Who is United's best-ever penalty taker?

Wednesday 10 January 2024 13:00

Bruno Fernandes’s coolly dispatched penalty at Wigan Athletic on Monday night got us thinking.

If you had to select a Manchester United player, past or present, to take a spot-kick with your life on the line, who would you choose?

We’ve been weighing it up and, with all due respect to the likes of Marcus Rashford, Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie, we’ve come up with five stellar candidates.

As the conversation continues, both in the club’s Megastore and on the set of our weekly panel show, The Debate, take a look at the argument for each, starting with the most recent Red, before deciding on your champion…

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Fernandes would certainly be a strong contender, given the effort at the DW Stadium was, incredibly, his 28th successful strike from the spot since joining the club four years ago.

In that time, Bruno has missed just four penalties, and his 87.5 per cent success rate means he deserves his place as Erik ten Hag’s first-choice taker. The skipper has charitably delegated responsibility a couple of times, most notably to Rashford – who scored a penalty at Everton in November – and Cristiano Ronaldo.


Ronaldo would surely be another candidate for this thought experiment. Despite famously missing his attempt in our 2008 Champions League final shootout victory over Chelsea, the Portuguese marksman found the net 20 times out of a possible 24 across his two spells with the club (83 per cent).

Like his compatriot, CR7 employed the ‘stutter’ technique in his run-up, which regularly deceived opposition goalkeepers. Chris Kirkland, then of Wigan, is the only person to save a Ronaldo penalty for United – and even then the rebound was successfully converted by the superstar forward.

Ronaldo boasted an 84 per cent success rate from the penalty spot for United.


The prolific Dutchman was Ronaldo's predecessor on penalty duties. During his five goal-laden seasons in Manchester from 2002 to 2006, Ruud walked up to the spot 34 times, scoring on 28 occasions for a conversion rate just over 82 per cent.

Although arguably his most well-known penalty saw him strike the crossbar late on in a goalless draw with future ‘Invincibles’ Arsenal, van Nistelrooy from a dozen yards was generally one of the surest bets in football and he dispatched all 12 of his attempts during 2002/03, the season when he claimed the Premier League Golden Boot award.

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The lone defender in this list, Irwin’s reputation as a solid, consistent player transferred to his ability and composure from dead-ball situations. Den had to wait for Eric Cantona to retire before he could dominate penalty duties, but he would end up being Sir Alex Ferguson’s go-to for half a decade, before his departure to Wolves in 2002.

Irwin managed 12 goals from 14 attempts (85.7 per cent), a ratio former team-mate Ben Thornley believes places him right up there with the best. “I grew up watching Denis take penalties as well as free-kicks and, if it was up to me, my money would go on him.”

If you had to choose one penalty taker to save your life, who would it be?poll

If you had to choose one penalty taker to save your life, who would it be?


For former Reds defender David May, Cantona is the only answer to this hypothetical question - so we'll let the MUTV pundit do most of the talking.

“If my life depended on it, I’d have to go for Eric,” he said. “I think I’ve only ever seen him miss one, which was at Leeds of all places, but I’ve also seen him score penalties there as well.

“He’s just so calm, isn’t he? Back in the day, you’d put your house on him scoring, he was class, just so cool. He’d just watch the keeper and wait and as soon as the keeper decided which way he’d go, he would put it the other way.”

‘The King’ actually failed with two Reds spot-kicks – the other was against Blackburn – but scored the other 18, meaning he has a 90 per cent success rate from penalties, placing him well above the average taker. Stats experts Opta model the 'expected goal' of a penalty at 79 per cent.

Now you've heard the cases, who are you choosing as your spot-kick taker? Vote in the poll above and, if you think we've missed anyone, suggest your favourite via our socials...