26 May 1999: The Manchester United team before the Champions League Final against Bayern Munich.
It's safe to say that the years following Sir Alex Ferguson's retirement have not been plain sailing for the Red Devils. Numerous managerial appointments haven't quite galvanized the Manchester giants back to their imperious form of old, and a number of marquee signings have come and gone without leaving much of a mark. But with current Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho now having presided over a full season at the club, adding a few pieces of silverware to the trophy cabinet despite a somewhat up and down league campaign, many United fans are optimistic that the tide is about to turn for one of England's most celebrated footballing sides.
Bolstering an already expensive squad with a few key aquisitions in the form of Nemanja Matic and Romelu Lukaku, Mourinho has a powerful and experienced team to call upon as United go chasing yet more glory in the league and in Europe. But whether the current set-up can rival some of the club's greatest achivements from its past is yet to be seen. Looking back over some of the great players to have donned the bright red shirt, there's an embarrasment of riches to call upon in footballing talent. So, as a potentially decisive season in the club's fortunes gets under way, we've compiled our list of Manchester United's greatest ever starting XI.
6 Dec 1997: Manchester United goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel throws the ball out during an FA Carling Premiership match against Liverpool
When looking for a definitive man between the sticks in a Manchester United shirt, two choices immediately spring to mind. Both Edwin Van Der Sar and Schmeichel were gloriously decorated in their time as United's No.1 - with both men in possession of Champions League winner's medals, and both widely considered to be among the greatest keepers to have ever played the game. If Schmeichel has the edge over Van Der Sar it is only down to the pivotal role he played during Manchester United's treble winning season of 1998-99.
David Gill and manager Sir Alex Ferguson present Gary Neville with a plate during the Gary Neville Testimonial Match
Deciding on United's greatest ever right-back is perhaps the easiest choice in an all-time XI. A one-club man and hero of Old Trafford, Neville presided over the accumulation of twenty trophies during his nineteen years as a senior Manchester United squad member. With eight Premier League titles to his name and two Champions League winners medals, it would be hard to find a more committed and accomplished defender in the club's history.
October 1961: Manchester United Football Club's centre half Bill Foulkes.
One of the stand-out Busby Babes who could easily have slotted into the United team during the glory days of the Ferguson era, Bill Foulkes has to be credited, not just with his status as one of Manchester United's most valuable centre-halves, but also as a supreme example of a mentally resilient professional. Having survived the Munich air disaster in 1958, Foulkes took over captaincy duties at the bleakest moment of the club's history. It took both him and his team many years to recover from the psychological scars of the incident, but when they did, they did it in the fashion of true champions - winning two league titles in the mid 60s, as well as the European Cup - cementing Foulkes' standing as a true United hero.
Rio Ferdinand of Manchester United controls the ball during a match against the A-League All-Stars
One of United's greatest defenders in the Premier League era, there was a time when Rio Ferdinand would have been the envy of any top European side. He enjoyed a lengthy career at Manchester United, spending twelve years at the club in which time they picked up six league titles and fourteen trophies - including the Premiership and Champions League double of 2007-08. Known for his excellent defensive understanding of the game, as well as being confident on the ball going forwards, Ferdinand may be United's most well-rounded centre-half.
16 Oct 1999: Denis Irwin celebrates a goal from the Penalty spot against Watford at Old Trafford
Another one of Old Trafford's defensive stalwarts, Irwin might not have shone quite as brightly as another great United left-back - Patrice Evra - but he deserves a place in this line-up for sheer consistency alone. He was rarely out of the team during the major trophy haul of the 90s and, unlike Evra, was first-choice left-back well into his thirties. A great servant to the club, able to play on either flank, Irwin has to go down as a Manchester United legend.
27th March 1964: Keetch of Fulham slides to block a shot by George Best of Manchester United.
No history of Manchester United would be complete without a mention of the Belfast Boy. In United's rich record of electrifying number sevens, the 1968 Balon D'Or winner George Best may come top of the pile. The first celebrity footballer, renowned across the world for his antics on and off the pitch, his contribution to United's resurgence in the 1960s cannot be underestimated. Scoring a decisive goal in the European Cup final against Benfica was just one highlight of a career that saw him climb to the very top of club football at the mere age of 22.
Bobby Charlton playing for Manchester United against Tottenhum Hotspur.
Alongside George Best, in the centre of midfield/attack, naturally, is Sir Bobby Charlton. Often looked upon as one of the greatest midfielder/forwards of all time, Sir Bobby's stamina, passing ability and attacking ferocity are the stuff of legend. The fact of his 1966 World Cup winner's medal and Balon d'Or mean that, alongside the European Cup, FA Cup and league titles, his career saw him win just about all there is to claim in the world of professional football.
25 Jan 1997: Paul Scholes of Manchester United celebrates his goal during the FA cup fourth round.
At the heart of the team, lining up in midfield alongside Sir Bobby Charlton, is Paul Scholes. Possibly the most complete midfielder to have ever played for Manchester United, capable of taking up any position between attack and defence, it's no wonder that Scholes holds the current record as the most decorated English footballer of all time. Winning eleven league titles and two Champions League finals during his time at the club, Scholes' commitment and professionalism was peerless.
Gabriel Heinze (L), Cristiano Ronaldo and John O'Shea of Manchester United celebrate winning the Premiership title
Playing on the opposite wing to George Best, with equal panache and irrepressible talent, is Cristiano Ronaldo. Although he only spent six seasons at Old Trafford, which looks a little light compared with Ryan Giggs's twenty-four, it cannot be argued that Ronaldo is one of the most luxuriantly talented players to have ever graced The Theatre of Dreams. The only player to have scored over 30 league goals in a single season for Manchester United in the Premier League era, Ronaldo will be remembered not just as one of United's greatest, but one of football's greatest.
Denis Law of Manchester United in action during the League Division One match against Fulham at Craven Cottage.
The final member of the United Trinity, whose club record of scoring 46 goals in all competitions in a single season remains unbeaten today, space has to be made up top for Denis Law. His prolific goalscoring in the 1964-65 season helped to ensure Manchester United won their first league title since Munich, and led to him becoming the first Red Devil to win the Balon D'Or. Had his career not been hampered by a bad knee injury which he sustained in 1965, there's no telling how many goals he might have scored, but his record of 171 league goals in 309 appearances will still take some beating.
Wayne Rooney of Manchester United battles with John Terry of Chelsea during the FA Cup Final.
Wayne Rooney's reputation may have taken a knock in recent years, but there's still no denying the impact and importance of Manchester United's all-time top goalscorer. The promise he showed as a tenacious, instinctive young player with a fierce winner's mindset was borne out across the thirteen years he spent at the club. Having won just about everything there is to win at club level, Rooney has laid down a marker in terms of his contribution to the club's fortunes that will stand for a long time to come.
Ryan Giggs of Manchester United stands next to the ball during the Barclays Premiership match between Fulham and Manchester United.
There's certainly no shortage of talent to choose from in deciding Manchester United's All-Time Greatest XI. It's up to you to decide who you'd bring off the bench if you had to make a change. The seven players to choose from are:
1. Edwin Van Der Sar
2. Roy Keane
3. Ryan Giggs
4. Patrice Evra
5. Eric Cantona
6. Nemanja Vidic
7. Ruud Van Nistelrooy
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