Dream United Team: Sir Matt Busby v Sir Alex Ferguson
Manchester United can proudly boast of having two of the greatest managers to have ever graced English football: Sir Matt Busby and Sir Alex Ferguson.
Between them, the great Scotsmen won 18 league titles, seven FA Cups and ensured United were European champions on three separate occasions.
Of course, both men built all-conquering sides during their extended spells in charge at Old Trafford, and as part of our Dream United Team series, we’re asking: which team would come out on top in a six-a-side game?
We’re certainly not spoiled for choice in either side and, after reading through both line-ups, be sure to vote for which team you think would win.
Busby-era side (selected by Ivan Ponting, freelance journalist and author)
1: Harry Gregg
2: Johnny Carey
3: Duncan Edwards
4: Bobby Charlton
5: George Best
6: Denis Law
One thing seems a certainty. If the opposition, any opposition, lost the ball to Matt Busby’s men, then in all likelihood they would not recover it until they fished it out of their net.
The fiery Gregg, a study in utter commitment, would issue orders from his line, while every outfield player was capable of dazzling dexterity in possession and ceaseless industry if the ball was lost. Each individual was such a complete all-rounder that the attacking interplay would be bewildering, frequently impossible to combat by fair means or foul.
The team is beautifully balanced, too. Though captain Carey and Edwards were not out-and-out speed merchants, they weren’t exactly sluggish either, while they were strong, supremely unflappable and their reading of the action was second to none. In addition, their ability to spear destructive passes through even the tightest of defensive ranks to find their forwards, was game-changing.
And what forwards! Law would be the front man, whipcord tough, sharp as a dart in front of goal and with a will to win that was positively savage. Best would roam to every corner, dribbling mesmerically, a twisting, teasing, bright-eyed assassin who found the net for fun but could also tackle like the most jagged of defenders; and then there was Charlton, lying slightly deeper, all that spectacular firepower underpinned by a dynamic work ethic.
Busby’s only problem would be justifying his selection to the stars he left out. Just about any member of his three great teams could make a case for inclusion, with the likes of Charlie Mitten, Roger Byrne, Tommy Taylor, Dennis Viollet, Nobby Stiles and Paddy Crerand perhaps the most aggrieved. What a bench – and what a dream!
Goalkeeper: Harry Gregg
The Ulsterman with the periodically short fuse was a fearsome prospect between United’s posts. Supremely athletic, terrifyingly brave, he set out to command his penalty box, often charging through friend and foe alike in the process. Harry was also voted the top keeper in the 1958 World Cup.
Defender: Johnny Carey (C)
‘Gentleman John’ was an eloquent, soft-brogued Dubliner who majored as a cultured, composed footballing right-back, but one who could crunch into a challenge if needed. In addition, he was a natural leader of men, his imposing presence echoing the charisma and integrity of his manager.
Midfield: Duncan Edwards
A colossus capable of commanding the rearguard, rampaging though midfield or galvanising the attack, he was pretty much the complete footballer. There wasn’t an aspect of the game at which the buoyantly confident but unassuming young Midlander did not excel before he died at Munich.
Midfield: Bobby Charlton
The quiet north-easterner offered a compelling vision of football at its most beautiful, a sumptuous cocktail of silk and dynamite. He moved with the grace of a gazelle, turning would-be markers into irrelevant onlookers; he passed like a dream, shot like a cannon and grafted ceaselessly. Perfection.
Forward: George Best
The unique, ungovernable little Irishman was a once-in-a-lifetime talent of whom Matt Busby remarked: ‘George had more ways of beating a player than anyone I’ve ever seen.’ His 470 games and 179 goals over 11 seasons render idiotic the notion that he wasted his gifts. He just departed too early.
Forward: Denis Law
A footballing fireball with an outlaw streak which could teeter on the edge of villainy, the Scottish sharpshooter, the most deadly his country has ever produced, will be ‘The King’ of the Stretford End for all eternity. Awesome reflexes, aerial brilliance, delicious skills, matchless courage, he had it all..
Sir Alex Ferguson-era side (selected by Ben Ashby, Editor of Inside United)
1: Fabien Barthez
2: Rio Ferdinand
3: Paul Scholes
4: Wayne Rooney
5: Eric Cantona (c)
6: Cristiano Ronaldo
If any team could give the frightening set of Busby-era legends arrayed against them a game, surely this is it. Absolute players from back to front, the cream of the Sir Alex Ferguson generation.
You're probably thinking, "Where's Peter Schmeichel?", or perhaps Edwin van Der Sar or David De Gea? All three are definitely worthy goalkeepers. But in this six-a-side format, I reckon Fabien Barthez would be a perfect wildcard. Efforts on goal would be raining in from all angles and the Frenchman was a shot-stopper par excellence. Plus, he'd be a secret weapon with the occasional dribble out of goal to make a six-on-five overload, which might come in handy!
Next comes Paul Scholes. He'll be the quarterback, the man to dictate play – think the deep-lying Scholes of his latter years. He'll also be encouraged to get into shooting positions whenever possible to harass Harry Gregg with his cannonballs.
Now we come onto a thrilling attacking triumvirate: Wayne Rooney, Eric Cantona and Cristiano Ronaldo. At first I had Ruud van Nistelrooy in mind, but there was not one of these three I could justifiably drop, and I quickly came round to the idea of forsaking a pure centre-forward for this phenomenal trio of multi-talented footballers. The movement would be bewitching, the interplay out of this world – and any of the three could put the ball in the net from anywhere. Defend against that!
My biggest fear would be telling various players they'd missed out... mostly Roy Keane! It's so hard to omit the likes of Bryan Robson, Ryan Giggs and many other legends of the Ferguson era.
Goalkeeper: Fabien Barthez
As acrobatic and agile as keepers came, capable of breathtaking saves. The French World Cup-winner joined the Reds from Monaco and in his three seasons under Ferguson won two Premier League titles, before a loan and eventual permanent move to Marseille.
Defender: Rio Ferdinand
After learning his trade at West Ham and Leeds, when Rio moved to the Reds in 2002 he would learn to win. Relentlessly so. Cultured, quick and athletic, the defender scooped up six titles under Sir Alex, as well as the Champions League, FIFA Club World Cup and plenty more.
Midfielder: Paul Scholes
So good he played for us twice. Emerging from the youth ranks to make his debut in 1994, across 19 seasons (and one false retirement) Scholes established himself as one of the great players of his generation, starting as a goalscoring, attacking midfielder, or second striker, before dropping deeper to become a tempo-controlling playmaker. Eleven titles to his name isn’t bad either!
Forward: Wayne Rooney
Thirteen seasons as a Red and at the end of it, one of the blue riband club records to call his own: all-time record goalscorer, with 253 strikes chalked against his name. But there was so much more to Rooney's game than goals – industry, invention, will to win and the leadership qualities to wear the captain's armband. A true great.
Forward: Eric Cantona
An Old Trafford icon and a footballing tour de force who helped United sweep all before them during the heady 1990s. Visionary passing, sublime touches, incredible goals – and all done with a unique panache and brio that made every supporter feel 10-feet tall. The King.
Forward: Cristiano Ronaldo
The boy wonder signed from Sporting Lisbon developed from skinny winger with an incredible box of tricks and unlimited potential, to a complete attacker who scored goals of every sort, by the bucketload, during his six seasons at Old Trafford. Now one of the select group of players in the argument for best the world has seen – ever.
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