Well I hope everyone enjoyed my first foray at top tens with my list of United’s all time best center forwards. Now I have been granted the privilege of offering you my take at the top ten strikers to have played for our illustrious Red Devils. Let me start by saying that there is a difference in my mind between center forward and striker. CF’s play deeper and also imitate midfielders in an attacking way. Usually they are better passers, have greater patience and vision and are just smarter footballers all round. That is not to say strikers are not smart, they are, but CF’s for me just have more versatility, a larger skill set and a little more genius in their overall make-up.
With that said, let me start by saying that United has a very long and very storied tradition when it comes to strikers. Simply put, I could easily have made my list of top ten into top twenty. I’ll start by offering my respect and apologies to some of the great strikers to not make the list. Joe Cassidy, Joe Spence, Sandy Turnbull all played around the turn of the 20th century and although they qwere great, that’s just going back to far for me to say those players can compare in skill and class to many of the players post World War 2. The game had changes and had gotten more sophisticated, faster and harder. A special apology must go out to Joe Jordan fans, of which I am a one. I loved Joe but he didn’t quite make it either. And I do not include players like Norman Whiteside, Cristiano Ronaldo, George Best, Bobby Charlton, and Lou Macari even though they all had stints playing the striker role. We all know they were either midfielders or wingers and their time there was not long enough to qualify. So now let me begin with my list, hope it coincides with yours.
10) Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez 2011- No I am not jumping on the bandwagon and Ihaven’t lost my mind but I just know and feel that this kid is special and he before he is finished at United or Real Madrid break the bank to get him, he will go down as one of the greatest strikers to ever play for Man Utd. 20 goals in his first season and most of that while sitting on the bench as a sub is nothing to sneer at. He has the tools, a great shot, predatory instinct of a big cat, aerial ability, flair, imagination and above all pace. His first touch is still a little inconsistent and his dribbling needs work but he has offered up so much already. This kid is going to be a super star.
9) Brian Kidd 1963-74 Brian was to inherit the most unwanted job in all football when he arrived at Old Trafford. He was supposed to be the heir apparent to the great Denis Law. Big shoes to fill and although Kiddo never quite reached those lofty heights, he didn’t do too badly at all. 70 goals in 266 competitive matches and 52 goals in the first division is nothing to mock. Kidd was a consummate striker and kept up a good average of goals per game throughout his career. I remember him best for scoring an vital goal vs Benfica in the 1968 European Cup final which helped United win their first big European honour. Never prolific or world class, Brian is best known for being very dependable and consistent.
8) Wayne Rooney 2004- Yes he belongs here too. Wayne has been primarily a center forward for our club but with Fergie constant tinkering and tactical roulette Wayne has often played as an out and out striker and in many games, especially road games against tough opponents he has been known to play the lone striker role in a 4-5-1 formation. Wayne has never been a great goal scorer as a striker but he still makes a great difference for his team in that role because of his strong work ethic, courage and willingness to pass and contribute play making for others. His energy makes him valuable and yes, he still has scored some great goals as a lone striker and I am sure he will utilize the role again and score more in the future.
7) Brian McClair 1987-98 What can I say, he may not have been a world beater but I loved “Choccy”. Always played with a lot of heart and desire and scored some big goals like the lone goal vs Forest in the 1992 FA Cup final as well as having formed a decent partnership with Mark Hughes for a few years before King Cantona showed up and forced Fergie to move him to an attacking midfield role. I think that alone says a lot about Brian. Not a prolific scorer but a decent one, the truth though is he was a decent play maker and a hard worker and his unselfishness often opened up lanes and opportunities for players like Hughes and Cantona to exploit. He was no slouch having scored 127 goals for United in his eleven year stay with the club.
6) Andy Cole 1995-2001 The second highest goal scorer in Premier League history, Andrew (Andy to all of us United fans) was one of the biggest signing Fergie has ever made. Already a star who had netted plenty of goals for his previous clubs, Andy came with a proven reputation and for most, he never really disappointed having scored over a 100 goals for the club and having been part of two of the most dynamic partnerships in football with Eric Cantona at first and then Dwight Yorke. I place Andy on this list because the truth is he was a very good player and he scored a lot of goals. Personally though, he was never my cup of tea. Even though he scored over 20 goals in all competitions for three straight years, I always found him to be wasteful and to never score when it really counted. I used to joke about the fact that Cole would score two goals in a game but he had twelve chances. That is actually a credit to him that he could play himself into position to have that many cracks at goal. He was quick and very strong off the ball and this helped him become so prolific. But again, his wastefulness bothered the heck out of me.
5) Mark Hughes 1980-86 1988-95 Again forgive me as I add another of my previous center forwards to the list of strikers but the fact is, Sparky qualifies completely in both. I’d say the beginning part of his first stint was as a striker and also the latter part after Eric Cantona showed up. In between he was the CF next to McClair who was the striker. But when the King showed up Hughes was placed in the striker position and he excelled. I’ve already written about him so I won’t repeat myself other than to say that he scored well over a hundred goals for this club and many came as a striker.
4) Ole Gunnar Solskjaer 1996-2007 What more can be said about Ole other than he is a legend and a true red Devil to the bone. His loyalty and character far outweighed his abilities and number of goals and they too were all very extensive indeed. The consummate professional and team player, his unselfishness and willingness to accept any role the manager gave him has endeared Ole to all United supporters. And who can forget the big goals like the winner in Barcelona over Munich in 1999 and the four he scored in 12 minutes as a sub vs Forest in that famous 8-1 destruction job. Like Chicharito he was an instant success scoring 18 goals in his first year. The “Baby Faced Assassin” went on to net 126 goals for the club in all competition and holds the club records for goals as a substitute with 28. Unfortunately most of these goals were scored in the first half of his United career because from 2002 and on serious injuries curtailed his playing time considerably until he had to finally retire in 2007. But United showed him just how valued he was as a servant for the club by giving him a testimonial match 2008 where over 68,000 fans showed up to pay their respects for this fantastic Norwegian. A true legend.
3) Dennis Viollet 1953-62 The strike partner of Tommy Taylor’s for the Busby Babes, Dennis was one of the greatest and most prolific goal scorers in the history of English football. A terrific goal poacher who scored 178 goals in only 291 games for United, Dennis was a very quick player with excellent skill on the ball. He was the perfect partner to the tall and very savvy Taylor as these two conjured up goal after goal as a combo helping the Busby Babes to league championships in 1956 and 1957. After being one of the few who survived the Munich air disaster he came back in 1960 to net an astonishing 32 goals in 36 games. Shockingly, Sir Matt decided to sell him to Stoke in 1962 when he was only 28 and at Stoke he continued to score finishing with 218 goals in the English first division. A great player and the true definition of striker, Viollet is truly one of the greats but surprisingly only played twice for England. But then again, when has England ever gotten their team selection right?
2) Ruud van Nistelrooy 2001-06 Where do I start in describing how good the Rude Boy was? I loved van Nistelrooy but I will not forget or forgive the way he left the team and the bitterness he caused from his forced departure. To pick a fight with my boy Ronaldo just turned me off. Still, I think he is the second greatest striker to ever play for United and should never have been benched and replaced by the useless Louis Saha. The man was simply an assassin in front of the goal. I always joked that he was incapable of scoring a goal outside of the 19 yard box but within that box he was bloody lethal. 23 league goals in 32 league games in his first year as well as ten goals in the Champions League says a lot. Add to that the PFA award in his first full season with United and we all get a feel for what was to come. Twice he had eight game scoring streaks and followed up his first season with 25 goals in 34 games the following year. In 2004 he scored two goals in the FA Cup vs Millwall and was chosen player of the game even though I feel Ronaldo should have won that award. The following year was a frustrating won because of a long injury but he still managed to lead everyone in the Champions League with eight goals. Bottom line is Ruud was just a goal machine. 150 goals in 219 total matches for United and 95 in the Premier League in 5 season and only 150 games. Simply put, only one man in the history can better those numbers in terms of goals per game, and he is next.
1) Denis Law 1962-73 One of the famous players depicted in a statue outside Old Trafford along with George Best and Bobby Charlton as the “United Trinity”, the only Scottish born player to ever win the European Player of the Year award back in 1964. A true legend and the greatest goal scorer in United history having scored a colossal 237 goals in 409 total appearances and 171 goals in the English league. Overall, he scored 301 in 587 goals and for me his only blemish is having also played for Manchester City. Despite his greatness and prolific goal scoring form Denis never had it easy having crossed swords with Sir Matt Busby on a few occasions and having almost been sold in 1965 just because he asked for more money. He was forced to make a public apology which did not go over well with him and from that point on his relationship with Busby was strained. Unfortunately a bad knee cost him the chance to play in the 68 European final and the damaged knee progressively got worse and by 1973 he was granted a free transfer to hated derby rivals City. Still, despite the sad ending, nobody can ever forget the contributions of “Denis the Menace”, United’s greatest goals scorer and best striker ever.
Well there you have it. Hope you all agree, if not please contribute in your replies and let us all know who your top ten would be and why? It was a tough list to build because there were so many good strikers over the club’s entire history. Denis Law was just before my time and so if I had to pick a favorite from that list it would be Mark Hughes and then Oie. Loved watching Sparky score big goals assisted by Cantona.
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Tags: All Time Best XI Series