Which is Manchester United's best-ever partnership?
Our upcoming UTD Unscripted double-header, featuring Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic, got us thinking about Manchester United’s greatest on-field partnerships.
While the Reds have boasted some of European football’s most glittering individuals down the years, as well as a whole host of fine homegrown talents, it’s a team game and our biggest successes have always had firm foundations in combinations between sets of players on the pitch.
Whether it’s the telepathic link-up play enjoyed by two forwards or a defensive understanding built on clear communication and organisation, we’re spoiled for choice as a club when it comes to decisive duos.
Here are five of the very best partnerships Old Trafford has enjoyed through the decades. Do you agree with our choices? Be sure to let us know!
STEVE BRUCE AND GARY PALLISTER
Barring a difficult first six months as Pallister, then Britain’s most expensive defender, settled into the side, Bruce and Pallister – or, as they were affectionately known to Sir Alex Ferguson, ‘Dolly and Daisy’ – provided the bedrock upon which the legendary manager’s first great team was built. With ‘the Great Dane’ Peter Schmeichel behind them, the English pairing helped the Reds win the lot domestically, as well as the European Cup Winners’ Cup in 1991. Almost a quarter of a century since Bruce left the club, and with rotation now the status quo, the consistency of selection in the United backline between 1989 and 1995 (the year before Bruce’s departure) beggars belief looking back – the pair made a combined 650 league appearances, meaning virtually no other central defender got a look-in.
GARY NEVILLE AND DAVID BECKHAM
From winning the FA Youth Cup together under the tutelage of Eric Harrison in 1992, through the Treble success and various tournaments with England, Neville and Beckham were a fixture on the right-hand side for club and country for over a decade, sharing a pitch an incredible 378 times. The understanding between the homegrown pair was almost total: the elder Neville’s unheralded overlapping runs would allow Becks the time and the space to unleash his laser-accurate, centre-forward-seeking crosses, while the right-back could trust his mate to muck in with his fair share of defensive work. The duo, who are the best of friends off the pitch too, with Gary best man for Beckham’s 2000 wedding to Victoria, were arguably the most consistent performers in 1999, proving virtual ever-presents in the spring months as the campaign entered its tense denouement.
ANDY COLE AND DWIGHT YORKE
'Cole and Yorke combine!' It’s an evocative piece of commentary, uttered by Martin Tyler as United fought back to complete a remarkable turnaround against Liverpool during the Treble-winning season but, in truth, it could apply to any match involving the pair between 1998 and 2001. Ferguson took a while to play the two together, but, once he did, the driving force behind our unprecedented 1998/99 campaign was in place. Nine goals in five games when starting together in October became 43 in 34 by the end of the term as Coley and Yorkie proved virtually inseparable. They provided United fans with endless memorable moments, not least the dummy and return pass that allowed Cole to silence the Nou Camp, on a night that thrilled Europe.
WAYNE ROONEY AND CRISTIANO RONALDO
Along with Carlos Tevez, Rooney and Ronaldo made up arguably the most fearsome attacking trio Old Trafford has seen since the Holy Trinity itself, but the two Rs – born in the same year and exploding onto the scene with equally epoch-defining United debuts – had a special, if at times complicated, understanding during their five years together. For two campaigns they were shiny cogs in a machine primarily designed to serve up goals for Ruud van Nistelrooy, but by autumn 2006 – after a World Cup quarter-final fracas that had threatened to breach a significant hole in Sir Alex’s plans – Rooney and Ronaldo were front and centre of a new-look Manchester United. For three seasons, they enchanted and tormented English and European opposition alike, with one assisting the other on 20 separate occasions – just picture Bolton at home, Arsenal at the Emirates and that 5-2 win over Spurs – as the Reds conquered the world.
RIO FERDINAND AND NEMANJA VIDIC
That 2006-2009 vintage really was brilliant, wasn’t it? Not only did we have world-class attacking talent to bail us out of all but the stickiest of situations, but the club’s meanest-ever defence made it virtually impossible for the opposition to catch us cold, even on our off days. Edwin van der Sar and Patrice Evra were superb, as were Gary Neville, Wes Brown and John O’Shea at right-back, but the teak-tough partnership of Rio and Vida was central to our trio of title triumphs. The duo complemented each other perfectly, with Nemanja’s propensity to put his head where it hurt and Ferdinand’s Rolls-Royce ability in possession allowing United to simultaneously keep the door shut and build from the back. The 2007/08 campaign saw United concede just 33 goals in 57 games and the next year it got even better, with the Reds unbreached in 14 league games between November and February. Vidic played in every minute of the run, Ferdinand most of it and, when fit, the pair continued to be the best in the business until well into their mid-30s.
UTD Unscripted: Rio Ferdinand on Nemanja Vidic, will be published on ManUtd.com on Friday. Don't miss it!