speed and decent free kick taking. Defensively he wasn’t the best but was stable. Gradually as he got older, he became more liable to mistakes and fell off heavily. Whereas Shaw on the other hand has done the opposite. When he signed in 2014, he was highly promising and looked to have a huge future ahead. But one horror tackle later and he’s struggled to reach the form he once achieved at Southampton.

However, in the last couple seasons he’s improved massively solidifying himself as United’s number one. In the 2020/21 season he got even better with many ranking him as the best left-back in the world that season. Therefore, in my left back slot I will choose Shaw as I feel he’s come the furthest out of any of these players and is now a brilliant player.

The midfield three is an important yet easy choice. Wayne Rooney, Michael Carrick, and Bruno Fernandes make up the three. Although on paper this would be very offensive, I feel they are the best midfielders since Ferguson retired. Rooney although not an out and out midfielder did play further back towards the end of his United tenure and was a pivotal player in keeping United competitive. His versatility was key to helping bring some of the youngsters like Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford through. Carrick is the type of player United currently miss with his fantastic passing ability, coolness on the ball, great first touch and brilliant reading of the game to stop oppositional attacks.

Fernandes is likely the most disputed pick of the three but for me he’s had an impact like no other in recent years. Before his arrival, United desperately needed creativity and he optimises this with his brilliant passing and vision. Furthermore, he has a real potent threat offensively breaking Frank Lampard’s goalscoring record in a season from midfield. Granted, he’s not the safest in possession and can give the ball away but his work-rate, leadership and his overall effect on this Manchester United team is unmatched.

Finally, the front three. These three are the hardest to choose as United have had some great forwards in recent years. To combat this, I’m going to use two strikers and a number 10 as the combined three. As the number 10 I will go with Juan Mata. Since his signing in January 2014, he’s been a fan favourite with his silky dribbling and impeccable first touch. He has a fantastic footballing brain and his impeccable conduct at the club makes him such a great role model to the younger players. Although not being such a prominent member of the first team in recent years, he’s still showed glimpses of his former self helping United progress through Europa League knockout rounds. 

The two strikers are the hardest positions to choose as there’s options like Rashford who’s played upfront and off the left, Martial, Robin van Persie, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Edinson Cavani. Arguably all of these forwards haven’t been a consistent first choice striker for United for more than two seasons making it had to have a distinct best player. Therefore, I will go with one option for more longevity and one for peak season. On longevity Rashford takes my pick.

Now, as a player he may not have been the best of the lot but he’s been at the club for a lot longer than Cavani, Van Persie, or Ibrahimovic were and thus deserves a spot. Arguably, Martial could be an option especially due to his 17-league goal campaign in the 2019/20 season, but I feel Rashford has slightly more to his game due to his creation as well as goal scoring ability. Even with numerous injury problems he managed to produce 36 goal contributions with 11 goals and 11 assists in the league

Whereas, in Van Persie’s best league season post Ferguson, he scored 12 goals as the centre forward and likewise Cavani only managed 10 in the league last season. Therefore, despite Rashford not being as well regarded as Cavani or Van Persie, for him to put numbers up like this deserves a spot. Then finally, the last spot goes to Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Although only a key member of the squad for one season, the impact Ibrahimovic had was huge. He scored 17 goals and managed five assists in the league as well as being instrumental in United winning the League Cup against Southampton and helping United win the Europa League before a big injury which prevented him from playing in the final.

With young attackers like Rashford and Martial, his experience and footballing brain improved United going forward comprehensively as he became a link to the pair as they played off of him. Cavani had a good year last season, but Ibrahimovic scored more, assisted more and led United to trophies which Cavani has failed to do so far and thus that is why Ibrahimovic is the final player in my team.

Overall, this is the final team:

Written by Ethan Bents

The Red and Blue of Manchester

Following Jadon Sancho’s high-profile move to Manchester United, this article explores the most famous players to have also played for both Manchester United and Manchester City, analysing their time at both clubs and commenting on the success of each period.

It would be of great difficulty to mention every player to have competed for both clubs and even more so to cover them all in considerable detail. Instead, this article will focus on the most significant and memorable individuals to represent both sides of Manchester.

The First Manchester Men

William Douglas and Robert Milarvie became the first men to play for both Manchester teams, representing both sides of the city towards the end of the 19th century. Douglas was a Scottish goalkeeper who made 36 appearances for City, at this point known as Ardwick A.F.C, between 1890 and 94. In 1984, he transferred to Manchester United, or Newton Heath L.Y.R, and played 57 times for the Reds up until a move to Derby County in 1896. Scottish forward Robert Milarvie also turned out for both Manchester clubs.

After being signed from Derby, Milarvie played 22 times for Newton Heath in just one season, the 1890/91 campaign. He then transferred to Ardwick, where he played 69 times between 1891 and 1896. Notably, Milarvie was at the club when Ardwick transformed into the now universally-known Manchester City, in 1984/85. While neither Douglas or Milarvie played a great number of games for their Manchester teams, or are even well-known by the average fan of either club, they have both earned mythical status as two of the first players to wear both the famous red and blue of Manchester.

Perhaps the most famous player to play for both sides of Manchester was Welsh international, Billy Meredith. As well as earning 48 caps for his country, the ‘Welsh Wizard’ had two spells at City and a successful stint at United. A truly iconic figure for both clubs, Meredith played for City from 1894 to 1906 and then again from 1921 to 1924. In total he made over 300 league appearances for the Blues, scoring 129 goals. With City, the Welshman won the 1898/99 Second Division and the FA Cup in 1904, the club’s first major trophy. Meredith captained the City side in the final and scored the winning goal, in a 1-0 victory versus Bolton.

In the summer of 1906, the phenomenal winger moved to Manchester United, becoming the highest profile figure to represent both clubs. Over 15 years, Meredith made 303 league appearances at Old Trafford and bagged 35 goals. With United, he won two first division titles, in 1907/08 and 1910/11, as well as another FA Cup in 1909. Meredith returned to Manchester City in 1921, aged 47, and played 32 more games before retiring in 1924. He remains the oldest player to play for each of Manchester United, City and Wales. With over 300 appearances and multiple trophies at both clubs, Meredith is arguably the individual who saw the most success at both Manchester sides. He remains an iconic figure to both clubs to this day, playing a vital role in both clubs’ early successes.

Playing in the same period as Meredith was Scottish forward, Sandy Turnbull. Turnbull was a player for Manchester City between 1902 and 1906. He had an impressive goal scoring record, scoring over 50 goals in just over 100 league appearances for the Blues. Turnbull was part of the same team as Meredith that helped secure City’s first FA Cup win in 1904. He then made the switch to United in 1906, where he spent nine years a Red and, along with Meredith, won two titles and an FA Cup. Turnbull played over 200 games for the Red Devils, scoring 90 goals during his time at the club. Sandy Turnbull had a remarkable goals-to-game ratio for both sides and, like Meredith was instrumental in the early achievements of both clubs.

In 1906, Manchester City became embroiled in a scandal over finances and players’ wages. As a result, the club were forced into selling several of their top players. Along with Billy Meredith and Sandy Turnbull, Manchester United also purchased two Englishmen, Herbert Burgess and Jimmy Bannister, from their local rivals.

The Post-War Period

When football returned following its hiatus due to the global turmoil of two world wars, several more players graced the fields of both Old Trafford and Maine Road. One such figure was centre-forward Brian Kidd. Kidd enjoyed a successful career with Man United, playing 203 times for the Red Devils and scoring 52 league goals. Memorably, Kidd scored in United’s 1968 European Cup final win over Benfica. After a subsequent spell with Arsenal, Kidd moved to City in the summer of 1976. During three seasons at Maine Road, Kidd managed 44 goals from 98 league appearances, before leaving for Everton in 1979. Following his playing career, Brian Kidd has gone on to enjoy great success as a coach. After brief spells in charge of Barrow and Preston North End, Kidd was appointed as a youth team coach for Manchester United by Sir Alex Ferguson in 1988.

Kidd was influential in helping mould and encourage a group of young talented players at United, such as Ryan Giggs, who became vital to the Red Devils’ success in the 90s. Kidd was promoted to assistant manager and occupied the role from 1991 to 1998. He famously ran on to the pitch and dropped to his knees to celebrate Steve Bruce’s second goal in a win over Sheffield United, which was pivotal in helping United to secure the 1992/93 title. During Kidd’s time as a coach at United, the team won four Premier League titles, three FA Cups and one League Cup. Kidd returned to City in 2009 as a technical development manager, before being appointed as assistant manager to Roberto Mancini in December 2009.

Kidd held this position under successive managers Manuel Pellegrini and Pep Guardiola, before leaving the role at the end of the 2020/21 season. While part of the coaching set-up at City, Kidd saw the team achieve five Premier League titles, two FA Cups and six League Cups. As a player, Kidd played more times for Manchester United, with the highlight undoubtedly the 1968 European Cup victory. He went on to experience immense coaching success at both clubs, holding the role of assistant manager to two of the greatest modern managers, in Ferguson and Guardiola, and amounting an impressive trophy haul.

Scottish footballing icon Denis Law also represented both Manchester teams. Law joined City as a club record signing in 1960 from Huddersfield Town. After just one season at Maine Road, Law moved to Italian side Torino, and then moved again the next year to Old Trafford, in 1962. Law set the record for a fee involving a British player three times, moving from Huddersfield to Manchester City for £55,000, City to Torino for £110,000, and then moving from Torino to United for £115,000. ‘The King’ as he became affectionately known by the United fans, spent 11 hugely successful  years at Old Trafford, scoring over 237 goals from 404 appearances.

Law became part of United’s legendary ‘Holy Trinity’, along with Bobby Charlton and George Best. He remains Manchester United’s third-highest all-time goal scorer, behind only Wayne Rooney and Bobby Charlton. Denis Law is also the only man to have two statues dedicated to him at Old Trafford, one as an individual, and one dedicated to the United Trinity. After Tommy Docherty’s appointment as the new manager, and the departure of Charlton and Best, Law returned to Manchester City on a free transfer in July 1973. Before retiring, Law spent the final season of his career at City, famously scoring a back-heeled goal in the derby that saw Manchester United relegated from the top division in 1974.

This was his final touch in league football as Law asked to be substituted immediately after the goal. In both spells at City combined, Law made over 75 appearances, scoring 37 times. Ultimately, Law spent just two seasons at City, whereas he remains an all-time United legend and a favourite of many United fans to this day.

In addition to Kidd and Law, Peter Barnes and John Gidman played for both Manchester United and City in the post-war period, with both players transferred directly from United to City.

The Premier League Era

One surprising individual who played for both Manchester giants during the Premier League era is Danish goalkeeper, Peter Schmeichel. The Great Dane joined from Danish side Brøndby in August 1991. He went on to become one of United’s greatest ever keepers, making 367 appearances for the Red DevilsDuring his eight years at United, Schmeichel won five league titles, three FA Cups, one League Cup and the Champions League. He ended his United career by captaining the team to victory in the 1999 Champions League final against Bayern Munich, sealing United’s famous treble. After moves to Sporting CP and Aston Villa, Schmeichel joined City for the 2002/03 season. That season, Gary Neville famously ignored Schmeichel’s handshake in the tunnel before a derby fixture. Schmeichel spent the peak of his career at United, amassing numerous trophies and accolades, his time at City, in comparison, was a brief stint before the keeper’s retirement from football.

Like Schmeichel, Andy Cole also spent his peak years at Manchester United before a later spell at City towards the end of his career. Ferguson signed Cole in January 1995, from Newcastle United, for a then British record of £6.25 million. Cole had a hugely successful and prolific spell at United until 2001 and formed a lethal partnership with Dwight Yorke. Cole won five Premier League titles, two FA Cups and the Champions League with United and finished his time at the club with 121 goals in 275 appearances. After spells at Blackburn and Fulham, Andy Cole signed for Manchester City in 2005. He played just one season for City and finished as the club’s top scorer, scoring ten goals in 23 appearances. Cole remains the third-highest all-time top scorer in the Premier League with 187 goals, behind Alan Shearer and Wayne Rooney. Andy Cole is rightly remembered as one of the great Premier League strikers. The majority of his appearances, goals and trophies came for United, while his spell at City came towards the decline of his career.

Both Schmeichel and Cole signed for Manchester City during the final years of their careers when they were past the peak of their powers. This was also a period where City were possibly not considered a genuine threat to United. Carlos Tevez is perhaps unique in the fact that he moved directly from United to City during the prime of his career, at a time where City were directly challenging their rivals for silverware. The Argentine striker signed for United from West Ham in 2007 and became part of an impressive attacking trio next to Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo. In just two seasons at Old Trafford, Tevez won two Premier League titles, the Champions League and the Club World Cup Championship.

He finished his United career with 34 goals in 99 appearances. Tevez was the subject of a controversial and high-profile move to the Etihad in 2009, whereby he joined a growing Manchester City team. He continued to score and perform at City and, at the end of his first season, won the club’s Etihad Player of the Year and Players’ Player of the Year awards. Tevez scored 50 goals in his first 73 games, becoming the second-fastest player to reach this milestone in the club’s history. At City, Tevez won the FA Cup in 2011 as well as the Premier League in the 2011/12 season, the club’s first Premier League title. Tevez left City for Juventus in 2013, having scored 73 goals in 148 appearances for the club. The Argentine striker can boast an impressive goal-scoring record as well as the accolade of having won a Premier League title for both Manchester clubs, despite this, the controversial and often rebellious figure isn’t remembered particularly fondly by either set of fans.

The Premier League era has also seen the likes of Peter Beardsley, Mark Robins, Terry Cooke, Andrei Kanchelskis, Owen Hargreaves and Frédéric Veseli, play for both the red and blue of Manchester, arguably to a less impactful and significant level. Additionally, Abbie McManus and Jane Ross have played for both of the Manchester City and Manchester United women’s teams. In terms of managers, Ernest Mangnallholds the impressive feat of being the only man to have managed both City and United. The great Manchester United manager Sir Matt Busby, who famously commanded the ‘Busby Babes’ and guided the Reds to European Cup glory in 1968, also had an impressive playing career. This included an eight-year spell with Manchester City between 1928 and 1936, where he played over 200 times and even won the FA Cup in 1934. Both Steve Coppell and Mark Hughes had opposite career trajectories to Sir Matt Busby, having spent time at United as players and then going on to manage City later in their careers.

As Manchester United and Manchester City continue to directly compete for trophies and titles, the number of players to represent both clubs has declined, often limited to players near to retirement, or academy players who are surplus to requirements. Following his transfer from Borussia Dortmund, former City academy star Jadon Sancho has returned to Manchester, but he will now be wearing red. Fans will be eager to see how he gets on this season, as the latest player to wear both the famous red and blue of Manchester. One former City academy player that could prove a point in the future is none other than Charlie McNeill who has been firing in the goals for both City and United’s academies.

Written by George Lavin

Sir Alex Ferguson’s Greatest Manchester United Striker

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

A guide to Sir Alex Ferguson’s greatest Manchester United team

Ever since 1992, until Sir Alex Ferguson retired in 2013, winning league titles and cup competitions was in the DNA of Manchester United. In this time, Ferguson has built many great teams adapting to each decade. He started off in the mid 1980’s with United’s arch rivals Liverpool dominant and ever since, Ferguson would not rest till he knocked them off their perch and he most certainly did that.

The Foundations

Ferguson was appointed Manchester United manager in 1986 and in his 27 years at the club won 13 Premier League titles, two Champions Leagues and five FA Cups in his reign, amongst other things. To many he’s known as the greatest football manager to ever live and with a great manager often comes great teams and at United it was no different. Ferguson set out on continuing United’s legacy of using the youth as seen with the ‘Busby Babes’ through the ‘Class of 92’. This set of six players including the likes of Beckham, Scholes and Giggs gave United the foundations to a great team for the decade going forward. Then in the 1995/6 season Alan Hansen said; “You can’t win anything with kids,”  after an opening day 3-1 defeat to Aston Villa.

However, after this, United went onto win the title and prove Hansen wrong. Despite this, key leaders and more established players where pivotal to the success with players like Eric Cantona and Roy Keane fulfilling this role. Cantona brought success to United instilling that winning expectation becoming one of the most influential players ever as United won the league in every season he played in bar his incident in January 1995. Roy Keane became the leader and role model the club needed to keep pushing them on. He provided that leadership in the dressing room if Ferguson wasn’t there, and kept the teams discipline intact. Cantona announced his retirement from football in 1997 without any European success.

Ferguson had won titles but now European glory was his one true desire. To establish this, Ferguson looked to create his next great centre half pairing after Bruce and Pallister. In 1998 United signed Jaap Stam from PSV Eindhoven for around £10 million. He was partnered with Ronny Johnsen who had joined in 1996. This was the pairing which inevitably a couple years later won the champions league together. So, with a solid defence and the work horse of Keane and talented Scholes, a great partnership was needed upfront. This was established through Dwight Yorke and Andy Cole. This pairing hac great chemistry scoring many goals together and playing an important role in winning the illustrious treble for Manchester United.

Results

This United team completed the famous treble in May of 1999, a feat no other team in English football had done before and to this day have done. A historic comeback in Barcelona against the great Bayern Munich with late goals from Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Teddy Sheringham to seal the triumphant treble.

The Foundations

Fast forward a couple years and many of the Class of 92 had now hit their prime and passed it with Beckham leaving United for Real Madrid in 2003 and Gary Neville’s legs gradually going. Roy Keane after a bust up with Ferguson, left United in November of 2005 leaving Ferguson with a major rebuild. The pairing of Ronny Johnsen and Stam had both left and Cole and Yorke were gone to. The early 2000’s saw the rise of Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal doing the Invincibles in 2004 and Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea team conceding only 15 goals in the whole 2004-5 premier league title winning campaign. After a poor couple years Ferguson needed to get back to winning ways and the signing of Cristiano Ronaldo did just that.

He was a young teenager when he was purchased from Sporting Lisbon in 2003, but as the years went on, he got better and better before winning the Ballon d’Or in 2008. Ronaldo with Rooney and Tevez aside him created a thrilling front three, which was a sign of Fergusons brilliance as he adapted with football. His defensive stability came with the £30 million signing of Rio Ferdinand from Leeds United and Nemanja Vidic from Spartak Moscow. They became a formidable partnership which contributed to United’s triple succession of Premier League titles. A crucial part of the 2008 team was Ji Sung Park, although not the most expensive or highest rated, Park was one of Fergusons most underrated players, and had the energy and fitness levels to do jobs no other player could, like man marking Pirlo out of a game. Other big signings included, Patrice Evra, Michael Carrick, Rooney and Tevez and these all put the final pieces in United’s rebuild together.

Results

United won three Premier League titles back-to-back to back and in 2008, did the double winning in Moscow against Chelsea on pens after a famous John Terry slip.

Comparison

The greatest difference between the two teams was the 1999 team won the treble and the 2008 team won the double. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that the treble winning team was better. 

Paths to Champions League wins

In 1999, United were drawn into a group with big teams like Bayern Munich and Barcelona managing to qualify in second place having drawn 3-3 at home and similarly away against Barcelona, and then draw 2-2 away to Bayern and 1-1 at home. In the quarter finals they faced group C winners Inter Milan. In the home leg United won 2-0, and away they secured a 1-1 draw to see them through to the semi-finals to face Juventus. Against Juventus they drew the first leg at home 1-1, before a selfless captain’s performance from Roy Keane in the second leg saw him lead United to a 3-2 victory away in Turin. This drew United against Bayern Munich in the final at the Camp Nou, and two later goals from Sheringham and Solskjaer and the rest was history. This night becoming the greatest night in the history of Manchester United football club.

In 2008, United were drawn into a group with Sporting, Roma and Dynamo Kiev, in which they finished top of the group having won all their games bar one draw against Roma away. This resulted in United being drawn against Lyon. In the first leg away United drew 1-1 thanks to a late equaliser from Carlos Tevez and then at home won 1-0 securing their place in the quarter finals. This drew them against Roma again, which United progressed through comfortably with a 2-0 win away, and a 1-0 win at home in the second leg, placing them up against Barcelona in the semi-finals. Both legs were incredibly even and tight but the one moment of brilliance came from a Paul Scholes longshot on the edge of the box to send United through to face Chelsea in the final in Moscow. The final was a controversial and thrilling game which saw United the victors on penalties after extra time. This won United their third European cup and was a great season overall. 

Comparing different decades is very difficult but arguably the 1999 Champions league run was harder as they faced Barcelona and Bayern in the group escaping both of them and then got past Juventus and Inter Milan and then beating Bayern Munich in the final whereas the 2008 team had an easier group with Sporting and Roma as the biggest teams and in the knockouts faced Roma again, and then the difficult Barcelona before beating Chelsea in the final. Therefore, I would say in the Champions League, the 1999 team had a harder route and as a result, was a more successful accomplishment especially as they had just won the FA Cup and Premier League as well so the team would be fatigued.

However, in the Premier League, it saw the 2008 team finish top ahead of Chelsea with 87 points, whereas in 1999 they finished top ahead of Arsenal with 79 points. You could argue that the necessary points to win titles was different back then and managers focused less solely on just the league but also on other cups, but the 2008 team also won the Champions League despite finishing on eight points more. Therefore, I would say in the Premier League the 2008 team were more successful. 

One crucial difference between the two teams was the FA Cup. The 1999 team won the FA Cup, but the 2008 team didn’t. The 2008 team fell short against Portsmouth in the quarter finals who then went onto winning it, whereas the 1999 team never gave up especially against Arsenal in the semi finals which saw an extra time wonder goal from Ryan Giggs to send United into the final which they subsequently won. 

Overall, I feel that the 1999 team were better, not just because they were more successful but also due to the teams they faced and came through and there winning mentality shining through overcoming any mental barriers they faced having fallen short in the European Cup on many occasions in years passed. Furthermore, others have done the double but the treble is hard to come by and is unique in England and that for me solidifies Manchester United’s 1999 team as the greatest team under Sir Alex Ferguson.

Finally, Sir Alex Ferguson had many key traits to his teams, that made them so successful. These traits include the winning mentality within the team, the togetherness of the squad and the fiery mentality which saw United never give up, and lead to many ‘Fergie time’ goals. United’s teams in the last decade have lacked these, especially team cohesion as under Mourinho, the club was dying and the players looked defeated, but Solskjaer is starting to bring this cohesion back as many players have spoken out about their happiness with Solskjaer as manager.

A never giving in attitude, has developed over the past season, as United have won many games in extra time signifying their belief that they can still win no matter how many seconds left. The winning mentality is something that still needs to be found as United have come short in four semi finals and one final under Solskjaer, and if Solskjaer can instil this into the players like Ferguson could, this 2021 Manchester United team could become a squad someone in 15 years will be writing an article about.

Written by Ethan Bents

The Future at the Theatre of Dreams

Developing and breeding the youth at a football club is often a desirable aspect of a team but at Manchester United it’s a priority. For decades the club has been built off the succession of talent oozing through the academy, and in 2021 its no different.

Over seven decades have passed since the notorious Busby Babes defining ‘The United way,’ using the youth to create success and building the club up for Sir Alex Ferguson to take over in November 1986 continuing Busby’s dynasty playing fast attractive football and then promoting the youth through the iconic ‘Class of 92’. There has been a consistent use of youth in the first team going back over 4000 games in 1937.

As per, youth is in the DNA of this football club and United will take any opportunity possible to breed the next generation of youth, now in 2021 with a specific focus on bringing in some potential young talent with the likes of Hannibal Mejbri, Amad Diallo, Shola Shoretire and Mason Greenwood. Some have interpreted this as senior officials at United finding a way to avoid spending big in the transfer market, whereas others have seen this as a potential preparation for a youth generation in the coming years.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will be hoping these players can be the spark to take United to new levels in the next decade and bring back the trophy winning tradition to Old Trafford after a four year wait. The path to the first team is never easy but with United’s willingness to bring through the youth can some of these players become United greats?

Amad Diallo in particular could be one of great interest in the coming years. He’s an 18-year-old winger from the Ivory Coast formerly of Atalanta. Despite having only played around 25 mins of first team football for Atalanta before signing for United, Amad was highly rated in Italy and Atalanta wanted to keep hold of him for another six months but United rejected this. He has an impeccable first touch as seen with Luke Shaw’s comments on him “His first touch is brilliant.”

He has a silky flair to him which makes him look at times like he’s gliding across the pitch with ease. His close control and footwork make him difficult to tackle mixed with his quick speed to get away from defenders. These attributes could help push him onto becoming a world class player in the future. The early glimpses we’ve seen of Amad have been promising, with four goals and three assists in three games for the U23’s in Premier League 2 and then one assist in his three senior Premier League games, and a memorable header against AC Milan in the Europa league round of 16. Therefore, if Amad can reach his high potential he could become a big player for Manchester United in the future.

Another player that has caught the eye is Hannibal Mejbri. The 18-year-old French midfielder, who represents Tunisia, was signed from Monaco for £9 million back in August 2019. He can play across the forward three in a 4-2-3-1, with good output on either foot. He has excellent vision and good finishing helping him rack up four goals and eight assists in Premier League 2 last season. Like Amad, he has a distinct flair to him, with a special ability to ride tackles and win many fouls for his team.

Something heavily attributed to highly rated English winger Jack Grealish. He hasn’t featured much for the first team, just making an eight-minute cameo in the final game of the season in United’s 2-1 victory away to Wolverhampton Wonderers. In the future, his special vision and great passing could help him secure a spot as the number 10 in Solskjaer’s favoured 4-2-3-1, but his versatility could also see him drift to the left wing as well.

As well as Mejbri’s great versatility enabling him to play on the left and through the centre, another promising youngster who can do similar is Shola Shoretire. He is an English/Nigerian winger who is just 17 years of age. Over the course of the season, he’s played 19 games as a left winger scoring five and assisting three; but he’s also played as a left winger for 13 games scoring five goals and assisting four.

Furthermore, Shoretire has also managed to play three games as an attacking midfielder for the U23’s and one as a centre forward. He is a dynamic winger with good skills and an eye for goal. Shoretire and Hannibal could make for a deadly duo as both can interchange with each other causing nightmares for the oppositional defences. Solskjaer will be looking to see who he feels plays best where, and try mould each player to fit the United system going forward. 

Finally, the more established figure Mason Greenwood. He is a 19-year-old English forward with the ability to play upfront but also on the right. Since his debut against Paris Saint-Germain on that famous night in Paris, Greenwood has got better and better, solidifying himself as a first teamer and he even got an England call up in the Autumn of 2020. After an electric debut season, scoring 10 goals in 31 Premier League games, Greenwood looked to continue his fine form.

In the early stages of the 2020/21 season, Greenwood struggled, with plenty going on behind the scenes and potential injuries. As the season developed his talent shined through and he managed to score seven goals and get two assists in 31 premier league games. Greenwood has incredible ability with both feet and has brilliant finishing ability. Many see him as one of the most natural finishers in the whole Premier League.

In the 2019/20 season some criticised him for his overall play, so despite not scoring as many in the 2020/21 season, Greenwood has considerably improved his overall game, now holding up the ball better, laying it off well, even putting in some lovely crosses for Cavani’s bullet headers. Due to Anthony Martial’s injury Edinson Cavani has emerged as a pivotal figure at striker for United, which has ensured Greenwood mainly played as a right winger.

He’s played 37 games off the right scoring 10 goals and managing four assists and he’s played 15 games as a centre-forward only managing two goals and two assists. Statistically this would imply Greenwood is better of the right, and that is currently probably the case, as he’s still raw and has much to learn. So, with the signing of Cavani from PSG on a free in 2020, this provides priceless experience for him to learn off and grow from.

Many see Greenwood as a future number nine, but for now he predominantly plays as a right winger, but with the names previously mentioned like Amad, Shoretire and Mejbri all playing along the three in the attacking midfield, Greenwood could develop as a centre-forward and  Manchester United could have an emphatic front four in the making. Hopefully, now they have all received debuts, in the 2021/22 season we can see more of these promising youngsters and watch them hopefully develop into United greats. 

Overall, I feel the talent at United is highly promising, and the batch coming through could become a frightening four, tearing up the Premier League in the near future. The versatility from almost all of them could create a great fluidity and interchangeability in attack for Manchester United, which would create many problems for oncoming defenders up against them.

Obviously, they are young and careers can be so easily wasted and ruined as seen with Ravel Morrison, so Solskjaer must keep an eye on them and protect them from the crucifying English media. These players have that flair, agility and speed to play ‘The United Way’ which could be how Solskjaer continues the United tradition creating his own dynasty with these players at the head of it. Ultimately, only time will tell if these players live up-to their own hype but they certainly have the qualities to be United players and carry forward the great traditions of this historic football club.

Written by Ethan Bents

Where Are They Now? Nick Powell – raw talent at Crewe led him to United move but it did not work out for him

On the 2 July 2012, Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson purchased Nick Powell, 18, from Crewe Alexandra for a fee of £4 million which could have been worth £6 million with add-ons – the transfer was confirmed on the 12 June 2012. The 18-year-old was noticed by United following his exploits for Crewe in a season that the club qualifies for the League Two play-off, winning it by beating Cheltenham Town 2-0 with Powell scoring the second goal – a volley from outside of the box and into the top corner of the goal. Powell won both the Young Player of the Year and Player of the Year awards for his club that season. Sir Alex Ferguson, the United manager at the time, stated:

“We have scouted Nick for months now. He is an exceptional talent and has been schooled well at Crewe. I’m delighted he has chosen to come to United. He has a lot to offer and we are all looking forward to working with him.”

During the 2011/12 season at Crewe, Powell made a total of 45 appearances, scoring 16 goals and eight assists, which was a good achievement for a player of his age. Ferguson saw his talent, which was a bit on the raw side, seeing the potential in the player. On moving to United, Powell made his debut in a pre-season coming off the bench in a 1-1 draw with Ajax Cape Town then starting four days later against Shanghai Shenhua, a 1-0 victory for United. The 18-year-old made his competitive debut against Wigan Athletic, scoring the fourth goal in a 4-0 victory in the Premier League.

During his debut season at United, Powell made a total of six appearances for the first team, scoring one goal, making 10 appearances at youth level, scoring four goals and one assist. During the 2013/14 season, after the retirement of Ferguson, David Moyes loaned Powell to Wigan Athletic where he made 41 appearances for the club, scoring 12 goals and three assists – three goals and one assist in the UEFA Europa League. Powell spoke to the Manchester Evening News about the retirement of Ferguson, which came as a shock to him, hearing the news after coming round after surgery, saying:

“I remember waking up from my back operation and he’d announced his retirement. So I had no idea, woke up and then he’d retired.

“I remember saying before that I didn’t want my op, as United had pretty much won the league by then and you needed 10 appearances to get a medal – I was on two or three. I made a couple of bench appearances and I was really enjoying the time, even though I wasn’t playing. He [Ferguson] told me exactly what I was getting into and I didn’t mind that.

“Then to get that news when you wake up from an operation when that was the whole reason you went to the club in the first place…yeah it was a kick in the teeth.

“It was always going to be different when Sir Alex retired. If he wasn’t there and I didn’t have a phone call and meetings with him, I probably wouldn’t have gone to United. So it was always going to be a downhill spiral for me as soon as he left.”

During the 2014/15 season, this time working under Louis Van Gaal at United after the sacking of Moyes in April 2014, Powell was loaned out once again, after playing in that 4-0 League Cup defeat to MK Dons, this time to Premier League new boys Leicester City – playing three times for the first team and four times at U21 level where he scored two goals and two assists. The player returned to United during the winter transfer window after Leicester terminated the loan deal. Powell played five times at U21 level for United, scoring two goals before the end of the season.

Come the 2015/16 season, Powell was to remain at United suffering from a knee injury and needed time to recover after surgery. He made his first appearance for United in 2015 in the UEFA Champions League against VfL Wolfburg, replacing Juan Mata with United losing 3-2 and being knocked out of the competition with PSV Eindhoven beating CSKA Moscow, finishing third in the group and exiting to the Europa League. Powell made two first team appearances for United that season, making three more at U21 level, where he scored three goals and one assist.

Powell was loaned to Hull City during the winter transfer window, seeing out the remainder of the 2015/16 season at the club, making just five appearances for the club and not scoring or assisting any goals. It was safe to say that his career had gone by the way side and he was losing his love of the game, based on Ferguson retiring, injury recovery and a loss of form – the player was in a downward spiral – which was a shame to see based on the talent that had taken him to United. Speaking to the Manchester Evening News about this, Powell said:

“My time at United was poisoned by falling out of love with football. I didn’t feel like I was part of anything at the time. I was in limbo between reserves and first-team.

““I remember people trying to find me because I was late to a reserve game, reserve training, first-team training – purely because I didn’t know where I was supposed to be.

“I’d get onto one training pitch and I’d be told, ‘no, you’re over there this week’ and I’d be 10, 15 minutes late and I’d be getting fined. But nobody was talking to me, I didn’t know where I was supposed to be.”

In June 2016, United made the decision to release Powell from the club at the end of his contract, which was a four-year deal. Powell signed for Wigan as a free agent and stayed at the club for three seasons making 99 appearances, scoring 29 goals and 15 assists – making his club total 140 appearances, 41 goals and 18 assists (including his time on loan at the club from United). Powell was offered a new contract at the club which he turned down in June 2019 as confirmed by Wigan manager Paul Cook, in which he told the Wigan Post, reported by Wigan Today the following:

“Wigan Athletic could not have done any more to keep Nick at this football club. Right up until the end, this club genuinely tried their very best to be in the market to keep him here.

“Unfortunately for us – and the fans must accept this – when you find yourselves up against Stoke City, and a few other big clubs he was speaking to, it becomes impossible.

“But the biggest compliment you can pay Wigan Athletic is that it ended up being such a tough decision for him despite all that. That really is a compliment in itself.”

Powell, now 26, signed for Stoke City on the 25 June 2019 and made his debut for the club in their Championship opener against Queens Park Rangers on the 3 August 2019 but was unable to finish the match due to injury, which saw him miss the next nine matches. During the 2019/20 season, which was delayed into the summer of 2020 because of the coronavirus pandemic with football all around the world suspended for around three months, made a total of 30 appearances for the club, scoring five goals and five assists.

During the 2020/21 season, Powell made 42 appearances for his club, scoring 12 goals and three assists and seems to be settling into the game and looking ahead to the future. Looking back at his time as an 18-year-old and looking like the next big things in the game, and seeing his his career developed after moving to United, many will see him making what will be seen as the biggest mistake of his career. Ferguson retiring at United was something that he was upset by, as were many other players at the Old Trafford club at the time. United are still seeking to recover from it.

Ahead of the Carabao Cup 5-4 penalty victory over Blackpool, Neil Critchley now the manager of the Lancashire club used to be the academy director of Crewe Alexandra so knew Powell. He gave some advice for the player at his new club and talked about his hope of seeking him develop his career and reach for the top of the game, which is the Premier League, a league he has played in sparingly for both United and Leicester. Critchley spoke to the Stoke Sentinel about the 26-year-old, praising the player for his ability and hoping that he finds his feet again, saying:

“It’s great to see Nick. I’m delighted when I see the way he plays. I’ve known him since he was six and he’s still the same; an unbelievable player, without doubt one of the best I’ve ever had the privilege of coaching.

“Physically he’s fantastic, he can use both feet and there’s nothing he can’t do with the ball. I spoke to Michael before the game and asked him and he spoke very well of him as well. I hope he goes on to have a really good season for Stoke this year. I want to see him do what he should be doing – scoring goals and making a difference.”

Powell was a talented teenager but he was not seen as the best player that should be kept around United following the retirement of Ferguson. Granted, the club has still not recovered from that based on the bad decisions of the hierarchy of the club, which is still happening now and the fact the footballing decisions seem to be made by people who know nothing about the game. Powell wanted to thrive at United under Ferguson but the direction under Moyes and Van Gaal were different. Critchley, talking about Powell’s future, concluded by saying:

“I hope so. He’s still young enough, he’s still got years in front of him. That’s sometimes the rollercoaster of a football career. It’s probably not gone the way he would have wanted so far but he’s still having a fantastic career, playing at some amazing football clubs.

“Has he got the ambition and hunger to be a success in the Premier League? I don’t work with him every day now but I know the type of boy he was. He absolutely loves football, lives for football and he’ll be wanting to get where probably things he can play.

“I hope he does that, either personally or by getting there with Stoke this season.”

The future looks good for the 27-year-old as his transfer to Stoke seems to have paid off with him making an impact in front of goal during the 2020/21 season. His contract is set to expire at the end of June 2021, and having been named the clubs Player of the Year for the 2020/21 season. The player is still wanted at Stoke but Financial Fair Play (FFP) and the terms the Stoke players are on at this time make it difficult for contracts to be offered but it is something that the club will be seeking to sort out this summer. Powell has not been named one the retained list published at the end of the season and has not been released either. He is also the only player pictured wearing the clubs new 2021/22 season home kit when it was unveiled, so there are obviously plans to keep him around.

Written by John Walker

Idols: Eric Cantona, the King is 55 today but memories of the arrogance, class, skill and ability still remain

Manchester United have had some great players over the years with children idolising players throughout the club’s history. From the likes of Sir Bobby Charlton, Denis Law, George Best to the likes of David Beckham, Ruud van Nistelrooy and Cristiano Ronaldo, children and adults alike will have idolised a particular player. For me, it was the prolific Frenchman Eric Cantona that I idolised. The guy just had something about him from the day he signed for United, to the day he retired from football. Even now just seeing him makes the hair on the back of my neck stand on end. The guy is a legend in his own right. The iconic Frenchman will have been the idol of many young boys and girls in the mid to late 1990s.

Cast your mind back to the 26 November 1992, the day which Eric Cantona’s move to Manchester United commenced. Leeds United ended up losing a magnificent player, something they will have learned to get over, perhaps. Leeds chairman Bill Fotherby telephoned United chairman Martin Edwards in order to find out the availability of left-back Denis Irwin, who was not for sale – for obvious reasons. Sir Alex Ferguson was in a meeting with Edwards at the time and cheekily asked about Cantona, with United needing a striker at the time – unsuccessful in their attempts to sign David Hirst, Matt Le Tissier, and Brian Deane. Fotherby had to speak to then Leeds manager Howard Wilkinson, days later the deal was done – not protracted like today’s ‘soap opera’ transfers transpire.

United paid £1.6 million for Cantona – a bargain you say! The Frenchman made his debut for United in a friendly match against Benfica in Portugal, a match marking Eusebio’s 50th birthday with Cantona wearing the number ten shirt. His first competitive match came against Manchester City on the 6 December 1992 – he arrived at the Old Trafford club too late to play against Arsenal on the 28 November 1992 – Cantona wore the number twelve against City. United’s season had been disappointing up until Cantona’s arrival with the club falling behind big spenders Aston Villa and Blackburn Rovers, also the inaugural season of the Premier League. Norwich City and Queens Park Rangers were also challenger’s that season – if you can imagine that.

During his first season, Cantona, playing only 23 matches, scored nine goals, which helped United to lift the first ever Premier League trophy, something they would get used to doing lots of times throughout the 1990s and the 2000s – albeit that being without Cantona. With his appearances for Leeds too, Cantona played 43 matches that season, scoring 20 goals, which just showed what the Frenchman was capable of. The following season, the first full one playing for United, Cantona would start to show himself, and show just why he became an idol. Cantona played 49 matches in the 1993/94 season, scoring 25 goals in all competitions – which was a great season for the Frenchman. He again lifted the Premier League title, the second time in two seasons.

The following season, Manchester United were looking to lift the Premier League title for the third year in a row, continuing their newfound domination but for Cantona, it would be a mixed season. In total, Cantona played 25 times that season, scoring 14 goals. On the 25 January 1995, the infamous Kung-Fu Kick happened with Crystal Palace supporter Matthew Simmons seemingly abusing the Frenchman, who launched his kick shocking the world, also showing the passion that made Cantona the man he became. United knew a lengthy ban was unavoidable with calls to kick Cantona out of the country, which was a bit harsh, especially when you figure that Luis Suarez did not suffer that for racially abusing Patrice Evra, or even biting Giorgio Chiellini! After the event, in a press conference, Cantona responding to what he did, said;

“When the seagulls follow the trawler, it’s because they think sardines will be thrown into the sea. Thank you very much.”

Eric Cantona was banned for eight months, fined £30,000 in total and did not play again for the rest of the season. Cantona returned to Manchester United the following season, playing in the North West derby against Liverpool on the 1 October 1996 – a match in which he set up a goal for Nicky Butt just two minutes into the match, also scoring a penalty, the final score ending in a 2-2 draw. Cantona was back, but the boo-boys would be there to try and provoke him again. Cantona played 38 matches that season, scoring 19 goals with United lifting the Premier League title for the third time, after missing out to Blackburn Rovers the previous season. Cantona helped beat Liverpool in the FA Cup final at Wembley also, scoring the only goal in the 1-0 victory. Collar up and digging deep for his team, doing the stuff on the pitch, not in the stands.

The 1996/97 season would be Cantona’s last at United and playing football as a whole. 50 appearances and 15 goals saw the Frenchman’s final tally being set at 185 appearances, 82 goals – which may not have been the best ratio, but for a player like Cantona to grace the stage at Old Trafford, which was much more special. Cantona was that special number seven the club needed post-Bryan Robson, leading to the free-kick specialist David Beckham, which in turn led to Cristiano Ronaldo, then the not so prolific Michael Owen, Antonio Valencia, who moved from the number 25 and back, before the number was handed to Angel Di Maria, who left after one season, then sat vacant before it was given to Memphis Depay and sitting vacant until January 2018 when Alexis Sanchez took the number, another relative failure in that shirt number. Only now has the number seven hoodoo been broken with Edinson Cavani bringing back the magic to that special shirt number.

The guy who wore the number seven throughout much of my childhood will be the best player to don that shirt, after Robson – in my lifetime at least, before it was handed to another idol of mine, David Beckham. Cantona, his ability, his ego, his swagger and everything else about him will remain an idol of mine for the rest of my life. Not that I want to be like him, or even be him – I won’t – but the guy deserves so much respect for what he did during his career, especially for Manchester United. Eric Cantona literally attempted to kick racism out of football. Whilst the Frenchman will be lauded for what he did, he did admit in 2011 that the Kung-Fu Kick on the Palace fan was “a great feeling”, also that he was happy for the fans to treasure it but “… it was a mistake.”

Written by John Walker

Where Are They Now? Federico Macheda started positively but it went downhill

Manchester United signed 16-year-old Federico Macheda back in 2007 with the club then being allowed to sign players of that age and his family relocated to the Manchester area. The player played for the U18s side at the time, making his first team debut during the 2008/09 season, scoring twice in five appearances. The player left United in the summer of 2014 for Cardiff City, then managed by current United manager, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. During his time at United, Macheda was loaned to Sampdoria, Queens Park Rangers, VfB Stuttgart, Doncaster Rovers and Birmingham City.

He played 36 times for United, scoring five goals and six assists, having a cult following. After leaving United, the player never quite made it in the game, seemingly struggling, despite an early start at the Old Trafford club, which had him quickly labelled as the next best thing. However, now playing for Greek side Panathinaikos, Macheda seems to heave rediscovered his form and it getting noticed once again.

Back in the 2008/09 season at United, Macheda came off the bench and scored a world against Aston Villa, a 3-2 scoreline with Cristiano Ronaldo scoring a brace, winning the game for his club. The against Sunderland, he came off the bench and found the back of the net again, all at the age of 17. It must have been great for him at the time, not so much now. It was suggested that the player had a glittering career ahead of him at United, however, that never really happened.

There was a weight of expectation at the club, especially after Ronaldo left the club in the summer of 2009 for Real Madrid, which seems to be a time where lots of things went wrong for the Old Trafford club. At Cardiff, where he played under Solskjaer for a period of time, Macheda played 33 times, scoring eight goals and one assist. However, it never really worked for him there either and he spent time on loan at Nottingham Forest, playing just three times. His contract at Cardiff was cancelled and he signed for Novara in Serie B, playing 50 times, scoring 11 goals and two assists.

His contract at Novara expired at the end of the 2017/18 season, and the player then moved to Greece, playing for Panathinaikos, where he is now, originally signing a three-year contract. Macheda has played a total of 91 times for the club, scoring 36 goals and nine assists, a turn up in form for the player. Last season, Macheda made a total of 37 appearances for his club, playing in the Greek Super League 1, the Kypello Elladas and the Super League play-off, scoring 15 goals and four assists, scoring ten goals and one assist in 26 appearances this season.

His scintillating form in the country has led to interest from other clubs, possible facilitating another move. After interest from Spanish clubs in the summer, Macheda signed a new contract which expires in the summer of 2023. I am happy that he seems to have, at last, found his feet in the game. Many will have had high hopes for him when he scored that goal against Aston Villa, but it just was not to be for him at United. I wish him all the best for his future career.

Written by John Walker

Idols: Wayne Rooney Captain, Leader, Legend

On the 31 August 2004, Manchester United signed 18-year-old Wayne Rooney from Everton in a deal worth £27 million. Throughout the month, Everton received an offer of £20 million from Newcastle United after Rooney rejected a new contract worth £50,000 per week. He also handed in a transfer request two leave Goodison Park. United had paid the highest transfer fee at the time for a player under the age of 20. United manager Sir Alex Ferguson knew the type of player Rooney could become after his exploits with Everton. Since emerging as a 16-year-old, scoring 17 goals in 77 appearances before leaving for United.

Rooney had become now of the most sought-after players in Europe following his two seasons at Everton. Also having a starring role for England at Euro 2004, in which he scored four goals, matching new United teammate Ruud van Nistelrooy’s efforts for the Netherlands. Perhaps Ferguson knew what Rooney could achieve at United? If he continued to work hard and develop. The legend would spend 13 seasons at United and win all the major honours at the club, helping United to reach the pinnacle of European football once again under the reign of Ferguson, who did so for the second time in his career.

Rooney made a total of 559 appearances for United, scoring 253 goals and 146 assists. This meant that he offered a goal every 2.21 matches and a goal contribution every 1.40 matches. Rooney had a hand in 399 goals for United, which is a great figure for a player that really played in quite a few roles at the club. He played the main striking position. Also as a second striker, attacking midfielder, a winger. He even played as a defensive midfield at the end of his career. Rooney offered everything he has for much of his United career, keeping United ticking and earning the plaudits. Rooney also played 12 matches for England, scoring 53 goals.

Coming to United as a player with lots of talent.

In his first season at United, Rooney showed what he could become. On his debut for the club, against Fenerbahce in the UEFA Champions League, Rooney scored his first hat-trick for the club as United beat the Turkish club 6-2, scoring 17 goals and six assists in 43 appearances. Rooney averaged 19.46 goals for the club each season and regularly hit around the 20 goal mark each season. During two seasons (2009/10 and 2011/12) he scored 34 goals for the club. In his final season at the club (2016/17) he scored just eight goals for the club. In total, he scored eight hat-tricks for United, scoring four goals in one match, which showed his ability.

His hat-trick against Fenerbahce will be special as it was his first at United, on his debut and playing in the Champions League. He also scored hat-tricks against Bolton Wanderers (twice), and Portsmouth in the Premier League. Two other special ones will be prevalent though; the one against West Ham United on the 2 April 2011 and the one against Arsenal on the 28 August 2011 as United beat the North London club 8-2. Rooney was known for driving the mentality of the club forward, always wanting to win and win trophies. In the summer of 2010, a certain transfer request from Rooney could have chanced everything.

Rooney was being linked to Real Madrid, Barcelona, Chelsea and Manchester City. He said it was never an option to sign for City and he would have chose Barcelona over Real Madrid. But the Madrid club were the likely destination. Of course, he never left United, signed a new number contract at the club and continued his career. As Sir Alex Ferguson retired at the end of the 2012/13 season, he confirmed that Rooney had handed in a transfer request once again. David Moyes, Rooney’s former manager at Everton would need to solve that problem. Rooney was sold to Everton in the summer of 2017 just after Jose Mourinho’s first season at the club.

Chasing the clubs goalscoring record and moving on.

At United, Rooney was chasing the goalscoring record set by the legendary Sir Bobby Charlton. He scored 249 goals for United in 758 appearances. Rooney broke that record by scoring his 250th goal in January 2017, scoring three more goals for the club before leaving United. Rooney also broke Charlton’s record for England too, having scored 49 goals in 106 appearances with Rooney scored 53 goals in 120 appearances. He broke the record in 2015. Rooney was a player that craved success and guided United to many trophies with his teammates. His goals were something that helped United massively along the way plus his desire to win.

Rooney won five Premier League titles at United. He also won one FA Cup, three League Cups, and four FA Community Shields. The UEFA Champions League (playing in three finals), one UEFA Europa League and one FIFA Club World Cup were the cream of the crop. Rooney captained United taking over from Nemanja Vidic in 2014, handing the captaincy over to Michael Carrick in 2017. Since his departure, Antonio Valencia and Ashley Young (who have both left) and Harry Maguire have captained the club. Rooney may be a distant memory for United now, a player that has played a part in the clubs history but he will always be remembered.

After United, Rooney went back to boyhood club Everton, staying at the club for one season before heading to the MLS in the United States of America. He played for DC United and scored 25 goals and 14 assists in 52 appearances. Rooney then returned to England signing for Championship club Derby County in 2019. He was eligible to play for the club from the 2019/20 season. He is currently the manager of the club. In the future the name Rooney might be heard against at United again as the club signed 11-year-old Kai Rooney last month, for the clubs academy. He will be sure to keep the family name alive at the club, providing he makes it there.

Written by John Walker

copyright: JW