I must say that when I was asked if I would like to write an article whereby I get to select Manchester United’s top ten all time right sided midfielders, I jumped at the opportunity with great pleasure and enthusiasm. As a historically powerful juggernaut United have made it easy to pick top tens for all positions. The club goes back a long time but it also has such a rich and successful history that it’s been blessed with incredibly talented players who have plied their trade at Old Trafford. Nowhere is that more obvious than the position of Right Midfielder/Right Wing. The list of greatness to have occupied that part of the field is simply so awe inspiring one would have to dig deep to find another club in world football that can match or beat this top ten list for class and skill.
Before I list the top ten, let me apologise to all the Antonio Valencia fans and people familiar with the great Jimmy Delaney. Both fantastic right wingers but for different reasons they just finished out of the top ten. Still, I felt that they should get honorable mention just the same. For Tony Valencia at least, it was simply a case of not having played enough games for the club yet. Anyway, without further delay, let us begin.
10. Charlie Mitten – (1946-50 – Goals 61) Charlie Mitten was probably the first winger bought in the early days of Sir Matt Busby’s Manchester United managerial career. Although officially signed by the club in 1936, he actually never played professionally for them until ten years later due to World War II. But during his time with United he scored an impressive 61 goals and help lead the club to their epic 1948 FA Cup triumph. He had a stormy relationship with Sir Matt during his career with United as he accepted big money to play in Brazil. Back then a team holding his rights could not stop him from playing abroad and so he accepted the offer. Upon his return to England in 1958 he immediately got suspended for six months by Busby. Despite all the that turmoil, he was one of the most exciting and gifted players to play on the right side for the Reds. While in Brazil he was nicknamed the “Bogota Bandit” by the team owner for being paid a lot of money but not delivering the goods. At least he did well for United however, scoring those 61 goals in only 162 games for the club. I must point out however that he was equally adept at playing left wing/left midfielder as well and during his time with the club occupied both flanks evenly. Still, that kind of goal production from a right sided midfielder cannot be ignored.
9. Andrei Kanchelskis – (1991-95 – Goals 36) Andrei Antanasovich Kanchelskis was United’s Ukranian born speedy right midfielder/winger in the early years of the Premier League under Sir Alex. Having played 161 total matches in all competitions and offering up 36 goals, he showed us his many skills and and capped it off with tremendous pace. He was a key part of the team that one the first Premier League title back in 92/93 scoring only 3 goals but offering up many assists from fine crosses and strong dribbling. His career was not always as a starter but his pace, dribbling and ability to offer width to the team especially as a super sub was invaluable in those early days where he was only one of thirteen foreigners playing in England at the time. Astonishing fact when you compare that with today. In 94/95 he was actually United’s leading goal scorer netting an outstanding 19 goals for a winger in all competitions. 14 of them came in the Prem and that was considered an exceptional total for an old school winger back in those days before Ronaldo changed the way the position is played. The high point for him that season was when he scored three goals in the home derby against Manchester City, which United won 5-0. He definitely had his moments and helped United to a number of trophies during his brief stay that was ended due to his continual arguments with Fergie. I for one remember him fondly and felt he offered us a lot during his time with the Red Devils and played the role of a classic winger on both sides with equal strength and consistency. No shame in the fact he eventually made way on the right side for a true United legend to be, David Beckham.
8. Gordon Strachan – (1984-89 – 38 Goals) One of Scotland’s greatest ever players played for United in the years just before Fergie arrived and then suffered through the early years of Fergie’s tenure as his form Struggled under the Boss. Before Ferguson arrived however, Strachan was outstanding for a few seasons and led the club to it’s 1985 FA Cup final victory vs Everton and was known to generally run the midfield and dictate pace and tempo along with Bryan Robson. Known for his quickness and lighting speed both with and without the ball, the red headed Scot was an energetic and passionate competitor who often dominated defenders on the right side of the pitch. Unfortunately his form did take a turn for the worse when fellow Scot Sir Alex took over and the two just never really got along. Eventually he was shipped off to Leeds in 1989 and the following year he won FWA Footballer of the Year with them. Perhaps Strachan is one of those cases of a great player that just did not fit in well with Fergie’s way of doing things. A shame really. He is on this list not because of his career numbers for both club and country but for the few seasons I saw him play and perform outstandingly before his decline with club began.
7. Willie Morgan – (1968-75 – 34 Goals) Another passionate Scot enters my list at #7. Willie was and excellent right sided midfielder/winger who played a total of 296 matches for United, a long tenure indeed. Showed up at the height of United’s success under Sir Matt Busby in 1968 as a replacement for John Connelly, who he had coincidentally replaced before his United career while with Burnley. Willie was a lightning quick right midfielder who was known for his darting runs and had a surprisingly fierce shot as well. Unfortunately for him, he got his real chance to start and contribute for the team after Sir Matt retired and the club began its quick and terrible decline, which eventually led to relegation in 1974. But thanks to Willie and others efforts, that only latest for a season and his skill and ability to outpace defenders and deliver accurate crosses elevated United back into the first division. Like Strachan, Willie is a legend amongst Scots having won over 50 caps for his country as well as having participated in their disappointing but undefeated run in the 1974 World Cup. Willie showed up at United around the time I started being a fan of the club and although I never got many chances to watch him play, I must say that he knocked my socks off the few times I did get to watch him. A great dribbler and like I mentioned before, a fierce and accurate shot which makes me wonder why he never scored more goals for us? Like most players, he was to be followed by another great at the position Steve Coppell, which led to his departure in 1975. Still he remains a loved and respected player for having left it all on the pitch every time he played. A true red.
6. Nani – (2007 – Present – 31 Goals) What can I say about the little man that our own CraigMC has not already offered up for us to enjoy on this blog? Quite frankly one of the most talented, exciting, energetic and yes, frustrating players to ever wear the United colors. Too many of us Luis Carlos Almeida da Cunha is a star on the rise and potential world class talent. To others he is a frustrating often selfish and overly emotional player who has not harnessed his vast potential and combined it with maturity to help him reach the promise land. To his critics I say BAH! My opinion is that Nani is a gifted athlete with great finesse and imagination and to have him become a more controlled and more selfless player would rob us all of the riches he brings to the team. A fantastic dribbler with excellent speed vision and passing ability, Nani offers us up a primer on old school wing play but with the ability to cut in and score goals while possessing a strong right foot as well as a strong left one to boot. It took him a while to find himself and yes he was a a frustrating player to watch in his first few years but these days I personally cannot stomach a starting eleven without him manning the right side or even the left. Versatility and talent are great things to have and the future is bright for young Nani. He already has scored over 30 times for the club but his value comes in giving us width and providing service as one of the best assist men in all of world football. A strong passer and often lethal crosser Nani has helped us deal with the pain of losing both David Beckham and especially Cristiano Ronaldo as he offers up a bit of both players in his large repertoire of skills. I for one know we haven’t seen anything yet. The future has much to offer when it comes to Nani.
5. Steve Coppell – (1975-83 – 70 Goals) One of my personal favorites from yesterday past, Stevie Coppell was a great right sided player who for me ticked all the boxes. He could score goals, deliver a Beckhamesque cross, dribble around somebody like Best and conjure up chances out of nothing like Nani. Coppel was the right midfielder for the club when I really got involved as a die hard United follower in the mid 70’s. I have very fond memories of his performance in the 1977 FA Cup final where United stole the Treble from League and soon to be European Champions Liverpool. He was famous for his incisive play blinding speed and work rate. Too bad he didn’t play as well the year before when Tommy Docherty’s young and exciting United team lost to Southampton in the 1976 FA Cup Final. Still, Coppel was to have a profound influence on the club for many seasons which helped him reach heights as a player and also allow him to play for his country where he was capped 42 times. I always loved his dribbling and his incisive runs which always seemed to culminate into a good chance on goal. Although he scored a few goals, it was his crossing and dribbling that stood out most and his ability to track back and compliment both ends of the field. United never won any league championships while he was there but on many occasions they came close and were always a threat both in the league and in the FA Cup competition. Work ethic is what I remember most about Stevie and his desire was second to none. Nine season of superb service to the club cannot be overlooked. 396 matches and 70 goals tells me he was a United legend at a time when success was not a given.
4. Duncan Edwards – (1952-58 – 21 Goals) Now this selection may be a bit controversial, not because of the quality of the player as Dunc was a god and a legend, but did he really play as a right sided midfield player? The answer is yes. Back then the role of midfielder was referred to as a halfback. In most formations you had three halfbacks. A center half two wing-halfs. Duncan Edwards was known mostly for being a defensive midfielder but he manned the right wing half of the pitch more often than not and so I feel he deserves to be mentioned as a right sided player. I guess these days he could also be known as a RDMF or right defensive midfielder. The legend of Duncan Edwards of course is a sad and tragic one as he was one of the the fallen heroes of the Munich air disaster. But lets not sulk and instead focus on his great but shortened career with Man United. To read or be told about Edwards, one would think you were learning about a player equal to Pele or Maradona in skill and style. One of the original Busby Babes Dunc was the youngest player to play in the Football League when he made his debut in 1952. During his short five year career with United he led them to two league championships and the semi-finals of the European Cup. So great was his dominance, presence and skill on the ball while his passing was sublime and on occasion he could let one rip with his lethal right foot. His injection of youth and
Skill were instant hits and it was not long before he was called up to play for England. He was so highly regarded that many were expecting him to eventually be England captain. Duncan Edwards was one of those United legends that was unfortunately before my time. All I know of him comes from articles or books but I have yet to read a negative piece on his abilities or about his character as a man. He was a world class player who would have really found true greatness for his playing ability had his life not been cut short by the air tragedy. To listen to Bobby Charlton refer to Dunc, you would think he was speaking of a god. I for one feel cheated for not having seen him play. Blessed are those who saw him play and even played alongside the great man. Cursed are those who had to play against him.
3. David Beckham – (1992-2003 – 85 Goals) It’s no secret on Red Rants that one of my all time favorite players in world football, yet alone Manchester United has been and still is David Beckham. I’ve never been one for his tattoos, ridiculous haircuts, spicy marriage, flamboyant lifestyle or celebrity status but as a footballer on the pitch for United and England, I absolutely loved Becks.
For me the single finest crosser of the ball I have ever seen and he is in my top twenty all time free kick takers as well. 394 appearances for United and 115 caps for England says just how valuable and great he was. Not blessed with great speed but full of vision, cunning and a lethal right foot it did not take Beckham long to make his mark once he made his debut with the United first team. As a right sided midfielder he asserted himself almost immediately once he was given his first team chance.
Unlike his predecessor Kanchelskis who was more of a winger, Beckham fit Fergie’s 4-4-2 formation as a midfielder and he owned that position from 1994 on. What followed were 8 more incredible years where he was twice runner up for the World Footballer of the Year award. Along with other “Fergie Fledglings” like Paul Scholes, Gary and Phil Neville as well as Nicky Butt he helped transform United into the world powerhouse they are today. We are all very familiar with Beckham and his years with United so I won’t go on other than to say that he was truly a great player albeit very controversial. His sending off in the 1998 Wold Cup vs Argentina and then his heroic goal in 2002 over Greece are testament to his many ups and downs. I’d like of course to mention my favorite moments form his United career. For United there are such grand memories like his goal vs Wimbledon (pictured), which came from the half way line, or his big goal in the 1999 epic FA Cup Semi-final replay vs Arsenal. Or how about his two crosses that led to two goals in the last moments of the 1999 European final. His countless number of brilliant crosses to Cantona, Vaan Nistelrooy, Solksjaer etc and his great free kicks are too numerous to mention. My highlight moment however was the two goals he scored coming off the bench mad and pissed off to help United come from behind to win the home leg vs Real Madrid in 2003. We lost that tie and it was really his swan song with the club as he was on the way out after the infamous boot kicking incident involving him and his manager Fergie.
It’s a shame that after all he brought and did tor the club, that his manager had insecurities over his dedication and lifestyle. So he was off to Real Madrid but not before he left an undeniable mark with the club as well as a rich legacy of greatness and silverware. He will always be fondly remembered for his skills and for being a key component for the Treble winning 98/99 team. He had his critics but for me he was a true great with a truly magical right leg.
2. George Best – (1963-74 – 179 Goals) For many “Georgie” Best was not just the best right sided midifelder in United history, he may go down as United’s greatest ever player and a top ten selection of all time great player in world football history. So why does he make it to only second on my list of right sided midfielders/wingers? Three reasons really. First I feel he robbed us and himself of a much longer and richer career with the club because of his lifestyle and drinking. Secondly, He really split his time playing both on the left and right sides donning the #7 jersey on the right side and the #11 on the left, which is a factor I have to take into consideration. Finally, the player who finishes ahead of him on my list is not just better but for me is already a god who has exceeded Bestie stature, but he hasn’t even reached his prime yet. This however, must not take away from the greatness that was George Best.
Best is almost the best and frankly, I really struggled with the urge to place him number one. Just before my time but fortunately enough video exists to allow many of us to go back and see just how great this legend from Northern Ireland was. One part of the golden triad of Best, Charlton and Law, he played 470 times for the club while scoring an astonishing 179 goals as a winger. His skill on the ball was more than sublime, it was simply intoxicating as it seemed the ball was attached to his feet by a tether as he very rarely ever lost possession. Incredible quickness, dribbling skills and one touch ability he also had a fine shot with both feet while also utilizing dazzling finesse skills like chips and lobs that made defenses and especially opponent managers and goalkeepers cringe in fear.
From the numerous videos I have watched of Best the thing that I found most impressive was the simplicity and ease of his deceptiveness. No cheeky step overs or cheeky low percentage attempts to beat a defender. He just simply knew how to feint and then used his touch and quickness to get by before a defender had a chance to blink. Then there were his sublime passes and crosses and his creativeness. I also noticed how great he managed to maintain these skills in big games and in terrible weather or pitch conditions, heavy wet balls and terrible footwear of the time. Today’s players never have to endure those types of conditions which would and should curtail a players performance. Best was simply a man amongst boys when he played and was recently named by FIFA as the 19th best player of all time in their list of top 100 just behind the German great Gerd Muller. Personally, FIFA have collective crap for brains as I truly believe both he and Muller belong in the top 10 of all time. It’s unfortunate that the latter days of his United career were marred by controversy, drinking and a lack of professionalism. Lets face it, George had issues which eventually led to his life being cut relatively short. But let us not forget 1968 European final where his goal early in extra time led the way over Benfica and the hundreds of other world class performances that defined this man as perhaps the greatest player to ever wear United colors. I have no problem whatsoever if many of you feel he belongs in the number one slot. He was that good and he is greatly missed.
1. Cristiano Ronaldo – (2003-09 – 118 Goals)
Quite simply the best, better than all the rest (Sorry I could not resist the song reference). With all due respect to Mr. Best. Perhaps the most exciting player I have ever watched in my lifetime with more raw skill in his big right toe than most players have in their entire bodies. Yes I know he is not everyone’s cup of tea and the manner of his departure form the club has left people cold or bitter towards him but I am not one of those people. Instead I focus on six exceptional seasons with the club where he achieved every mark and award available to him as a player and led the club to three league titles, the Carling Cup, the FA Cup and most importantly, the European Cup in which he scored a goal. Let us for a minute forget about the ego, irritating personality and diving diva act and lets instead concentrate on the player and his skills.
For me he revolutionized the winger position with his ability to cut in and score goals almost at will. 118 goals for us in 292 matches for the club is impressive indeed but lets also not forget the wide array of skills he offered up as well. If one was to ask for an example that defined a prototype six tool player (passing, shooting, dribbling, size, speed and aerial ability), then you have to go no further than Cristiano Ronaldo. Not even Messi can say he owns all six tools in his repertoire as his aerial ability is only average at best and his physicality or size leaves him susceptible. Ronaldo possesses all of those attributes and his intelligence on the ball coupled with his hunger and desire to win and be number one lifts him to the heights for both club and country.
His debut for United as a 17 year old was something magical for me to behold at least. I remember commenting to a friend who was watching the game with me that I thought that he would one day be the best player in the world. Such a profound mark was left on me from his initial debut as a substitute and I am so pleased today to see that he never let my intuition or judgment of talent down. We all know what he achieved with the club. His 42 goals in our Double winning season of 2007/08 was incredible to watch no just for the total goal haul, but for the quality of some of those strikes. That free kick vs Blackburn is one I will never forget as is the free kick from 40 yards out vs Arsenal in the Champions League semi-final second leg at the Emirates. His pace, emotion and sheer will to win was not under appreciated by me, that’s for sure.
And yet as great as his season was, it pales in comparison to his accomplishments last season with Real Madrid where he netted over 50 goals in all competitions. He is just getting better and better and the sky is the limit. Only Lio Messi stands in his way as their personal and team rivalries have become epic stuff in Spain. But I choose to remember Ronny with great warmth and appreciation. I loved this player because frankly, he thrilled me to know end with his flair, skill and finishing skill all culminating with a Cantonesque arrogance and a wink to the camera. So many players have flair and skill but very few have ever been able to back it all up with clinical and lethal finishing of the highest order. The man is simply a physical specimen and a goal machine.
Why does he place above the great Georgie Best? Because (thanks to modern tv) I saw nearly every game he played in a United kit and because I truly believe that by the time he finishes playing, he will not be named in the top 20 players of all time by FIFA, but in the top 5. He was and always will be a special player in my heart and I for one can’t thank him enough for what he did for this club during his stay. Perhaps as he has often hinted, he will one day bless us all and return for a second engagement with United. He is after all, one of Fergie’s all time favorites and greatest signings. But I highly doubt he will return to us based on our present ownership and the number of years Fergie has left at the helm. But I can fantasize now can’t I?
Well there you have it. It was along one but how do you condense writing about true greatness. United are truly a blessed team historically to have had so many world class players and as for the right side of midfield, we were rarely ever short on class. If I missed anyone, please offer up your lists as well. Everyone’s opinions and taste are very welcome.
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Tags: All Time Best XI Series