Nov 08

All-Time Best XI Series: Leftback

Throughout the history of Manchester United Football Club, we have been blessed with great fullbacks on both sides of the pitch. While we have enjoyed watching numerous players in the right back berth, the selection of Gary Neville was hardly a surprise. The left-fullback position, however, is a much more difficult decision. The top ten candidates have together made nearly 3,500 collective appearances for the Reds, a clear indication of the stability we have had in that role over the years.

  1. Jack Silcock (433 appearances)
  2. Johnny Aston (284)
  3. Roger Byrne (280)
  4. Noel Cantwell (146)
  5. Tony Dunne (535)
  6. Arthur Albiston (485)
  7. Clayton Blackmore (245)
  8. Denis Irwin (529)
  9. Mikael Silvestre (355)
  10. Patrice Evra (179)

 

Jack Silcock was a no-nonsense fullback who first came to the attention of supporters and opposing outside-right’s at the start of the 1919/20 campaign when he made his debut in the 1-1 draw at Derby County immediately after the Great War. 400+ appearances and fifteen years later, Silcock made his exit in the 2-1 home win over Bury in March 1934. Although United often found themselves in the wrong half of the Second Division, for longevity if nothing more…Jack Silcock deserves his place in the Top Ten.

One of the original MUJAC’s, Johnny Aston signed professional with the club in 1939, but had to wait seven years to make his debut. An inside-forward of some ability,after WW2 he made his bow at home to Chelsea in September 1946, linking up play with Jimmy Delaney and Johnny Hanlon. With Matt Busby unhappy with the ability of Billy McGlen, he switched his schemer to left fullback and Aston performed so well in his new role it brought him England caps and a World Cup Finals appearance. Although Aston was pushed back into the forward line on occasion, winning a league title medal after leading the attack in 1951/52, it was at fullback that he most reknown, collecting an FA Cup winner’s gong in 1948.

With Johnny Aston leading the line, Busby made another tactical switch, moving Roger Byrne from outside-left to left fullback. A player of genuine pace, he would often scare opposing wingers with his speed and incredible work ethic…Tom Finney and Stanley Matthews, two of the world’s best flank men, never fared well against Roger. After making his debut against Liverpool in November 1951 he was rarely out of the team after that point. It was no surprise either when the Busby Babes were starting to excel in the mid-1950’s that Byrne was made captain. He won 33 consecutive caps and was selected in the 1958 England World Cup Final squad to compete in Sweden. Regardless of the tragedy in Munich, Byrne was one of the finest fullbacks in his day and received glowing praise from the likes of Puskas and Di Stefano.

Although Ian Greaves did a sterling job after Munich, he was not quite up to ‘United quality’ so in  November 1960, Matt Busby bought the cultured defender Noel Cantwell for £29,500, a record for a fullback at the time. Cantwell was a deep thinker of the game and unused to Busby’s ‘go out and enjoy yourself’ philosophy. Nevertheless, he captained the team to the 1963 FA Cup Final and was a regular during a relatively unsuccessful period at the club. Although tactically astute and good reader of the game…Cantwell perhaps lacked a little pace and didn’t have the ‘grit’ that someone like Jimmy Murphy preferred.

When Cantwell finally lost his place it was to Tony Dunne, a thoroughbred of a fullback. Equally at home on the left or right side of defence, Dunne had incredible pace and was one of the first fullback’s to be seen overlapping their winger to set up an attack. Making his debut at Burnley in October 1960, not long after his arrival from Irish club Shelbourne he was a regular for the next ten years. A winner of League, FA Cup and European Cup medals, Tony Dunne was a natural.

When young Bobby Noble burst on to the scene, Dunne was moved to right back and the abrasive Mancunian made the left fullback spot his own during the 1966/67 season. Many older Reds tell me that Noble was a cert to win England honours and I often see his name in all time United X1 line-ups. Unfortunately, after only 33 starts, a car accident prematurely ended his career. Over the next decade, Francis Burns and Stewart Houston regularly wore the number three jersey, but they were just keeping it warm for another Scot who would go on to retain it for another decade.

Making his debut in a League Cup tie against Manchester United in the 1974/75 term, Arthur Albiston first came to prominence when he put in an amazingly mature performance against Ian Callaghan and Steve Heighway in the 1977 FA Cup Final. Under Docherty, Sexton and Ron Atkinson, the quiet Scot was a model of consistency until Alex Ferguson released him during the 1987/88 campaign. A Scottish international, while never flashy, Albiston was one of the lynchpins in an often rocky defence during the early 1980’s.

Over the next few seasons the left fullback responsibility fell to the likes of Colin Gibson, Johnny Sivebaek and also Lee Martin, famously scoring the winning goal in the 1990 FA Cup Final success. But it was during the 1990/91 term that Clayton Blackmore made the position his own after filling in often over the previous four or five seasons. A versatile player with a rocket of a shot, his goal line clearance in the 1991 Cup Winner’s Cup Final, ensured European glory for the Reds. It was probably Blackmore’s finest period at the club and although not as appreciated as some, he rarely let the team down.

Unfortunately, the Welshman’s time at fullback was up the minute another Celt walked down the Old Trafford tunnel.  An Irishman by the name of Denis Irwin would go on to win virtually every domestic honour with United and his consistent displays…and important goals…were paramount in the league title being lifted after a 26 year absence. Although Phil Neville made a play for his position in the mid-1990’s, Irwin’s experience, discipline, ability to play on either side of the pitch and uncanny positional sense were enough to see off the young usurper. A 1999 Champions League medal was a just reward for one of the best fullback’s the Premiership has ever seen.

Mikael Silvestre was bought from Inter Milan in the summer of 1999 as a replacement for Irwin with his electric pace and brave heading being respected attributes. Unfortunately his positional sense often led to gaps in the defence and he was often made a scapegoat when goals were conceded. After nine years at the club he was allowed to move on, with a haul of medals including a 2008 Champions League trinket.

And so we move on to the current incumbent…Patrice Evra. On his day one the best left fullbacks in the world, with pace to burn in attack or defence and an ability to out-jump forwards much taller than he. Skilful on the ball, Evra has everything necessary to be the best left-back the club has ever seen. However, his form over the last couple of terms has led to some criticism…particularly when he ‘goes missing’ in defence. A French international,  he is well liked by all at the club.

In Summary:

While Jack Silcock spent most of his time in the Second Division, and Noel Cantwell, Johnny Aston, Clayton Blackmore, and Mikael Silvestre could never really be regarded as truly world class…I eliminated these five from my final reckoning.

Additionally, Patrice Evra has suffered from a loss of form and as such has not shown the consistency of the remaining four. Subsequently I have also dismissed his credentials, great player that he is.

Arthur Albiston perhaps lacked the class of Irwin at the highest level and the pace of Dunne, so he too fails to make the final three.

So, that leaves me with a choice of Roger Byrne, Tony Dunne and Denis Irwin.

To be frank, any of these players could easily be a worthy candidate, but based on his poise, mental strength, ability to play anywhere in defence or attack, footballing intelligence and finally charismatic leadership…he is not only one of the best captains in Manchester United’s history but also my choice as the best ever left fullback is……………..

Roger Byrne.

Thanks for reading this, your comments are more than welcome. You can also follow me on Twitter @mrmujac

Tony

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No Responses to “All-Time Best XI Series: Leftback”

  • Great read tank you

    • Moscow is my heaven

      8-O WOW, you had something nice to say about this blog? 8-O

      Shouldn’t you be debating people at a higher dimension than RedRants? Guess this thread ain’t too cringeworthy for you eh? :-D

      • Pathetic attempt at being a school yard bully. Well when people pick on you in the real world you probably have to vent that frustration at random strangers like me on the internet. Well done son, well done for spoiling what looked like an interesting thread.

        (I now wait for the childish retort where you use your intellect to twist this post back on my using all of your Psychological powers)

  • Great read, for we Denis Irwin was the best, a fantastic player with either foot. He hit a mean freekick, was never injured and a true gent.
    Ps, I note no Gabriel Heinze :wink:

    • Out of the ones I saw play, it has to be Dennis for me. Mr dependable, I have met him a few times in recent years what a nice man he is

  • Colin Gibson was really a left midfield player and Sivebaek was a right back…..

  • no mention of Heinze eh? :twisted:

    • Perhaps saving him for the all time Judas kunt 11

    • I always felt Heinze was more a centre back than a full back. He didn’t really have any pace about him, despite having great accelleration he was easy to lose on a sprint. His rugged nature, and lack of vision really hindered his offensive play. In many ways he reminds me of Alan Smith, a very determined character who easy becomes a fan-favorite, despite not necessarily being good for the team. Wanting to move to Liverpool says it all really, but as an Argentinian he had that thing which makes him want to stand out. And if it doesn’t work, he can be hard to handle. Sliding into tackles and using your physique can of course be a good thing, having the bravery to make challenges oppositions wouldn’t even think you would be able to do! But as soon as people found him out, his faults where really exposed. Good player, better than Silvestre in many ways, but he was also somewhat a cancer. You don’t want that kind of players at a top club competing for the Major honors, as Real Madrid soon found and sold him after only 2 seasons.

      • Did he not plat central for Argentina? I thought Gabby was great at first but then it all went a bit Argentinian. Thanks for the cash, the weathers shit, time to throw my toys out of the pram.

        • Yeah, remember him and Samuel being monsters in defence for Argentina, with Zanetti and Sorin on each full back. That was some team!

        • Sure was, He was a monster centrally for his country but from memory he was not to clever when he played there for us or is my memory wrong

  • Evra ….Too Sexy…

  • [OPTI]Madschester United

    For me (probably TV-biased), Irwin is our best-ever LB. Then I would pick Evra, who at his peak was nearly as good as Irwin. Irwin’s freekicks and penalties set him above Evra in my book.

  • Of all the guys mentioned above, the only players I’ve been lucky enough to witness live are Denis Irwin, Patrice Evra and Mikael Silvestre. At their best, I think Evra is possible the best left back United have ever had! From the summer of 2006 until that ban against Chelsea started in the autumn of 2008 he was brilliant, our most important player, and together with Rio, Vida and Edwin the spine of the greatest defence we have ever had at United. He never had a bad game! But after that, I really don’t know what happend but ever since 2009 he has changed and practically become a liability. It’s soon been 3 years, so it’s worrying signs indeed…

    As for most consistent, I think Denis Irwin wins it. Being left back for United all those years, I can’t remember him having a single bad game. And that is amazing for a defender at an attacking club like United! He wasn’t spectatular, although some of his goals were, but he was consistent, equally good on both sides, and he knew how to play a full back inside out.

    What I’ve seen from Roger Byrne are from the Busby Babes, and unfortunately it’s not much. But I was impressed. He seemed the complete full back, which is very hard to find even these days. God, these posts really make me wish I was born early enough to witness the days of the babes, the Best, Law, Charlton eras… Must have been an incredible time to be a United fan.

  • I think our best left back is surely FUTURE – when RedDevilEddy gets thru his OT trial and becames the sensation of the next generation – kick some opposition arse Eddy! :evil:

    • I’ll make Richards my little bitch, then while he lies on the floor in pain I’ll make sure he knows Craig said hi! :twisted:

      • I would love that all too much mate. Make sure you also take out Yaya (big mouth) Toure, and the wastelanders dutch MF (I refuse to mention his name being as its a dirty word to me) but you know the one – him who is always boasting that Mcr is blue and City are more loved than United in the City. Another one in denial eh?

        • I wouldn’t mind that mate! :mrgreen: To be frank, one of the best images I have in my head is going in with a hard challenge on De Jong, taking the ball, then he turns to me with that “Who the fuck do you think you are??” pose. I’ll point to my United badge, scream “This is United” then smile at him then walk on with the game.

          Bitches gonna cry.

        • Errr mate – I’ve heard about your no nonsense tackles and going in hard – that’s why I don’t think De Jong will be able to get up to strike a pose and question you. Your tackles are not legendary in Norwegian schools/colleges for no reason mate :wink: :-D

  • Despite Heinze winning the Fans trophy for MUFC Player of the season in 2004/05, try to think of who came second and third in that poll. Wayne Rooney, at a very, very fresh age, and Alan Smith….

    Damn, have we progressed!

    • Bless Alan Smith, good lad but simply not good enough.

      • I loved the lad, one of the best moments of my Manchester United fan life was when he hammered that goal in against Roma… Unlucky with that injury, had it not been for that I actually think he could have become pretty good here. Not brilliant, but at least better than what was. Remember towards the end of the 2010 season when Berbatov was the only striker we could call for with Wazza and Owen injured? Or in 2008 when Tevez and Ronaldo had to be our strikepair when Wazza did his hip? He could have done a job then.

        Sad thing is his last goal in proffesional football came in that 7-1 game against Roma. :-| Gotta feel for him, Newcastle made a real defensive midfielder of him at St. James Park, captain and all that under Shearer.

  • Are we going to have an “all-time best XI series: Potatoes”? I think John O’shea deserves a mention, although Rooney seems to really give his all taking that tile from him these days! :lol: From striker, to left wing, to attacking midfielder, to deep lying playmaker… Think he even has a video on youtube where his goalkeeping skills are being tested?? :lol:

  • Great read. In my lifetime i’ve only seen Irwin,Phil Neville, Silvestre and Evra and,out of those 4, Irwin was the best. I love Evra and his dedication to the cause but i have to admit that he’s been suffering in the last 2 seasons. Whether that is due to the fact that we never seem able to field the same back 4 i don’t know, but on his day he still is the best left back in the world. I wonder if Fabio will reach such a high level, i think that the lad is quality and in a few years we could have a true gem in our hands, if he stays injury free. Also, it’s interesting to note how, in years gone by, full backs were virtually only facing a winger, while now with the slow disappearance of out and out wingers, they tend to be drawn out of position not only by their direct opponent but also by players that play just behind the strikers but drift wide to find space. But maybe is just a personal opinion due to being frustrated at our recent inability to defend :lol:

    • Fergie mentioned once that he bought Young to help Evra out defensivly, and that they work great together. I think that is something people don’t really aknowledge about Ashley, his defensive work is great and had it not been for him I think Evra would have been even worse off than he is already!! I think this means that Fergie actually understands that Pat isn’t having the best of days these past seasons, and unfortunately he has become a liability for our team. He loves the club, too much if you ask me considering he played for us twice in one week just days after his brother had died!!! My condolences go to Pat, and although being a critic of him you won’t see many other foreign players love the club as much as he does. Credit to that, he is a great man,

      • Young helps out Evra really? For me Park was the better option there, Young is known for he defensive work. He left him numerous times alone against Liverpool mate.

        • It’s not about leaving him alone, I actually doubt Evra wants Young to help him out in 1 vs 1 situation. Speaking as a full back myself, I know I fancy myself 1 on 1 , or 1 against 2 if I have them in my area, and Evra must be pretty shit, even worse than what we make him out to be, if he wants Young to help in out like that!

          No, what I meant by Young helping out Pat, it’s towards the end of games, or when we counter with Evra. I’ve noticed that Young takes up the left back position when Evra really pushes forward, and performs that role pretty well. We saw it against numerous times, and a prime example would be against Arsenal when Young made it 2-0 to us. Young goes deep, pulling Jenkinson, Evra overlaps and takes up the left-winger role, and Young covers the spaces in which a natural full back should be in. Because Walcott also took part in following Evra that time, it meant Young could push forward, just the way and in the area that Evra does when the opposition winger decides to help their right back with Young. It’s pretty simple football really, but it’s also very difficult to find a good, quick winger who can also take up the defensive roles.

          For example, I’ve seen Chelsea use this numerous times with Cole and Malouda, which make them very hard to break down their left flank, in contrast to their right side, where they have Bosingwa and… no-one else really. Neither Mata or Sturridge know how to defend, leaving Bosingwa in deep trouble. If you watch the goals from the Chelsea-Arsenal game, you’ll notice that 2 of the 5 goals were scored from that side, in contrast to a lucky-solo Walcott run from the right, a passed goal trough the middle, and a mistake by Terry. Even against QPR Chelsea lost their penalty, and Bosnigwa, thanks to their weakness in this area.

          Liverpool used to have this problem on their left flank. They’ve not really had a left winger who could help out the left back for years before Downing arrived! Look at the goals we scored against them in our last two wins at Old Trafford.

          2-1 March 2010: Valencia sprints through their defence in the room between left-back and left-centre back, winning us a penalty. Mascherano is the one who follows Valencia, not the left back nor left winger, even though he starts out pretty wide. Second goal, Gary Neville’s overlapping run makes their fullback struggle and hesitate, leaving Fletcher with enough room to make a cross for Park to connect.

          3-2 September 2010: First goal comes from a corner, but second and third come from crosses by Nani and O’shea on our right side. Winger doesn’t help out full-back, or performs the duties they should.

          Jose Enrique is a great fullback, but I feel the signing of Downing is what makes them more solid. Kuyt has always helped out Kelly or Glen Johnson, which makes it difficult breaking through their right flank. Whenever Dalglish has switched Downing over to the right side, wanting him to shoot rather than cross, Liverpool have looked weak defensivly down that side again. Watch the goal Sunderland scored there in the first round, or even Norwich just two-three weeks ago.

          Giggsy has always helped out defensivly, and he has even started as full-back a few times! It really helped out Irwin and Silvestre, and with Becks and Neville on the right side we were really hard to score on by wide-play. Actually, most of our goals where scored by middle-men, people really exposing our centre backs rather than fullbacks. Balls over the top, quick passing, one-on-one situations through the middle, those were the types of goals we conceded most of until Becks left. Then Ronaldo came, leaving opponents more willing to score through our right side. This continued until Ronny left, but since the summer of 2009 people have started out attacking through our left side. Both Valencia and Nani do very good defensive work, which makes it easier being a right-full back for United than Evra has it. My theory is that turning Giggsy into a central midfielder really hurt Evra, and it is that which has taken part in making him weaker. One of the first games Giggsy played as a central midfielder was agaisnt Chelsea in January 2009, and it’s also since that game that Evra’s form has gone on a downward spiral. People can say all they want about Park helping out defensivly, but at United attack has always been the best form of defence. The fact that Park doesn’t offer much attacking threat down the wings makes it easier for oppositions to not focus too much om him defensivly, again leaving Evra exposed.

          Despite City demolishing us through that side, it’s also the only goals we have conceded down that side this season. Chelsea, Liverpool, Benfice, and West Brom all scored on us trough the middle or from the right side of our penalty area, while Stoke scored on a set-piece. There was one moment of total defensive madness against Basel which put, not only Evra, but Rio, Jones og Fabio all over the place for their only goal that came from open play. The two goals Arsenal scored where a sole blame on Evra, but those were massive individual mistakes by him, rather than tactical or understanding-based play.

          As for people saying we have conceded way too many shots this season, it’s not something I worry too much about. Tottenham alone fired about 20-25 long range strikes which never really threatened De Gea, while the likes of Arsenal and Bolton had a “shoot-on sight” attitude that never really is a danger. I’m sure our defensive will come good, and if Evra’s understanding with Young improves I can see him getting back to top form again. He just needs to sort out those mental lapses where his mind ponders to think about Craig in his underwear! :-D

  • I swear on my penis that this is the best thing I have ever seen in my entire life: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=puVmKfCwb4M

  • Good point Eddie. If you want to control a flank it definitely helps to have a super-skillful winger.

    Part of the reason we were so defensively solid in the Ronaldo days was that Ronaldo’s absolute dominance on the right flank allowed Wes Brown to tuck in as almost an extra central defender.

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