Debate: Is Ruud the best finisher in United history?

Thursday 01 July 2021 12:25

Who is the greatest finisher in Manchester United history? It’s a fascinating question that has been troubling ours minds while we've been celebrating the 45th birthday of Ruud van Nistelrooy today (1 July).

The club legend is famed for his predatory scoring instincts and was utterly ruthless throughout his five seasons as a Red, scoring 150 goals in total. But is he the no.1 in a long list of top finishers? 

In this topical debate, club reporter Sam Carney passionately explains why van Nistelrooy must be considered the king of this area, before fellow United journalist Joe Ganley states a convincing case for the legendary Tommy Taylor, whose numbers are almost impossible to argue against.

Read what they have to say and, most importantly, vote in our poll…
When Sir Alex left Ruud out Video

When Sir Alex left Ruud out

Van Nistelrooy recalls how being denied the Golden Boot was the greatest motivation he could receive…

Sam Carney, Club Reporter

Is Ruud van Nistelrooy the greatest finisher in United history? Is the sky blue? We’re talking about a guy who scored 150 goals in 219 games for the Reds, at a strike rate no one in the modern era has even threatened to match. For five years, he was the scourge of Premier League centre-backs, the man even Europe’s best woke up in cold sweats at the prospect of facing. Ruud’s detractors in his rivalry with Arsenal's Thierry Henry pointed out that he only hit the net once from outside the 18-yard-box and that would be a fair criticism if it wasn’t for the fact he was bagging from every angle in the penalty area, with his left foot, right foot, head, week in and week out.
Some of the goals were beautiful, others barely worth recalling, but what was important was that they went in. Arguably only Gerd Muller and the latter day Cristiano Ronaldo come close to Ruud’s sheer single-mindedness in meeting the sport’s key objective: finding the net. Stories abound of the Dutchman sulking at not scoring after comprehensive United wins and, far from being a negative, that type of attitude is something fans can get behind. Ask those Reds to pick a striker from any era to take a chance that would settle a cup final, or even save their life, and I guarantee you that van Nistelrooy’s name will come up.

Joe Ganley, Club Reporter

I lived through the rapacious van Nistelrooy era, and never saw Tommy Taylor play, so I'm hesitant to dispute that the Dutchman is the greatest finisher this club has ever seen. But Taylor's numbers – and the testimonies of many I've known that did actually see him play – compel me to rep for the Yorkshireman. 

Before his premature, tragic death at the age of just 26, Tommy – nicknamed 'The Smiling Executioner' – had plundered 131 goals in 191 games for United, which just edges out Ruud's goal-per-game ratio. This was in an age of boggy pitches, ambivalent refereeing, shattering tackles and footballs heavy enough to anchor the Titanic. United fan and author Tom Clare writes: 

“He was a big lad – some six feet, two inches tall – but he had some great skills. So comfortable on the ball with either foot, probably the best header of a football that I have ever seen – and I have never, ever seen anybody head a ball so powerfully. He was exceptionally quick, and had terrific temperament. He took some fearful stick but just got up and got on with it. He had a smile as big as a barn door – hence his nickname. If he was playing today, he would be bigger in marketing terms than anything that we have ever seen.”

Taylor scored 34 in the season before the Munich Air Disaster, leading United to a second consecutive title and the brink of a first European Cup final (he scored twice in the two-legged semi-final defeat to reigning champions Real Madrid). Who knows what he could have gone on to achieve? Agonisingly, we never got to find out. But nobody, not even Ruud or Ballon d'Or winner Denis Law, managed to put up the numbers Tommy Taylor did in his brilliant spell leading the Reds' attack.

Tommy also scored 16 goals in 19 appearances for the England national team.


You have read the respective arguments from our writers, so now it's time to have your say by voting in our poll. We've also included Denis Law and Dennis Viollet as options – along with van Nistelrooy and Taylor, they boast the best goals-per-game ratios among the names at the top of our all-time goalscoring list.

Denis Law.
Your life depends on a United chance being converted – which legendary Red are you backing as our greatest finisher?poll

Your life depends on a United chance being converted – which legendary Red are you backing as our greatest finisher?