Manchester United have been the dominant club of the Premier League era (1992-93 onwards), winning 13 of the 27 completed seasons. We pick their ultimate 20-man squad spanning the time period.
One of the greatest goalkeepers of all time, Peter Schmeichel was an imposing force in the penalty area and a brilliant one-on-one shot stopper. As United became a more attacking team through the 1990s, the Dane was called upon to be a last line of defence who often bailed out his defenders – and then characteristically roared at them!
David de Gea
In the post-Ferguson era, goalkeeper David de Gea has been far and away Manchester United’s best player. The limber shot-stopper had a tough time at the start of his Red Devils career when he was signed from Atletico Madrid in 2011, but he has since become one of the best ‘keepers in the world – renowned for his agile and acrobatic saves.
The Dutchman helped United win an unprecedented ‘treble’ in his first season at the club, despite having some initial difficult adapting to the pace of the Premier League. Stam was a brilliant all-round defender: strong in the air, quick over the ground, great timing in his tackling and even able to bring the ball out from the back.
Now Newcastle United manager, Steve Bruce was a key figure in Manchester United’s first Premier League title in 1992-93, scoring two goals in the decisive win over Sheffield Wednesday which ended a 26-year wait for a championship. The lanky defender was powerful in the air and had a fine ability to read the play as a centre-back.
Alongside Nemanja Vidic, Rio Ferdinand helped form one of the greatest centre-back partnerships in the Premier League era. Ferdinand was a ball-playing defender who relied on his reading of the play and impeccable timing, rather than brute physicality. His consistency and reliability were vital to Manchester United’s success, especially in the late to mid 2000s.
While Ferdinand was the ‘technical’ defender, Nemanja Vidic was the centre-back who never shied away from physical battles and was always wiling to put his body on the line. The Serbian’s strength, aerial power at both ends of the field, and crunching tackling made him a fan favourite with the Red Devils.
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By his own admission, Gary Neville was not a particularly gifted player, but his hard work and determination brought him a United career spanning 18 years and over 600 appearances. “Gary was the best English right-back of his generation. He is an example to any young professional; hard-working, loyal and intelligent. As a United fan born and bred, his fantastic career at Old Trafford has cemented his place in the affection of the club’s supporters everywhere,” said Sir Alex Ferguson.
One of the most understated but incredibly reliable players in Manchester United’s history was Irishman Dennis Irwin. The Cork-born defender could play as a right-back or left-back, rarely made mistakes, was a fine striker of a dead ball and was even a great penalty taker.
Patrice Evra endured a nightmare start to his United career – being substituted at half-time during a 3-1 humiliation away at Manchester City – but ultimately his remarkable athleticism, tireless energy and quirky personality shone through, as he established himself as one of the Red Devils’ greatest ever left-backs.
Renowned for his long-range screamers, Paul Scholes emerged as an attacking midfielder who gradually moved deeper and deeper in his positioning, but continued to impress throughout a Red Devils career which spanned 20 years, 718 appearances and 155 goals.
No player better encapsulated Manchester United’s determination and resilience through the Premier League era than Irish midfielder Roy Keane. Renowned for his crunching tackling and vocal leadership, it is often forgotten that Keane was a technically-gifted player who had a superb passing range and the knack of scoring goals at vital times.
Perhaps one of Manchester United’s most underrated players of the Premier League era, midfielder Michael Carrick was an elegant, deep-lying playmaker who set the team’s tempo through most of the late 2000s and 2010s. The 38-year-old now serves as the Red Devils’ first-team coach under manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
One of the greatest players of all time, Cristiano Ronaldo is listed under the wide midfielder/winger category for this squad because that is where he played for the majority of his United career. Blessed with pace, strength, skill and incredible scoring ability off either foot, the Portuguese arrived at Old Trafford in 2003 as a skinny unknown and left it in 2009 as a muscle-bound football god who had netted 118 goals for the Red Devils.
No ultimate squad for Man United would be complete without the presence of Ryan Giggs, who made a club-record 963 competitive appearances. The Welshman started out as a classic left-winger, with incredible pace and dribbling ability, but his game evolved through his career and he ended it as a visionary central midfielder who could control the tempo of the game with a fine range of passing.
One of the greatest crossers and dead-ball specialists in football history, David Beckham came through the ranks at Manchester United and established himself as a global superstar. Yet he never allowed his celebrity to distract from his game, and his ball-striking excellence was based on relentless practice and hard work.
Though much of Antonio Valencia’s Manchester United career was in the less successful post-Ferguson era, the Ecuadorian winger was an outstanding servant for the club, combining industry, physicality and pace down the right flank. In fact, he even ended up playing as right-back in his later years and would serve as a possible back-up to Gary Neville in this squad.
As United’s all-time top scorer with 253 goals, Wayne Rooney is an obvious pick for this ultimate squad. Bought from Everton for what now seems an absolute bargain fee of £25.6million, Rooney hit a hat-trick on debut against Feberbahce in September 2004 and never looked back. We list him as a forward for this squad, but part of Rooney’s brilliance was his versatility (he also played as a number 10, on either flank and in a deeper midfield role), incredible work rate and ability to score goals of all kinds, from all angles and at almost any range.
It can be argued that Eric Cantona’s signing from Leeds United in November 1992 was the most important in the history of Manchester United. The French striker inspired his teammates to lift their game and led them to the inaugural Premier League title – setting the Red Devils up for sustained success. In addition, Cantona was the epitome of football style, merging superb technique with breathtaking vision and powerful physicality. "He just had that aura and presence. He took responsibility away from us. It was like he said: 'I'm Eric, and I'm here to win the title for you',” said then-teammate Paul Ince.
Ruud van Nistelrooy
One of the most ruthlessly efficient and well-rounded strikers to ever grace the Premier League, Dutchman Ruud van Nistelrooy scored 150 goals for United in just 219 appearances. Bought from PSV Eindhoven in 2001, van Nistelrooy was the ultimate penalty-box predator and a brilliant finisher off either foot and his head.
We pick Marcus Rashford more for his potential to become a United great, though he has already racked up over 200 appearances and 64 goals at just 22 years of age. Lithe, quick and with a powerful shot off either foot, we are confident that in years to come, Rashford will eclipse the other contenders for this berth in the ultimate squad such as Robin van Persie, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, Dwight Yorke and Andy Cole.
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