Sir Alex Ferguson’s 26 years in charge of Manchester United encompassed a plethora of remarkable acheivements, not least an unparalleled trophy-haul which included 13 Premier League titles, two Champions Leagues and five FA Cups.
It was an era of success which is unlikely to be replicated any time soon, if ever at all. And the success was built on many factors; the never-say-die attitude of Ferguson’s United sides saw the Red Devils rescue victory from the jaws of defeat on a regular basis; legendary central defensive partnerships prop up all great United teams of the last three decades; and an agressive captain with a winning mentality, an extension of the manager himself out on the field, can be found lifting various trophies in front of adoring fans.
Ferguson’s time at Old Trafford is also marked out by the amount of high-quality goal-scorers leading the line for his teams.
This week’s list is focussing on those men. In particular, we are honing in on the most ruthless finishers. The men who you’d bet your house on scoring when they burst through on goal.
Mark Hughes — the Welshman misses out narrowly due to his reputation of being a scorer of great goals, opposed to being a great goal-scorer. The former Barcelona forward also bagged some vital goals for United and should be recognised as a strong contender to make this list.
Brian McClair — Having joined the club from Celtic in 1987, "Choccy" scored 127 goals in 471 appearances across an 11-year United career, and was one of the brightest sparks of Ferguson’s difficult first few years at Old Traford.
Teddy Sheringham — Signed to fill the void left by Eric Cantona’s shock retirement in 1997, it wasn’t until the 2000-01 season that United really saw the best of Sheringham, as the then-35-year-old won the PFA Footballer of the Year award. But extra points are given for his injury-time goal and assist in the famous 1999 Champions League final victory over Bayern Munich.
6. Andy Cole — 1995 - 2001 (275 appearances, 121 goals)
Signed from Newcastle United for a then-British transfer record of £7 million in 1995, Cole would go on to become a vital part of United’s late-’90s period of immense success.
His almost-telepathic partnership with Dwight Yorke was one of the key factors in the Treble winning season of 1999 — tipifed by the goal he scored at the Camp Nou against Barcelona in the Champions League group stage that season, exchanging one-twos with Yorke before finishing confidently.
Although never able to break the 30-goal barrier in a single season during his time with United, Cole was still a dependable goal-scorer and regularly turned in more than 20 goals in a campaign.
5. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer — 1996 - 2007 (366 appearances, 126 goals)
One of the great United cult heroes of recent times, the man known as the "Baby Faced Assassin" because of his outstanding finishing technique, became a fan favourite due to his unassuming nature and knack of scoring important goals.
Though rarely a first-choice striker during his United career, the Norwegian became an expert at coming off the bench to score. Ferguson put this down to his analytical approach, as Solskjaer would be paying close attention to what was happening on the field when he was a substitute, and would be prepared to expolit the chinks that he had seen in the opponent’s armour when he came on.
Scorer of the winning goal in the 1999 Champions League final against Bayern Munich, securing the historic Treble, Solskjaer will forever conjure fond memories for fans.
4. Dwight Yorke — 1998 - 2002 (147 appearances, 65 goals)
In his song "My my, hey hey" Neil Young sang "It’s better to burn out than to fade away", and that’s a fitting analogy for Dwight Yorke’s Old Trafford career; signed in 1999 from Aston Villa for £12.6 million, Yorke burned brightly for a short period, then he was gone.
Top-scorer with 29 goals in his debut season, Yorke’s goals — along with his aforementioned partnership with Cole — drove United towards Premier League, FA Cup and Champions League glory.
Yorke followed up his first campaign with United by scoring 20 league goals in the 1999-00 season. But from then on, things went quickly down hill and he was sold to Blackburn Rovers in January 2002.
But in the interim, Yorke still managed to show United fans a glimpse of what he was capable of as he netted a first-half hat-trick in a 6-1 victory over Arsenal at Old Trafford in February 2001.
3. Eric Cantona — 1992 - 1997 (185 appearances, 82 goals)
Disclaimer: we recognise that in terms of overall ability, Cantona is the best player on this list. The reason he is not number 1 is because he was never an out-and-out goal-scorer, there was so much more to the legendary Frenchman’s game.
But he has to be included for his propensity to settle tight, high-stakes, must-win matches.
In his five seasons at Old Trafford, Cantona scored eight times in Manchester derbies, he netted the winning goal in the dying minutes of the 1996 FA Cup final against rivals Liverpool, and earlier in the same season he scored the only goal in a vital fixture against Newcastle United, as the Red Devils chased down the then-league-leaders.
Though he played a little deeper than a traditional number 9, Cantona was an expert finisher with a goal-record that is not to be sniffed at.
2. Wayne Rooney — 2004 - present (520 appearances, 245 goals)
The only player on this list to be still playing, Rooney has to be included for his longevity.
Signed from Everton as an 18-year-old in the summer of 2004, Rooney bagged a hat-trick in his debut against Fenerbahce in the Champions League, and he hasn’t stopped scoring since.
Last season the England captain became his country’s highest ever goal-scorer, surpassing Sir Bobby Charlton’s long-standing record. And if Rooney is able to find the net six times next season, he will do the same for United.
Although Rooney has now been converted into a midfielder, and seemingly has no intention of returning to the forward line, only a fool would bet against the club captain bagging the goals he needs to write himself into the Old Trafford history books.
1. Ruud van Nistelrooy — 2001 - 2006 (219 appearances, 150 goals)
Van Nistelrooy was supposed to sign for United in the summer of 2000, but the Dutch international failed his medical and was forced to return to PSV.
Upon his return, van Nistelrooy suffered a cruciate knee ligament tear in training, leaving him out of action for the best part of a year.
Ferguson apparently contacted the player to let him know that United would be back to sign him as soon as he returned to fitness, and the Scot was true his word.
So van Nistelrooy moved to Manchester for £19 million in 2001, and immediately went about repaying the faith his new boss had shown in him by netting a brace on his Premier League debut.
Van Nistelrooy went on to score 36 goals in his debut season, before netting an incredible 44 in the following campaign.
The Dutchman was sold to Real Madrid in 2006, leaving with an outstanding ratio of almost 0.7 goals per game.