Over the years, Manchester United has had some of the best players in the history of world football in their ranks and they certainly aren't few. These players have greatly contributed in shaping the club's history by turning United into one of the most successful clubs in the world. It thus isn't easy to make a list of the best players because there's a large number of candidates to choose from. However, there are some special players who brought a little extra magic to Old Trafford and left a deeper mark than others. These players were one of a kind and they made their presence felt during their time with United, making them almost impossible to replace.
As we all know, the good comes hand in hand with the bad, and United has had its share of dreadful signings. Some of these players had a lot of potential but didn't live up to their hype while others were doomed from the start. Therefore, we will be taking a look at the players who did the famous red shirt proud, and those whom United fans would much rather forget. Here are the top 10 best and top 10 worst Manchester United players of all time.
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20 Best: Bryan Robson
The 10th spot on the 'best' side goes to Bryan Robson, also known as "Captain Marvel". Having joined Manchester United in 1981, he was made captain the following year and remained so until his departure in 1994, making him the longest serving captain in the club's history. Lauded for his terrific anticipation and timing on and off the ball, Robson led United to three FA Cup victories. He got his first league title when United emerged victorious in the inaugural season of the Premier League. The following season, Robson won his second Premier League Title before departing for Middlesbrough. A proven leader, he also captained England 65 times. Only two other players have done so on more occasions. He remains one of the few fond memories United fans have of the 80s, a decade in which the league title eluded them.
19 Worst: Gabriel Obertan
In 2009, Gabriel Obertan joined Manchester United from Bordeaux on a four-year deal. He however, got injured at the start of the season and was sidelined for a month. After a stint with the reserve team, he finally made his senior debut. His appearances for United were few and occasional injuries certainly didn't help. Due to his lack of playing time, he missed out on a medal when United won the league in 2010-11.
After two seasons with United and no hope of securing a first team place, he joined Newcastle who for some reason decided to give him a five-year deal. Needless to say, those five years weren't fruitful and he was released in 2016, joining Russian side Anzhi Makhachkala. For someone who plays primarily as a winger, Obertan's tally of four goals in his seven years with both Manchester United and Newcastle is quite farcical to say the least.
18 Best: Cristiano Ronaldo
Having arrived at Manchester United as the most expensive teenager, critics were quick to dismiss him due to his showboating style of play. He eventually improved and as his goal tally increased, so did United's medal haul. He won nine trophies during his time with United, including three Premier League and one Champions League Titles. He scored 42 goals in all competitions in his penultimate season with United, a factor which contributed to him winning the 2008 Ballon d'Or.
By the time he left for Real Madrid, Ronaldo had become one of the most complete forwards in football history. Despite the fact that his best performances have come at Madrid, he still made a great impact in his six seasons with Manchester United, the club which laid the foundation for one of the greatest players to ever grace a football pitch.
17 Worst: Liam Miller
Following an impressive display in his final season at Celtic, Miller chose not to renew his contract, a move that reportedly angered the club's supporters. He instead joined Manchester United on a free transfer in 2004. At United, his first team opportunities were rare and he mostly found himself playing in cup competitions. In his 22 appearances for United, he only played nine league games. He was loaned off to Leeds in his second season, then left for Sunderland in 2006 after two years with United. He eventually got transfer listed by former teammate Roy Keane, who was Sunderland manager at the time due to poor timekeeping, for he frequently arrived late to training sessions. He had a short stint in QPR then went on to play in Scotland, Australia and Ireland. He currently plays for Wilming Hammerheads in the United Soccer League.
16 Best: Roy Keane
Another legendary captain, Keane was uncompromising and always demanded the best out of his teammates. Blunt in nature, he wasn't afraid to criticize those he felt weren't doing their part, be it his underperforming teammates or fans who weren't cheering loud enough. An aggressive and highly competitive midfielder, his presence was always felt on the pitch. Keane possessed an unmatched fighting spirit which saw him work tirelessly to ensure he wasn't on the losing side when a match ended. He got the desired results more often than not, evidenced by the 17 trophies he won during his 12 seasons at Old Trafford. These consisted of seven Premier League, four FA Cup and one Champions League Titles. He left United in 2005, having set an example for his successors.
15 Worst: Kleberson
Having helped Atletico Paranaense win the Brazilian Serie A Title, Kleberson was called up to the national team and was subsequently selected for Brazil's squad for the 2002 FIFA World Cup. He performed well at the World Cup, even setting up one of the two Brazilian goals in the final as Brazil went on to win the tournament. Kleberson's display earned him a lot of praise from Luiz Felipe Scolari, Brazil's coach and he drew interest from several European teams. His destination was Manchester United, which he joined in 2003. He got injured in his second appearance and didn't make much of an impact after he recovered. He left for Besiktas two seasons later, having made only 20 appearances for United. He returned to his homeland where he played for some years, then had a stint in the MLS with Philadelphia Union. He currently plays for the Fort Lauderdale Strikers in the NASL.
14 Best: Duncan Edwards
Duncan Edwards joined United as a precocious teenager whose level of authority on the pitch belied his age. Having started his career in the youth team, he was part of the team that won the first ever FA Youth Cup, having also made his debut for the first team at the age of 16. He later had success with the first team, winning two consecutive First Division Titles. With a bright future ahead of him, tragedy struck in 1958 when at the age of 21, he became a casualty of the Munich air disaster. By then, he had already made 177 appearances for United and 18 for England. His death was grieved by both club and country, having been expected to represent the latter in the World Cup Finals later that year.
With an ability to play in any outfield position, Duncan is still regarded as one of the most complete players to ever play for both United and England. He might not have fulfilled his potential for United but he still did enough to be remembered long after he was gone.
13 Worst: William Prunier
Prunier's appearance on this list is quite unfortunate as it is due to his ill-timed arrival at Old Trafford. The defender joined United from Bordeaux on a trial basis and was originally intended to play for the reserve team. However, due to an injury crisis, United's three first-choice center backs were all unavailable. Prunier was thus brought into the first team to help out with the defense. His debut came in a match against QPR where he provided an assist and even hit the bar. While his first game was generally impressive, his second one was anything but. He was part of a makeshift defense that conceded four goals in a 4-1 defeat to Tottenham Hotspur. Prunier became somewhat of a scapegoat in the aftermath of that loss and United weren't prepared to offer him a permanent deal. They did, however offer him a trial extension which he declined. He left having played only two games for United.
12 Best: Ryan Giggs
Having played his entire professional career at Manchester United, Giggs made 963 appearances for the club, a record that won't easily be broken. The key to his longevity in the team was consistency and adaptability. Having started as a quick left winger, he switched to central midfield during the latter stages of his career. During his time at United, he won 13 Premier League and two Champions League Titles among others. With over 30 trophies to his name, Giggs is the most decorated player in club football history. Having joined the first team two seasons before the inception of the Premier League, Giggs will be remembered for having played a role in the re-emergence of United as a football powerhouse.
11 Worst: David Bellion
The French striker's move to Old Trafford from Sunderland wasn't a smooth one. In an out-of-court agreement, Sunderland received a compensation payment of £2 million from United, who were accused of "tapping up" the player while he was still in Sunderland. His performances were nothing to write home about and as it had been in Sunderland where he had only scored once, the goals didn't come at United either. He made 24 league appearances for United and was sent out on loan to West Ham, then Nice, who eventually signed him on a permanent deal. He currently plays for French third-tier side Red Star F.C. Considering all the trouble United had to go through to sign him from Sunderland, he certainly wasn't worth the hassle.
10 Best: Eric Cantona
Cantona's arrival from Leeds in 1992 proved to be the turning point in United's quest for a League Title. United had been struggling prior to his arrival but Cantona quickly settled into the team and by the end of the season, United were champions for the first time in 26 years. Cantona always seemed to score goals when United needed them most and on more than one occasion, rescued the team after a poor start to the season. He won nine trophies in less than five years at United, including four Premier League Titles. To further highlight his importance, when he got suspended for kicking a Palace fan, United lost the Premier League Title. That was the only time United failed to win the league after Cantona's arrival. Having paved the way for United's future dominance in the league, Cantona is still a fan favorite to this day.
9 Worst: Eric Djemba-Djemba
The Cameroonian midfielder was well known in France due to his impressive performances while playing for Nantes. This is what led to him being noticed by United, who signed him in 2003. Ferguson had been looking for a replacement for Roy Keane, who was 31 at the time and had identified Djemba-Djemba as a possible successor. Unfortunately, Djemba-Djemba was simply not up to the job as evidenced by his lackluster performances. 18 months and 20 league appearances later, he was sold to Aston Villa, who eventually loaned him to Burnley before finally terminating his contract. Djemba-Djemba then went on to play in Qatar, Denmark, Israel, Scotland, India, Indonesia and Serbia. He currently plays for Swiss fifth division club FC Vallorbe-Ballaigues.
8 Best: Denis Law
Widely regarded as the greatest Scottish footballer ever, Dennis Law had a passing range akin to that of a top midfielder. His finishing was even better, evidenced by the fact that his 237 goals for United make him the third highest goal scorer in the club's history, behind Sir Bobby Charlton and Wayne Rooney. He formed one-third of United's "Holy Trinity, alongside Charlton and George Best. The trio's formidable partnership led to United winning their first League Title since the Munich air disaster, with Law having been the top scorer in the First Division that season. In 1964, Law became the first of the trio to win the Ballon d'Or award. With United, Law won an FA Cup, two first division titles and the European Cup, the latter of which was the first to be won by Manchester United. Law still holds the United record for most competitive goals in a single season, Having netted in 46 in the 1963-64 season.
7 Worst: Massimo Taibi
When Peter Schmeichel left, United was left with a mammoth task trying to replace him and many of those who tried failed. Massimo Taibi is one of them. The Italian joined United from Venezia at a time when the club had both their first and second choice goalkeepers injured. He made his debut in a match against Liverpool and proceeded to make an error that led to a Liverpool goal. He later redeemed himself by making a number of saves which got him the Man of the Match Award as United went on to win 3-2. Unfortunately, it was all downhill from then after he conceded a comical goal against Southampton that earned him the nickname 'The Blind Venetian'.
He ended up returning to Italy after playing only four matches at United, including a 5-0 defeat to Chelsea. However, according to Taibi, the reason he left United was because of an error in his contract which prevented him from playing in the Champions League as he was signed after the deadline to be registered for the competition. You can't help but wonder how he'd have fared on in that competition.
6 Best: Paul Scholes
One of the most highly regarded midfielders in football history, Scholes preferred to do his talking on the pitch rather than off it. Capable of playing in any midfield position, Scholes was known for his dogged determination and ability to create offensive plays due to his accurate passing. He was also brilliant in the final third and managed to score in 19 consecutive Premier League seasons. Such was his value that he was coaxed out of retirement when United had an injury crisis. By the time he made his final retirement from football, he was the most decorated English footballer of all time having won 25 trophies with United. Among these were 11 Premier League, three FA Cups and two Champions League Titles.
5 Worst: Ralph Milne
Milne started his career with Dundee United, helping them win the Scottish league. He achieved legendary status at Dundee quite early in his career but eventually began to have disciplinary problems. This was mainly due to his heavy drinking which eventually got him dropped from the first team and sold to Charlton Athletic. He later joined Bristol City where his form improved, earning him a contract with United. His signing for United was seen as an opportunity for him to start anew but he eventually lost his first team place and was back to his drinking ways. He ended up being released after a disappointing run at Old Trafford. Considered one of the best Scottish footballers not to win a cap, Milne had all the right skills to forge himself an extremely successful career and his is a case of what could have been.
4 Best: George Best
Arguably the most talented member of the "Holy Trinity", Best was a superstar on and off the pitch. Considered one of the greatest dribblers of all time, he was admired for his feints and balance, which enabled him to beat opponents who often tried to foil his exploits with some rough play. He scored 179 goals in his 11 years at United and was the club's top goalscorer for multiple seasons in a row. Best won two First Division Titles with United and also helped them seal their first ever European Cup win in 1968, the same year he won the Ballon d'Or award. When he was in top form, his performance was electrifying and fans would fill up the stadium just to watch him play. Best was a truly remarkable player who was able to put a smile on the faces of United fans following one of the most tragic periods in the club's history.
3 Worst: Dong Fangzhuo
Dong Fangzhuo joined United in 2004, becoming their first ever Chinese signing. He however, wasn't able to obtain a work permit and was loaned out to Belgian side Royal Antwerp. He had a decent run with Royal Antwerp, finishing one season as the top goalscorer for both his team and the Belgian Second Division. He was finally given a work permit and returned to Old Trafford.
Unfortunately for him, the Premier League clearly wasn't his level and with less than five league appearances to his name, he left United in search of first team football elsewhere. He went back to China and later had stints in Poland, Portugal and Armenia before retiring early this year at the age of 31.
2 Best: Sir Bobby Charlton
Wrapping up the countdown for the best players is the final member of the "Holy Trinity". In his second season in the United first team, Charlton lost eight of his teammates in Munich. He was only 20 years old and was now tasked with helping United get back on their feet. He set about his mission and was eventually rewarded with an FA Cup medal, followed by a First Division Title two years later. In 1966, he won both the Ballon d'Or award and the FIFA World Cup with England. In 1968, he captained United as they won their first European Cup. He won a total of nine trophies with United. Famed for his impressive long-range shooting, Charlton was a prolific goalscorer. He still remains United's top goalscorer with 249 goals though Wayne Rooney is closing in on his record. Charlton is a true icon who helped United emerge victorious after a very trying period.
1 Worst: Bebe
Manchester United signed Bebe just five weeks after he had joined Vitoria de Guimaraes. His signing was quite astonishing due to the fact that Ferguson only met him the day before his transfer and didn't know much about him as Bebe had been recommended to him by his former assistant. It proved to be a wrong move and he ended up being loaned out to various clubs before signing for Benfica, having played only seven games for United.
After being loaned out to Spanish sides Cordoba and Rayo Vallecano, he signed for Eibar, his current club. Bebe admitted that when he first found out that United was interested in him, he thought it was a joke. I believe it was. Nevertheless, no one can take away the fact that he once wore the iconic red kit.
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