“Attacks win your games, defense wins your titles” – Sir Alex Ferguson. Those were the famous words of the great Scottish manager and over time he was fortunate to manage some of the key defenders for United’s success
United have had an abundance of great defenders who have been essential to their success at Old Trafford. We’ve already taken a look at some of the best midfielders, so here are UtdDistrict’s top five defenders of all time, that was extremely difficult to choose from:
5. Gary Neville
He may be a Sky Sports pundit now, but the Class of 92 member held the right-back position for 13 seasons, you basically don’t have a position at United that many years by sheer luck.
His biography is aptly titled ‘Red’, there is probably no ex-player who cares or supports the club with the same furious passion that Neville played with.
Combining years of bombing right with real friend David Beckham, in a telepathic relationship.
Neville moving forward is often something forgotten when you think of his time as a footballer. There is no right-back that comes close to what he did at United, it’s almost a boring option because it’s so obvious to have him on the list, but so inevitable was Neville in Ferguson’s early years.
The triple season, two Champions League titles, eight Premier League titles, Neville saw it all and was part of the furniture in the process, someone who was never afraid to stand up for what he thought was right and that hasn’t changed since he retired. Whether it was staring Patrick Vieira in the eye as he shook his hand or constantly tearing up Glazer’s property, Neville has always had the tenacious fearlessness of a United player.
4. Steve Bruce
Steve Bruce was part of the formidable United team that started a dynasty. The team of King Eric Cantona, Paul Ince, a young Roy Keane and at heart an intimidating partnership with the Dolly and his Daisy (to this day no one knows which one that is) Gary Pallister, the names only mentioned, are not a team you would want to fight against.
Creating a very good Premier League team is always the hardest part. United hadn’t won the title for 26 years before the 1992/93 season, after which the Red Devils were unstoppable. But Bruce was there during the five seasons when Ferguson was not always hailed as the great manager he is today, quite the contrary. United did not become magically brilliant overnight and there is something poignant about a man like Bruce who was part of the beginning of it all.
For Bruce as leader and captain for a majority of the 1992/93 season and those two goals against Sheffield Wednesday alone, you could argue he’s on the list.
It marked a paradigm shift, from United as pretenders to the real thing. There’s a reason Roy Keane was the captain of United the way he did, he cut his teeth in that rock-hard dressing room and Bruce was as tough as they came.
3. Jaap Stam
It is always a tragedy to think that Jaap Stam only played three seasons at Old Trafford. Driven perhaps by a controversial biography and a ruthless Sir Alex who would eventually regret the decision to sell him.
In 2022 defenders should be able to play almost excellent from behind, like most footballers nowadays you just can’t have a function anymore. Stam was remarkable in that he came forward where defenders started doing more things than just heading, kicking, clearing.
He was fantastic on the ball and remarkably quick. He won a hat-trick of Premier League titles and was vital in the treble season. He was so good that he probably would have been higher if he had played a few more seasons at United.
2. Rio Ferdinand
Going through the list is perhaps a stark reminder of how regularly United have delivered great defenders time and time again, given the occasion and the pressure of the club. Ferdinand arrived at the time as the most expensive British footballer in history, but by the end of his storied Man United career, £30 million seemed like a bargain.
Ferdinand almost slipped across the pitch, strolling through matches with a cigar in his mouth, rarely a speck of mud on his shorts, he made defending seem as easy as Virgil Van Dijk.
Part of Ferguson’s and arguably Man United’s last great team; the Rooney-Ronaldo-Tevez trifecta had Rio on the back that kept the ship steady and steered in the right direction without breaking a sweat.
1. Nemanja Vidic
There are many reasons why a defender’s Serbian Terminator tops the list at number one. Elite decision-making, towering presence, monumental strength and unparalleled tackling, he could even give you five or six goals from corners in the right season.
Yes, Fernando Torres has done him over in a few games, I’m highlighting a few because this myth of Torres that Vidic played every time he stood up to him just isn’t true. In 15 games, Torres scored three goals and was on the winning side five out of 15 and barely played in two of those games.
That doesn’t detract from Vidic’s legacy, he’s ranked #1 for being a £7million bargain from Spartak Moscow and embodies one of Fergie’s best qualities as a manager, especially in recent years when more foreign players have been recruited. The ability to find hidden gems pluck from the relatively unknown as they adapt to the Premier League and the pressures of being a Manchester United player, before killing season after season, making the transfer look like a masterstroke, and Vidic is a prime example of that.