A ton of United's landmark August debuts
A cluster of landmark debut anniversaries this month combine to stake out the last 100 years of this club’s story.
Read on to see decades' worth of progress, pomp and occasional pain, strung together via the debuts of different United players down the years – each with their own personal chapters in an epically grand narrative…
100 YEARS AGO: FRANK BARSON
Bottom of the First Division pile in 1921/22, United turned to the infamous Barson, a barrel-chested bruiser with a boxer’s nose and blacksmith’s biceps. Fabled for the aggression that regularly landed him in hot water with referees – a quality conferring instant cult-hero status – it was to the 31-year-old’s inspirational leadership United boss John Chapman looked. Barson was promised the unusual incentive of a pub if United returned to the top table within three years. His first season ended with United fourth, the second 14th – the third, promotion as runners-up in 1924/25. It was the highlight of six injury-hit years at Old Trafford. United kept their side of the bargain, too. The George and Dragon in Ardwick was his.
60 YEARS AGO: DENIS LAW
Law was what his fellow Scots would describe as ‘gallus’ – a combative, flamboyant approach to his craft – and sniper’s accuracy made him a talismanic figure. He scored seven minutes into his debut and his first season was bookended by 1963 FA Cup final success – two Wembley strikes against Leicester making it 29 in all – five years on from Munich. Law’s 46 goals in all competitions in 1963/64 remains the club’s seasonal best and won him the Ballon d’Or. Dovetailing with Bobby Charlton, the addition of George Best to establish United’s ‘Trinity’ brought United’s sixth and seventh league titles in 1965 and 1967. His 237 strikes in 404 games were second to Charlton’s 249 upon departing Old Trafford in 1973.
40 YEARS AGO: ARNOLD MUHREN
Hard as it is to fathom in the global age of player recruitment, at the time ‘Arnie’ was the only non-UK/Republic of Ireland-born player in United’s 22-man squad – only our second ever ‘overseas’ signing. He ended that 1982/83 campaign, the first of three, as the first Dutchman to win – and score in – an FA Cup final, converting United’s last goal from the spot in the 4-0 replay romp against Brighton, on Sir Matt Busby’s 74th birthday. That was as good as it got, medals-wise. Muhren’s absence with a tendon injury at the back end of 1983/84 was a significant factor in a failed title bid, yet when fit, his left peg rarely delivered anything but the right stuff.
30 YEARS AGO: DION DUBLIN
Introduced for Andrei Kanchelskis with 21 minutes left of the 1992/93 Premier League-opening defeat for United at Sheffield United, Dublin had little chance to make an impression, and waited four games for a first full start, at Southampton. There, he knew exactly where the net was and his 88th minute strike at The Dell was the difference. Five straight victories followed after a stuttering start, and the season ended in glory, with United champions. Success was bittersweet for him though: a broken leg in his first home start in September limited his contribution to seven league appearances, not enough for a winner’s medal. He played only 17 games before joining Coventry City in September 1994, however, he’d left his mark in more ways than one. Dublin’s injury hastened the arrival of one E Cantona, who took his no.7 shirt. C’est la vie!
20 YEARS AGO: RIO FERDINAND
The fee when Rio Ferdinand switched Roses allegiances from the white of Leeds to the red of Manchester was an eye-popping £30 million, making him the world’s most-expensive defender for the second time at just 23. It was one of the best pieces of business Sir Alex ever did. Ferdinand’s debut came in a Champions League third-round qualifying romp, the Reds making light of Zalaegerszeg's shock 1-0 first-leg success, racing into a 3-0 lead inside the opening 22 minutes. By the end of his first season, a 15th league title had been won and the void left by Jaap Stam’s departure filled. It was the first of six titles over the next 12 seasons across 455 games in all competitions – placing him 20th in the all-time list.
Read this full feature in the latest issue of Inside United, out now.