Manchester United Greatest XI
GK: Peter Schmeichel – Signed as a virtual unknown in 1991, his size, prodigious throwing and mammoth kicks immediately marked him down as something very different. As much the first point of attack as last line of defence. After an early roughing up from Wimbledon’s Crazy Gang he quickly toughened up and went on to become United’s greatest ever. “Prone to the odd error” critics may point out, but when he saved as many games as he did during a season, who cares? 9
RB: Roger Byrne – Local lad who was captain and elder statesman of the incomparable Busby Babes. Perhaps not the best technically but more than made up for any deficiency with his reading of the game. An England regular, fatefully he never made it to the 1958 World Cup. 7
CB: Martin Buchan – “The Fonz is cool but Buchan is cooler” ran the Stretford End’s chant, summing up the ice-cool nature of United’s best ever defender. Having just the one FA Cup to show for his time at Old Trafford is a criminal return for a player who was almost as integral to the team in the ‘70s as Robson was in the ‘80s. 8
LB: Denis Irwin – Incredibly underrated player who, after a somewhat inauspicious start after his arrival from Oldham, went on to become the club’s most consistent and decorated player of the 1990s. Also weighed in with more than his fair share of goals. 7
RM: Cristiano Ronaldo – From 2006–2009 he was as dominant a presence in United’s team as any of his predecessors. His goals dragged the side to a hat-trick of titles and successive European Cup finals – he was well worthy of the 2008 Ballon d’Or. Probably the first player on whom United supporters could legitimately bestow the title “best player in the world”. 9
CM: Duncan Edwards – Many young players are hyped up beyond justification, yet anyone wondering whether the recognition Edwards received is truly justified for a player who died when only 21 years old only has to consider the range and knowledge of those within the game who cite him as one of the game’s true greats.10
CM: Bryan Robson – The rock on which Atkinson’s United was built, his absences to injury were the reason Ron’s team so often failed. The phrase ‘one-man team’ is self-evidently an exaggeration when applied in a team sport, but with Robson it was as close to reality as it could come. 8
A winner amongst winners, the rock on which the 1999 Treble was won.
CM: Roy Keane – The driving force behind Ferguson’s greatest side, he continually set the tone for the team, whether through his metronomic passing, fearsome tackling, lung-busting effort or never-say-die determination. A winner amongst winners, the rock on which the 1999 Treble was won. 8
LM: George Best – The one, the only. Playing alongside both him and Ronaldo would probably have had Charlton tearing out what little remained of his once-flowing blonde locks but it would’ve been worth it. There’d probably have to be two balls on the pitch, mind. 10
CF: Bobby Charlton – Still holds the record for the most starts and goals of any United player. No ‘rests’ for this stalwart despite countless battles on the bogs that passed for pitches in the 1950s and ‘60s. As two-footed as they come, he could play anywhere in midfield or attack. Officially acknowledged as the continent’s best player in 1966, he’s one of only three Englishmen to win the European and World Cups. 10
CF: Denis Law – Often the overlooked member of United’s Holy Trinity but back in the day was the Stretford End’s favourite, its very own King. And with good reason. Fearless, brave and aggressive, he played as the fans would like to. Scored every sort of goal, from 20-yard headers to acrobatic overhead kicks to six yard tap-ins. Ballon d’Or winner in 1964, he regularly topped the scoring charts before injuries started to take their toll on his slender frame. 10
Total Score: 95
Manchester City Greatest XI
GK - Bert Trautmann
My granddad, who survived the war, always had a strong aversion to former Manchester United stopper Gary Bailey, claiming that he looked like an SS officer.
A strange prejudice to hold against a South African but there you go. His hero however was another keeper, a German paratrooper in possession of an Iron Cross.
This startling contradiction illustrates just what a profound impact Bert had in post-war Britain, his popularity and brave, majestic talent transcending football. 9
RB – Tony Book
After nearly a decade playing at non-league level Malcolm Allison brought Book to City where the 32-year old flourished through an incredible Indian summer captaining the side through our most successful period to date and receiving the Footballer of the Year award in 1969. 242 appearances and forever Mr Man City he was as reliable as he is decent. 9
LB – Paul Power
Came to my school making precisely two kids out of two hundred very excited (me and my brother) Paul was Manchester born-and-bred and led his side out at Wembley on three occasions. His cultured left foot struck several long-range beauties not least the winner against Ipswich in the 1981 FA Cup semi-final. His name also lends itself to a nice bit of rhyming slang for an alternative to a bath. 7
CB – Mike Doyle
The granite heart and soul of City Doyle was an uncompromising tough-as-nails stopper who wore his heart on his sleeve. And his heart was blue. His renowned loathing of all things United would have made him bang up for this clash. 8
CB – Vincent Kompany
The temptation to include Dave Watson was superceded by the idea of the classy colossus Vinnie pairing up with Doyle. A dream partnership of silk and steel that would take some beating. Signing this sublime defender is the reason I will never hate Mark Hughes. 8
CM – Paul Lake
Both club and country were building their teams around this extraordinary talent – a lad barely out of his teens –until injury cruelly deprived him, and us, of an extraordinary talent. Paul could play anywhere due to his innate reading of the game. To a very select few it just comes easy. Top flight football equated to a casual kickabout in the park and the sight of his galloping elegance remains a highlight of my youth. 8
CM – Colin Bell
The King. Suitably nicknamed Nijinsky for having the stamina of the racehorse and stylish elan of the ballet dancer, Colin was the complete footballer and one of the top ten greatest players this country has ever produced. So good that City wouldn’t be able to afford him today. 10
AM – Georgi Kinkladze
A head-down weaver of the highest quality, Kinky lit up the dark times with his mazy individual genius. Was so far advanced of his team-mates it was akin to Pele in his pomp playing five-a-side down my local leisure centre. His winner against Southampton where he took half their side apart before dinking it over the despairing keeper with impish ease is sufficient to get him into this side alone. The best goal I’ve ever seen by some considerable distance. 7
AM – David Silva
Though only 5ft 7 ‘Dreamy’ David appears to follow the ebb and flow of a game from an elevated position. Is allergic to losing possession, has a finely-tuned football intelligence and magical feet. I always said it would take a very special player to supplant Paul Lake as my favourite City player of all time. After hearing what Lakey had to say about the Spanish maestro earlier this year I think he’ll understand. We are all under Merlin’s spell. 9
AM – Peter Doherty
One for the old guard. I’ve not seen a single clip of the pre-war Northern Irish inside-left but all the old boys insist he was the greatest City ever had. Their opinion is worth far more than my own so it’s a reluctant demotion of Young, Summerbee and, my own personal favourite, Bernarbia, to the bench. 9
CF – Francis Lee
Lee Won Pen, in fact he won countless of them, our barrel-chested future chairman regularly threw his burly frame to the floor like a dying albatross in an era before diving became fashionable. He was a visionary. Joking aside he was also an extraordinary centre-forward who grafted his backside off to create opportunities before finishing them off with a deceptively silken touch. Great player. Bad chairman. 9
Total Score: 93
The closest of finishes, with the red half of Manchester sneaking it on home soil through a thirty-yard Charlton thunderbolt. The sight of Kinkladze putting Buchan on his arse however provides some comical compensation for blues.
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