Simply the best - United's title team

Click to follow
The Independent Online
Four titles in five years make

Manchester United the dominant force in English football, but just how good are they? Former Old

Trafford heroes assess today's

championship winners.

Interviews by Alan Nixon

Alex Stepney

on the goalkeeper

Peter Schmeichel is the best I can remember. He is loud and that comes over on the pitch and is an asset to his defence, although I could shout a bit, too.

The strength of his game is his consistency. He has won so many, many matches for United, important ones too, and that is what it is all about, after all. A keeper is judged on results more than most, and his record is outstanding.

He has such a huge frame and a presence about him that makes him ideal for a goalkeeper. When I was playing it used to be us keepers who were afraid of the odd physical striker roughing us up. You expected the knocks and some treatment being dished out.

You used to have to be wary of some centre-forwards coming to crunch you when it was legal, but Schmeichel has got that advantage, too, as the rules have changed. Now with Schmeichel it's gone full circle and the strikers look at him when they go one-to-one and wonder how they are going to get past him. It must be frightening.

Players are much bigger, more athletic and stronger these days, but Schmeichel is still as impressive a goalkeeper as you will see anywhere.

When he first came there was a suggestion he might not like the physical bombardment as a foreigner, but that has been dispelled. It takes a lot of character to be United's goalkeeper for so long and Schmeichel obviously has the bottle for it.

Alex Stepney, United's goalkeeper in the 1968 European Cup final, is now goalkeeping coach at Manchester City

Gordon McQueen

on the defence

Gary Pallister is as good a centre-half as United have ever had. If you look right back to the European Cup side of 30 years ago, he is still the best of them.

Pallister's overall strength has improved since he left Boro. The experience he has gained at United has made the game easier for him. Playing beside Steve Bruce was an education for him and he was a willing learner.

I would have Bruce in my all-time United team because of the presence of the man. He was a leader and a giant of a defender. That partnership with Pallister improved the younger bloke.

People said that Pallister was not that great in the air despite his height, but that quality has come on too. It was more a matter of timing and it is no longer a problem.

The ability that sets Pallister apart is his touch on the ball. For such a big lad he can use it, pass it and set things going. There are few centre- halves anywhere who have that talent and when you roll it into one you have some player.

Now Pallister is passing on that experience to David May. He has come on leaps and bounds since he first arrived from Blackburn, when he did not have the best of starts.

However, May is obviously a gritty type of lad and he has fought through and settled in. The biggest compliment you can pay to him is that he is missed when he is out of the side.

Denis Irwin would get in my team in either side at full-back. I rate him as the best pound-for-pound buy Alex Ferguson ever made. I would still put him in ahead of the Neville brothers.

I think Denis makes about one mistake a season; he is a manager's dream when it comes to consistency. He is one of those quiet players you rely on, who will do his job and still come up with something extra.

Look back at the vital set-piece goals he has scored and the crosses he has laid on for strikers and you will not find a better full-back in my time.

Young Gary Neville has benefited because the manager has never been afraid to give youth its chance. He has played so many games for someone of his age. Fergie has not spent a lot really and with youngsters like him it is easy to see why.

Although Gary plays central defence for England at times, I think right- back is his position. I do not believe he has the physical strength to play in the middle, but he is comfortable on the ball and has a good engine.

His brother, Phil, is one we will have to wait and see about. He has still to make one position his own and although they use him at left-back mainly that could change.

However, if you named an all-time defence then it would definitely include Pallister, Bruce and Irwin on the right or left and one other. That is the hard part although it would mainly come down to someone like John Gidman for his attacking flair.

As a unit, mind you, I can't see further than the present group. There is a level of experience and ability that is hard to match in any era.

Gordon McQueen was a centre-back at Manchester United from 1977-84 and now coaches at Middlesbrough

Sammy McIlroy

on the midfield

Of all the departments down the years United have had more great midfielders than any other position. Right back to Paddy Crerand, when I was coming through, there were superb leaders and generals. Even at my peak we had Gerry Daly and then Bryan Robson. The present midfield has so much going for it, but they are young in the main and still have their best years in front of them.

David Beckham is my current favourite and I have had my eye on him for a few years now. We play United in a friendly every season and about three years ago I first saw him coming through. I immediately knew he was special and he has proved it. I have seen Beckham play inside and on the wing, but I prefer him through the middle. Although he does a steady job out wide he can drift out of the game.

Of all the midfield players Beckham has had a magnificent season. However, lately it has taken its toll and you have to remind yourself he is so young. There is a lot to live up to in that position and it would be wrong to compare the boy to Bobby Charlton just yet. However, the world is in front of him if he keeps improving. Like Roy Keane and Nicky Butt, he has many seasons ahead of him.

Keane is the most similar to Bryan Robson because of his box-to-box style. He is a superb player, a modern-day type who can run non-stop for 90 minutes. He is in the Robson mould, but has not quite got his knack of scoring goals.

I lost count of the times Robbo would clear a shot from his own box and then appear a few seconds later to crash one in at the other end. Robson was also a great ball-winner and such a natural leader.

Keane has that aggression and he can also pass. This United are at their best when he is bossing the midfield. Nicky Butt is another young man who blends in well with those around him. He is mature beyond his years and is an unsung hero.

I would include Ryan Giggs in the midfield because he plays a deeper role these days. His strength is running at people. I think there is more to come from Giggs, also in terms of goals and exciting people. At the moment he should push on more.

There are almost too many options to pick a best midfield over the years, but it would have to include Robson and Charlton. If you want wingers who work hard then it has to have Steve Coppell in there. He was years ahead of his time in that way. Of course, there is a fellow called George Best, who would fit into any system and give it his own brand of genius.

Sammy McIlroy, the former United midfield player, is now the manager of Macclesfield Town

Lou Macari

on the attack

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has been a breath of fresh air. He's come from nowhere and looks like nothing. But he is so uncomplicated and just wants to score goals. What impresses me about him is his composure. It is as if he does not realise he has arrived at Manchester United. Nothing seems to faze him.

In his favour he came without a big price tag and was something of an unknown. He's been able to settle down without all of the hoo-ha of a ridiculous valuation.

There's a real goalscorer's instinct about him and he has also coped with the physical side. It's unusual to see a Norwegian who isn't some strapping athlete and for me he has been the revelation of the campaign.

Solskjaer has a neat touch and great awareness of the goal. There may be problems for him next season, when defenders get to know him, but he's one of those who could be elusive all of his life.

Andy Cole has suffered because of the money United paid for him. He is always going to be under pressure as a pounds 7m man and has had a tough time.

That valuation weighs heavily on him and you can see it in his face. I was not sure he could do it at first, but he has bounced back and shown everyone there is a tough streak to him.

I like the way he is always there to look for a chance. He missed a good one against Dortmund on half-time but he came back to miss another identical one late on. That's a quality you want. He's done reasonably well and scored a fair share of goals.

Old Trafford is such a daunting ground for strikers down the years. You will always be compared to the true greats like Denis Law and it's hard to match that sort of performance and flair. These lads also have to live up with the expectations of the current day and that's why Eric Cantona has been criticised lately. He set his own standards and has slightly fallen below them this time.

To do that to Cantona is unfair, but he is such a strong man that he will be back next season and making the place his own again. He has that stature that will never go away.

If you take the strike force as a whole and include Paul Scholes, this has to be the most potent United have ever had. There have been some big strikers in the past like Mark Hughes, who could play on that stage, but there has never been such a collection at the same time.

Scholes would walk into any other Premier League team and the manager even puts him in midfield at times as a mark of his respect for him. When you have someone like him to call on you know you have real strength in depth.

It's hard to compare individuals down the years but as a block this bunch of strikers are the tops in my time.

Lou Macari, the former United striker, announced his resignation as manager of Stoke City last month

Comments