Nov 09

All-Time Best XI Series: Left Wing / Midfield

Tag: All Time Best XI Series @ 6:47 pm

When we are faced with writing a “best of” list, we always tend to mention things that are fresher in our memory, which is why having to write about United’s best 10 left midfielders ever has proved a lot trickier than I had initially thought. This is largely due to the fact that, in 24 years, I’ve only seen one (arguably two) player dominating that area of the pitch. United are a club built on attacking flair and wonderful wingers have put opponents to the sword over the years but the number 7 shirt has always had a different aura compared to number 11. Or so, I thought…

 

1. George Wall (1906-1915) (319 Appearances, 100 goals). A century before Ryan Giggs made the left wing his own, that was Wall’s territory. Geordie-born Wall was an outstanding outside left, as left wingers were known then, that combined pace and tricks with an ability to deliver sumptuous crosses. Signed from Barnsley in 1906, he helped United gain top flight status in his first season at the club, finishing club’s top scorer with 11 goals and, most notably, without missing a single game. The following season saw Wall netting 19 times as he helped United to lift the First Division title for the first time. He went on to win the FA Cup in 1909, as United beat Bristol City in the final, and the league in 1911, before his career at United was cut short by the First World War.

 

2. Charlie Mitten (1946-1950) (162 Appearances, 61 goals). Despite the controversy surrounding his departure, it’s impossible to forget how important Mitten was for Sir Matt Busby’s side just after the war. Blessed with pace and great ball control, “Cheeky Charlie”, as he was know to the Old Trafford faithful, loved nothing more than running at defenders. A winger with an eye for the goal, he helped the club to win the FA Cup in 1948 thanks to a 4-2 win over Blackpool. In 1950, after being approached by a rich Colombian businessman who offered him the chance to play for Independiente Santa Fe in Bogota, Charlie left England for South America, earning himself the nickname “The Bogota Bandit”. After funds dried up a year later, he declined Real Madrid’s wealthy offer, as he had set his eyes upon a return to England. United still owned his rights and Busby suspended him for six months, before eventually selling him off to Fulham. A character, on and off the pitch.

 

3. Johnny Berry (1951-1958) (276 Appearances, 45 goals). In Manchester United’s long tradition of dazzling wingers that have raced down the flanks tearing oppositions apart, Johnny Berry is up there with the very best in the club’s history. Equally gifted with both feet, Berry was signed by Sir Matt Busby after he had cut United to ribbons while playing for Birmingham – a path followed, many years later, by a young Portuguese lad – and he was deemed to be the perfect man to replace Jimmy Delaney. After an 18-months wait, Busby finally got his man and immediately reaped the dividends as Berry scored six goals in his first season at the club, helping United to secure the title. Dennis Viollet and Tommy Taylor thrived on his deliveries, and United were basically unstoppable as they collected League winners’ medals in 1955/1956 and 1956/1957. Berry miraculously survived the Munich crash, despite suffering a broken jaw, fractured skull and a broken pelvis. He woke up in hospital, totally unaware of the crash, with his injuries having caused a light sort of amnesia. A month after he regained consciousness he found out about the crash after reading a newspaper. After the crash his career was over and he was unfortunate to be capped only 7 times for England, due to being overshadowed by Stanley Matthews and Tom Finney.

 

4. David Pegg (1952-1958) (150 Appearances, 28 goals). Pegg signed for United after leaving school in 1950 and made his league debut against Middlesbrough two years later, aged only 17. Tipped by many to be the next Tom Finney, the youngster born in a village next to Doncaster combined great balance with a wonderful technique that made him one of the finest strikers of the ball at the time. He quickly became an integral figure in Sir Matt’s team, winning the league in 1956 and 1957, before losing his live in Munich. At the age of 22, he was one of the youngest players to die in the tragedy.

 

5. Billy Whelan (1953-1958) (98 Appearances, 52 goals). Dublin-born Whelan (who was also known as Liam Whelan) was a promising winger that had joined United in 1953 from Irish side Home Farm. A member of the Busby Babes, he was quick and skillful and seemed destined for a bright future before his life was cut short in Munich. He was capped four times for Ireland and won the League in 1956 and 1957.His numbers are quite incredible for a winger, with a ratio of more than a goal every two games. He wasn’t a confident flyer and, in a tragic twist of fate, was heard saying, just before the plane took off: “Well, if this is the time, then I’m ready.” He was only 22.

 

6. Albert Scanlon (1954-1960) (127 Appearances, 35 goals). One of the Busby Babes to survive the Munich tragedy in 1958, Scanlon’s was one the first names on the team sheet, during his six years tenure at the club. Being Charlie Mitten’s nephew meant that United and talent ran in the veins of young Albert from an early age. After joining as ground staff in 1950, he signed as a professional in 1952. Scanlon went through United’s academy, winning the FA Youth Cup in 1953 and 1954, as the Busby Babes began to emerge and show their immense talent. He went on to win the league in 1956 and 1957, by then having established himself as first team player. He started the game against Red Star Belgrade the day before the Munich crash and was one of the few players that were fortunate enough to escape the tragedy. He suffered kidney damage, a fractured skull and a broken leg but he was back in action the following season, going on to appear in every game and contributing with 16 goals. In 2007 Scanlon, alongside former teammate Bill Foulkes, presented the Premier League trophy to Fergie’s boys after they had brought the title back to M16.

 

7. Gordon Hill (1975-1978) (101 Appearances, 39 goals). Not many players can claim to be considered fans’ favourites despite a short spell at the club, yet Hill can, as his spell at United was short but memorable. Signed by Tommy Docherty for a mere £70.000 in November 1975, Hill blossomed into an excellent winger, forming an outstanding partnership on the wings with Steve Coppell. Under “The Doc” United regained top-flight status, playing an attractive brand of football and Hill was one of the main figures responsible for the attacking swagger that United had adopted. Quick and strong on the ball, he was gifted with a great shot. Two long-range efforts in the semifinal against Derby helped United secure a spot in the 1976 FA Cup final that ended in disappointment with a defeat against Arsenal. A year later United were back at Wembley facing the (then) mighty Liverpool, that were seemingly poised to achieve an unprecedented treble, and won 2-1 in what was to be Hill’s solitary honour with the club.

 

8. Jesper Olsen (1984-1988) (176 Appearances, 24 goals). Signed by Ron Atkinson from Ajax in 1984, Danish international Olsen was known as “The Flea” long before Lionel Messi made his mark onto the world stage. A pacy left winger, Olsen was renowned for his ability to avoid tackles as well as for his posture. He spent five years at Old Trafford, securing an FA Cup winner’s medal in 1985 when United beat Everton 1-0 in the final at Wembley. Olsen was an instrumental figure in the side that started the 1985-1986 season winning their first ten league games and remained top of the table for a long time before floundering and finishing fourth in the table. One of many the many fine products of the Danish academy, he was part of the Laudrup generation, represented his country at the 1984 European Championships and the 1986 World Cup.

 

9. Lee Sharpe (1988-1997) (263 Appearances, 37 goals). Despite a career plagued by injuries, Lee Sharpe was definitely one the most gifted players to play for the club in the final decade of the last millennium. After signing from Torquay, Sharpe got a first taste of first team football when Jesper Olsen left the club in 1988 and new signing Ralph Milne failed to live up expectations. The following season Sharpe failed to make the team for the victorious FA Cup final against Crystal Palace, as Fergie had chosen Danny Wallace as left winger. The 1990/1991 season was the turning point in Sharpe’s career as he established himself as a pivotal figure for Manchester United. After scoring three times at Highbury in a 6-2 demolition of Arsenal in the League Cup, he played a key part in United’s successful Cup Winner’s Cup campaign, scoring an absolute cracker in the semifinal against Legia Warsaw. Having finally claimed a first team spot ahead of Danny Wallace, Sharpe had to face a new rival emerging through the ranks, a 17-year-old named Ryan Giggs. Giggs’ form coupled with Sharpe’s injuries meant that he had to spend the 1992 season playing out of position at left back or competing for a spot on the right wing with Andrei Kanchelskis. Still capable of producing moments of pure brilliance, he scored with a back-heel against Barcelona in the 1994-1995 Champions League during an injury-plagued season for United. Sharpe himself was one of the victims but, due to longer injuries to Giggs and Parker, he spent most of the season at left back with Irwin occupying Parker’s spot. In 1995-1996 with the emergence of Beckham, Sharpe saw his first team opportunities reducing even more and he eventually left United at the end of that season. One of the first “poster boy” of English football in the 90s, United faithful will never forget his celebrations, from the “Sharpe shuffle” to his Elvis impersonation.

 

10. Ryan Giggs  (1991-present) (885 Appearances, 161 goals). Ryan Giggs isn’t a Manchester United player, Ryan Giggs is Manchester United. One of the most wonderfully talented players ever, he’s made the left wing position his own since coming into the side 20 years ago. In an era where players’ switch allegiances and change shirt on a weekly basis, Giggs is a perfect example of what football should be about. He’s evolved during his career, going from be a flying winger to fill in as playmaker, thanks to his enormous talent. After bursting on the scene when he was just 17-year-old and making his debut against Everton, Gigssy has never looked back and, perhaps, it was fitting that his first goal came against City (although for some it was a Colin Hendry’s own goal) as the man would go on to become a club legend. Ryan Giggs is the most decorated player in English football history with a trophy cabinet containing 12 League titles (alone he’s won just one title less than Arsenal have done in their history), 2 Champions Leagues, 4 FA Cups, 3 League Cups, an Intercontinental Cup and a FIFA Club World Cup spanning over a staggering 20 years career amounting to 885 appearances which make him United’s most capped player in the club’s history.

Giggsy is also the only player to have scored in every single edition of the Champions League since its introduction and the oldest goalscorer in the history of the competition. In his amazing career he’s scored in every single Premier League season and was inexplicably never awarded the PFA Player of the Year until 2009. Fergie famously claimed to have found “something special” when he first saw Giggs playing and he was right. Giggs is probably the closest modern football as ever come to see a new George Best in action, lighting quick with and without a ball at his feet, getting past defenders as if they weren’t there. Manchester United fans have been blessed to see many great players over the years, but few come close to the Welshman, in terms of class and devotion to the red shirt. Perhaps it’s hard and somehow unfair to single out a moment of two in a career brimming with unforgettable memories but, if pressed on, most United fans would probably pick these two: “He gets past Vieira, he gets past Dixon…it’s a wonderful run from Giiiiggggs!” screamed Martin Tyler after Giggs’ amazing solo goal against Arsenal in what was probably the greatest FA Cup semifinal ever, before adding that he had “cut Arsenal to ribbons”. That goal won’t ever be forgotten, the scenes that followed it won’t be forgotten either, they still send shivers down the spine of every United fan young and old. Then, in 2008, Ryan Giggs made history when, after replacing Paul Scholes in the Champions League final, he became United’s most capped player, surpassing Bobby Charlton’s record. When he stepped up to take what would prove to be the crucial penalty, nobody had appeared for Manchester United more times than Ryan Giggs. Nobody probably ever will.

When it comes to pick the greatest United XI ever this is probably the only position that gets filled without a debate, in fact Giggs’ name is probably the first on the team sheet. A superb player in his prime, he’ still capable of changing a game and producing moments of unrivalled class, and a fantastic team player as well in terms of dedication to the club – how many players as successful as him would be happy to sit on the bench? A lot has been said about Giggsy in terms of where he ranks in the list of football greats but, perhaps, we’ll only come to fully appreciate his greatness after he’ll have finally retired because, in truth, there may as well never be another Ryan Giggs. For that young lad that made his debut 20 years, 885 appearances and 161 goals ago is still tearing teams apart.

Daniele


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15 Responses to “All-Time Best XI Series: Left Wing / Midfield”

  • Not up for debate? The Busby babes were arguably, or potentially Uniteds greatest ever side and many people thought that Billy Whelan was the player who made them tick. Giggs for me has been a great servant and his success speaks for itself. But he never hit the heights many thought he would, and to be honest, is way too wasteful in possession. Capable of great things, but didnt do it often enough in my book, and constantly leaked the ball. A really good and dangerous player, but not a great one. Those who judge greatness by medals and longevity will probably disagree.
    In fact, if I was picking an all time eleven, I would have Bestie on the left, and Ronaldo on the right.

    • Well what’s a great left winger for you then? :-? I can’t name a single player who can be mentioned as a greater player for that position, not one! Ribery is too much injured, Ronaldo isn’t a left winger, neither is Silva. Pires was never in his League! Figo may have been more talented, but certainly not a better winger.

      And if we are supposed to talk about only United, who can possibly rival him? He single-handedly pushed Lee Sharp over to the right wing, and neither Olsen nor Hill was near his quality. Ryan Giggs is a phenomenon, and as far as sex-addicts go I’m confident he has been the purpose of more orgasms than any other! Who can forget the stars and the screams of pure delight that came form THAT goal against Arsenal, pure mental fuckness.

      With all due respect to the Busby Babes, although they were all very talented and great people, there wasn’t one guy who could rival Ryan Giggs for his greatness with Manchester United. Most appearances, most assists in the Premier League era with a 100 more than the second, and he is by all means together with Sir Alex, Sir Matt, and Bobby Charlton the men you will accosiate with Manchester United.

      Ryan Giggs, we salute you and your hairy chest.

  • Didn’t see the part about Bestie, it was brought up after I last read your comment. :) By the way, Georgie came second in the right-wingers list so I doubt he could be on the left wing in our “all-time XI”!

  • Giggs will tear you apart, again……

  • Unfortunately I didn’t get to see the Busby Babes, but I’m sure Whelan was a formidable player. Ryan Giggs though stands in a different category for me, not only in terms of quality, also in terms of success sustained over a 20 years period. To describe him as a “good servant” is, to me, a bit disrespectful. The argument about having Ronaldo on the right and Georgie on the left is a valid one, but this is a list of the best left wingers the club has ever had, not of the best players that have occupied that left wing position. I’d still pick Giggsy in my All Time Best XI, in his prime he was purely unplayable.

    Btw, “mental fuckness” is as good a quote to describe THAT moment as I’ve ever heard.

  • Am I the only one who gets a bigger kick by THAT Giggsy goal than Ole’s winner in the Champions League final??

    • I don’t get a bigger kick, both send shivers down my spine and take my breath away. But as much as I get tears in my eyes after Ole’s goal, that semifinal had it all…Beckham scoring a cracker, Keano getting sent off and then Schmeichel saving a last minute penalty, with the fans going mental behind the goal and then, after Giggsy scored, the scenes of pure, uncontrolled joy.

      I’ve seen both goals thousands of times and I think i’ll always feel like going mental at first and then really emotional, it’s a feeling you can’t explain.

      • That game is the first one I ever watched on TV, what really got me into United. Despite being just a young lad, I’ve never seen my dad take off like that before and just all the INSANE reaction to the goal really made an impression on me. I never thought the goal was any special at the time, or don’t think I even understood the surroundings of it until long after. But my God, never have I seen a man scream so high or dance as fucked as that! :lol: :lol: As for Giggsy and the fans? Just wow! Uncontrolled emotions at the highest level, it’s the last minutes of a really draining game and even though you’ve scored a goal you shouldn’t be physically able to breathe after, you still run like a maniac into every people you see, fucking jump and scream and look like you’ve seen you’re most loved stand up from the grave. Just look at his face, he must be the one with the biggest shock of everyone!!! Pure madness, pure joy… As you said, only word coming close to describing it is mental fuckness!

  • Talking about Ryan, he really should do something like this when he retires, only on the football pitch!

  • Yeah I guess when you factor in that left footers are a minority it greatly reduces the chances of producing a world class player in that position. But only other players who regularly played in that position in Giggs’ Generation who were in the same league that I can think of are Overmars, Barnes, Robben (as a left winger….nowhere near the same longevity but unplayable at his peak).

    Giggs never really had stand out seasons the way the above guys did. But in terms of consistency and longevity (NOT just in terms of playing at the top level to a ripe age of 37 but ALSO playing at the top level at 17)

    • Moscow is my heaven

      Imagine if we had signed Robben instead of Chelsea. Ronaldo and Robben on the wings for us. The very thought takes my breath away.

      • When United were in for Robben many thought that Giggs was on the way out. If my memory serves me right his form was very average at that time. Nonetheless, he was a very good player for United and deserves all the plaudits that he gets. I just think that if you were picking an all time greatest team on talent alone, he certainly would have rivals with more of a shout than the article suggests.

        • I understand where you’re coming from but, by definition, the greatest ever will automatically have far more than talent on his side. Yes there may be similarly talented players but none have had his career or served the club the way he has. Yes there’s been ups and down (not just on the pitch!) and he’s suffered dips in form but come on, 885 apps and the most decorated player in the world who’s STILL playing and you suggest it’s not cut & dried.

          You actually sound like you could be Imogen Thomas’ Father! :D

  • Any body putting Giggs in the team I have no problem with. It depends on the criteria you use to judge a players greatness. Personally I go for talent, and in this department even Lee Sharpe was as talented as Giggs, and he did have a few stand out seasons whenever United were not as strong as the teams that Giggs played in. Before Sharpes illness he was a flying machine who had a better passing range and final ball than Giggs.
    Bill Whelan scored and created goals, look at his record and remember he died in his early twenties, what sort of numbers would he have ended up with. Like I said, any body who puts Giggs in have a very strong argument, but dont be thinking that there is not other worthy candidates, there certainly are some players who didnt have the success or longevity of Giggs, but were certainly as talented, in some cases possibly more so.

    And as for none of the Babes rivalling Giggs for greatness,

    Tommy Taylor 191 apps 131 goals, 16 goals from 19 apps for England. Inter Milan offered a then world record fee for him, died at 26.

    Dennis Violett 293 apps 179 goals

    Bobby Charlton 758 apps 249 goals, 49 goals from 106 apps for England,All from a midfield position. World Cup winner and European player of the year.

    I wont even start to describe the esteem that Duncan Edwards was held in.

    • The history of our club is so strong, so powerful. Sometimes just sitting down and thinking about the history of the club can give me greater pride than anything else. Thank God I’m a United fan!

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