Sir Alex Ferguson is hailed as the greatest manager of all time. His tactics, his mentality, and his team selection. All 3 made him one of the most successful managers in history. In an incredibly long tenure of 27 years, Ferguson won 38 titles for United including 13 Premier Leagues and 2 UEFA Champions Leagues. Like all successful managers, Ferguson was spot on with his tactics, instinctive with his substitutions and judicious with his signings. There were players like Ryan Giggs, David Beckham, Paul Scholes and Gary Neville who graduated from the Youth Academy and went on to become great United legends.
However, apart from them, Ferguson spotted talented young players signed them and made them stars in the eyes of the world.
1. Peter Schmeichel
Dubbed as “The Great Dane”, Schmeichel was a largely framed goalkeeper and he was a pivotal figure in United’s success throughout the 1990s. The Danish goalkeeper was 6 ft’4, weighed 100 kgs and had a commanding presence inside the penalty box. He was the impenetrable wall that United’s opposition found very difficult to breach.
Schmeichel was signed from Brondby FC in 1991, and before leaving United in 1999, he had won 5 Premier Leauge titles, 3 FA cups and 1 Champions League trophy. United could not have won the Champions League final against Bayern Munich if not for Schmeichel, who had guarded his goal with his utmost best.
His brilliant save against Newcastle United was named as the “save of the century.” He is one of the greatest goalkeepers the game has ever seen, without any doubt.
2. Dennis Irwin
He was one of the earliest signings made by Sir Alex Ferguson and definitely one of the best. This left-back was the reason United became one of the leading football team in the world.
He spent 12 yrs at United amassed various trophies which include 7 Premier League Titles and a Champions League trophy. Ferguson signed him from Oldham Athletic in 1990 and throughout the 90s, Irwin contributed immensely toward United’s rise.
Irwin made very few mistakes defensively, made overlapping runs quite often and performed well in big matches. All those qualities made him an indispensable member of the side and nobody has been able to properly replace him at United since he left in 2002, though Patrice Evra, another great player recruited by Sir Alex, came close.
3. Eric Cantona
“King Eric”, as he was fondly called by the United fans, was the primary reason behind United’s rise in the 1990s. It was not a mere coincidence that he won the Premier League in his first season with United. The Frenchman was always involved in controversies but was an absolute champion.
Cantona played 185 matches for United, scored 82 goals and won 4 Premier Leagues in his 5 seasons at Old Trafford. He provided a lot of assists to Dwight Yorke and Andy Cole as well. He had the highest number of assists in the Premier League in 1992-93 season.
His performances against Wimbledon in 1996 or Aston Villa in 1993 would always be etched in the memories of United supporters. His swagger and personality also added to the charm. Quite understandably, he was named in the English League’s Team of the Century.
4. Wayne Rooney
The greatest British striker of all time, Wayne Rooney was signed by Ferguson as a 19-year-old in 2004. He had already proven himself at Everton by that time, however, in United, he developed into a brilliant all-round player.
He scored 253 goals for United in 13 years and became the club’s highest goal scorer of all time.
Rooney’s goal tally for United would have increased if he had not sacrificed his original playing position to play in the midfield quite often. He performed very well in the midfield too, contributing consistently to the defense and playmaking.
Rooney won the PFA player of the year once, apart from winning five Premier League titles and a UEFA Champions League title for United.
5. Cristiano Ronaldo
Cristiano Ronaldo was discovered by Sir Alex in a pre-season friendly against Sporting Lisbon. Ronaldo performed brilliantly for Sporting in that match and Ferguson took notice quickly and signed him as a 19 yr old.
Ronaldo spent 6 seasons at United from 2003 to 2009 and scored 118 goals in 292 matches. In the 2007-08 season, he notched up 42 goals in a single season. United won the Champions League in 2008 and Ronaldo was the lone goal scorer for them in the final against Chelsea.
He won 3 Premier League titles for United and was the recipient of the coveted Ballon d'Or in 2008.
Before he left United for Real Madrid in 2009 and went on to achieve even greater heights for the Spanish club, Ronaldo had cemented his place in English club football’s Hall of Fame.