Welcome to the first in a new series on TalkOfTheDevils.co.uk.
The summer is upon us and instead of concentrating solely on transfer rumours, we decided to use the time to run some special features on TalkOfTheDevils.
So we have rather foolishly decided to take on the task of compiling a “Hall of Fame” series, of players and games, so that the arguments and disagreements can pour in.
The Hall of Fame will take in the 20 best games and the 50 best players in the club’s history. Obviously the players category is completely objective. We have decided to try and rank using the following criteria; talent, achievement, service, contribution, and legacy.
There are some omissions. So, before we start, the following didn’t make the list : Dimitar Berbatov, Teddy Sheringham, David Pegg, Charlie Mitten, Joe Spence, Jack Silcock, Jack Rowley, Harry Gregg, the Greenhoff brothers, the Da Silva twins, Arthur Albiston. You will think of others. Players who narrowly miss the cut but only go to show how tough the competition is for the top 50.
50 Brian McClair
471 appearances, 127 goals 1987-1998
Honours – 4 League titles, 2 FA Cups, 1 League Cup, 1 Cup Winners’ Cup, 1 Super Cup, 5 Charity Shields
It says everything about how tough the competition is that McClair is number fifty on this list. Remember it’s all about opinion.
In his first season at Old Trafford, McClair scored 24 league goals, the first player since George Best in 1968 to score more than 20. As United began to win trophies under Sir Alex, McClair was the main goalscorer, netting 21 in 90/91 and 25 in 91/92.
When Eric Cantona signed in November 1992, McClair successfully adapted into a midfield role, with his experience and composure proving quietly important for the on-pitch development of the class of 92. Though he didn’t score in his last two years, the Scot did provide assists for two of the most memorable goals in the club’s history — David Beckham’s against Wimbledon, and Eric Cantona’s against Sunderland, both in the 96/97 season.
After retiring he returned to Old Trafford to coach the younger players, winning the 2003 FA Youth Cup before becoming reserve team manager and then director of the academy.
49 Ji-Sung Park
205 appearances, 27 goals, 2005-2012
Honours – 4 League titles, 3 League Cups, 1 Champions League, 1 Club World Cup, 4 Community Shields
“The midfielder must have been the first nuclear-powered South Korean in history, in the sense that he rushed about the pitch at the speed of an electron,” Andrea Pirlo wrote of Park in his 2013 autobiography, referring of course to the man-marking job the United midfielder did on the Italian when he was playing for AC Milan.
But the former PSV star was far from a ‘reducer’ and much more than the marketing gimmick his signing had originally been dismissed as. Park was one of those all-round players who are a constant menace for opponents, with an innate sense of timing which saw him score numerous important goals on big occasions.
48 Michael Carrick
464 appearances, 24 goals, 2006-2018
Honours – 5 League titles, 1 FA Cup, 2 League Cups, 1 Champions League, 1 Club World Cup, 6 Community Shields
Signed in the summer of 2006 and handed the number 16 shirt, Michael Carrick was given the unenviable tag of being a natural successor to Roy Keane. It took many a long time to get over that and in truth some never did. Carrick was a completely different player to Keane, but had an instant impact that could be compared with Keane’s in regards the transformative effect it had on the team’s midfield.
His impact was instant, as he settled alongside Paul Scholes to form the premier midfield partnership in the league, helping United win the league for three years on the bounce. The second of those years, of course, included the Champions League victory.
Carrick won five league titles in his United career and while it could be said that at times his contribution was viewed differently by some fans, he was certainly appreciated more as time went on. A fine passer of the ball, something obvious from his time at West Ham and Spurs, the first year of his time at Old Trafford suggested the club might have got a more proactive playmaker on their hands, especially when he scored two fantastic goals in a 7-1 win over Roma.
His style became understated as years went by, less pronounced, but no less important. That understated-ness led to a lack of England caps which, as in the case of Paul Scholes, was certainly the country’s loss.
Carrick remains under-appreciated, possibly due to the period in which he played and the strong personalities who played in midfield alongside him. He spent some of his career trying to make a name for himself as a different player to Keane and some more of it as an even more understated midfielder than Paul Scholes. Perhaps that’s why it still feels difficult to assess Carrick on his own merits, though his accomplishments certainly deserve it.
47 Gary Pallister
437 appearances, 15 goals, 1989-1998
Honours – 4 League titles, 3 FA Cups, 1 League Cup, 1 Cup Winners’ Cup, 1 Super Cup, 5 Charity Shields
Underrated by many, but not by former team-mate Clayton Blackmore, who credits Pallister’s arrival even higher than Eric Cantona’s in terms of transformative effects on those early Ferguson teams.
And he has a point. United’s improvement from 1989 was not merely coincidental and followed a similar trajectory to Pallister’s own. His partnership with Steve Bruce blossomed into one of the best in the country, even if the national team coaches never thought the same. It also helped United become the best team in the country, which they arguably were from the moment they defeated Barcelona in 1991, despite the League heartache which was to follow in 1992.
Pallister looked much slower than he was; always seeming to be running through treacle, and yet always able to catch up with genuinely rapid opponents. His height and frame were put to good use and he got a decent return of 12 goals in 312 league games. The most memorable of those was in the 1992/93 season, when he took a free-kick against Blackburn Rovers on the day United were given their first league trophy for 26 years.
Back injuries limited his time at the club and he missed out on a testimonial by one year, although he enjoyed a decent swan song at old club Middlesbrough to end his career. Rarely included as an individual when people name their best XI’s, you could be pretty sure that if Sir Alex Ferguson was told to pick a reliable centre-back pairing from his time as a manager, Pallister and Bruce would be it.
46 David Herd
265 appearances, 145 goals
Honours – 2 League titles, 1 FA Cup, 1 European Cup, 1 Charity Shield
Two goals in the 1963 FA Cup Final stand out as the most notable day of hot-shot Herd’s United career. The striker scored 17 in his first season but was getting better and better as each year passed, scoring 28 goals in 64/65 and 33 in 65/66 to underline his quality in a squad that included Law, Charlton, Best.
In March 1967 he suffered a broken leg which caused a significant setback in his career. He was never able to really reclaim his place in the squad and when Denis Law was ruled out of the European Cup final in 1968, young Brian Kidd was preferred to Herd. The former Arsenal striker left soon after but left with an average goal to game ratio of better than 1 in 2.
Herd sadly passed away in October 2016.
45 Johnny Carey
344 appearances, 17 goals (112 wartime appearances and 47 goals)
Honours – 1 League title, 1 FA Cup, 1 Charity Shield
The first great captain under Matt Busby, and the first Irish player to win a major trophy with Manchester United, Carey was an exceptional player in defence and midfield. There is admittedly the influence of lack of footage meaning Carey is as low on this list as he is, but as the player charged with leading Busby’s first great side, his importance can not be forgotten. Indeed, Busby himself, for a time, described Carey as the greatest he’d ever seen.
He was named FWA Player of the Year in 1949 and was named as one of the Football League 100 Legends list selected in 1998 (one of 14 United players to earn the honour).
44 Nemanja Vidic
300 appearances, 21 goals 2006-2013
Honours – 5 League titles, 3 League Cups, 1 Champions League, 1 Club World Cup, 5 Community Shields
A blood-and-thunder style defender, in equivalent terms, the £7m paid for Vidic in 2006 is up there with the greatest bargains of the Sir Alex Ferguson era.
The Serbian star was at the club during the period where it was at its greatest from a defensive perspective, breaking and creating records.
43 Billy Meredith
335 appearances, 36 goals 1906-1921
Honours – 2 league titles, 1 FA Cup, 2 Charity Shields
Widely regarded as the ‘first footballing superstar’, Billy Meredith was a trendsetter in soccer for all sorts of reasons.
Meredith signed for United in a storm of controversy. The then-Manchester City player had been accused of bribery and admitted that he had been ordered by City boss Tom Maley to attempt to bribe Aston Villa captain Alex Leake.
From The Tribune :
Accused of offering Aston Villa’s Alex Leake £10 to throw a First Division match pivotal to City’s title chances, Meredith was suspended by the Football Association for a year. When the club did not honour their promise to support him financially through his suspension, Meredith happily turned state’s evidence, revealing how City had circumvented the maximum wage on a regular basis.
The fallout saw City’s first great team dismantled and Meredith became one of four players to move across town to Manchester United. There, he met captain Charlie Roberts and goalkeeper Herbert Bloomfield — two new teammates who shared his grievances. Together, they turned to trade unionism.
On 2 December 1907, at Manchester’s Imperial Hotel, Meredith, Roberts, Bloomfield, and a group of their fellow disgruntled professionals from a dozen or so clubs formed the Players’ Union. Their demands included an end to maximum wage, freedom of contract, and a proportion of transfer fees, among others.
There was a degree of sympathy within the governing body, as Meredith’s biographer John Harding notes, but a consensus could not be reached on the key issue of liberalising the £4-a-week wage. Over the following 18 months, the union grew, as did fears among the authorities and the clubs of strike action.
In spring 1909, an increasingly-confident union attempted to affiliate with the General Federation of Trade Unions (GFTU) and pursue unpaid wages through the provisions of the Workmen’s Compensation Act 1906. This would be the last straw, provoking a response from the authorities that Eamon Dunphy, in his biography of Sir Matt Busby, would call ‘astonishingly and audaciously venal.’
A ‘loyalty clause’, disowning the union and pledging allegiance to the FA, would be inserted into every contract for the forthcoming season. Though pockets of resistance emerged at clubs across northern England, notably in the North East, only United’s players — enthused by Meredith — refused as a bloc. The FA Cup holders, league champions a year before, were duly suspended.
Despite uncertainty over whether they would start the new season, United spent their summer training in Manchester’s public parks. On one of the many occasions which saw the nascent football press gather to watch, Roberts scrawled a new moniker for the team on a piece of wood and sat with it for a team photograph. ‘The Outcasts F.C.’ was born.
Soon, however, came a cruel capitulation. A conference between players and authorities was called in Birmingham, but with union members not formally invited. The few that did attend undercut those who stayed away, agreeing to start the season on time and thereby surrendering the key bargaining chip.
The union floundered in further negotiations over the coming months while an emboldened FA insisted on renouncing affiliation with the GFTU. A ballot in November saw 470 members vote against affiliation, accepting symbolic recognition of the union but also a great curtailing of its potential. A mere 172 voted in favour.
Meredith, reduced to bankruptcy in the midst of the strike, was crestfallen. He would be the last of the Outcasts to resign for United. ‘I confess that the bulk of players have not shown much pluck in the matter,’ he later admitted, ‘but those who voted in favour of remaining within the GFTU have the satisfaction of knowing that they behaved like men.’
It would be another 52 years before English football finally abolished the maximum wage. In the years since, salaries have inflated, arguably to the point of excess. That, however, is not the fault of a group of working-class men who, as the finest practitioners of their sport, fought for the rights they deserved.
Despite his controversial past, Meredith was not connected to the 1915 betting scandal in a game between United and Liverpool, claiming he did not understand why his teammates did not pass to him during the game.
The winger was a pioneer for financial enterprises and the celebrity culture in football, opening a sports shop and later starring in a film.
His impact on the game was felt far beyond the field but it should not be forgotten that he was a fine winger, arguably the first great one in the club’s history, exciting fans with his dribbling style.
Recommended reading : Football Wizard, the Billy Meredith Story (John Harding)
42 Patrice Evra
379 appearances, 10 goals, 2006-2014
5 League titles, 3 League Cups, 1 Champions League, 1 Club World Cup, 5 Community Shields
After arriving at Manchester United, Evra went to the Megastore and bought a bunch of DVDs about the club’s history. He had prepared himself for the move watching videos of Eric Cantona.
During one of the most glittering periods of the club’s history, Evra was a constant, both in terms of reliability and the fact that he seemed a universally-loved member of the squad. For some years he was untouchable in his position and, like Vidic, who came at the same time, turned out to be remarkably good value for money. Tenacious, rapid and an excellent footballer, Evra became a solid attacking outlet as much as he was a defensive cornerstone.
His bond with United fans was strengthened as he became the victim of racial abuse from Liverpool striker Luis Suarez; as the Anfield club unwisely chose to defend the Uruguayan, United supporters stood in the corner of their own player. (Needless to say, Evra had the last laugh.)
In the 2012/13 season Evra became an unlikely threat at corners, scoring four headers from such situations despite only being 5ft 9in. Evra played at least 33 league games in each of his last five seasons for the club, underlining that reliability.
In 2014 he left to join Juventus where he went on to enjoy further success.
41 Edwin van der Sar
266 appearances, 2005-2011
4 league titles, 1 league cup, 1 Champions League, 1 Club World Cup, 3 Community Shields
There are plenty of United supporters who would have a reasonable argument to say Van Der Sar is the best goalkeeper the club have had in their eyes. Had he signed for the club in 1999 instead of 2005, we may well be having that discussion. For this writer it is difficult placing legendary figures this high up the list but that is a reference of how spoilt for choice we are and that is most certainly the case in the goalkeeping department.
A £2m signing from Fulham, the Dutch stopper immediately instilled a sense of calm into a backline that desperately needed some composure. Standing at almost 6ft 6in, Edwin made the difficult seem ordinary; he was named in the PFA team of the year 3 times whilst at Old Trafford, including his final season.