Andrea Pirlo and  Ji-sung Park.

Who were United's best man-markers?

Saturday 23 May 2020 05:00

Wayne Rooney recently recalled Ji-sung Park's fabulous job of smothering AC Milan midfield maestro Andrea Pirlo back in 2010.

The South Korean fulfilled his task manfully and earned the undying respect of Rooney and the rest of his colleagues. Such unsung acts were commonplace in the past with players forging reputations for their ability to stick to opponents like glue.

So we decided to shine the light on a four of these from over the years, those who were extremely effective in stifling their rivals.

Nobby Stiles was an enforcer out on the pitch.


The World Cup winner, who turned 78 this week, was a manager's dream - give him an instruction and he would follow it to the letter. A selfless midfielder who had grit and tenacity in abundance, he could always be relied upon to carry out a job for the sake of the team.

One of his most famous marking jobs was on Eusebio, as he shackled the Portugal international in the 1966 World Cup semi-final at Wembley before getting the chance to do so again, two years later, in the European Cup final against Benfica at the same venue.

"I think Eusebio is scared stiff of Nobby's reputation," claimed Paddy Crerand. "We played Benfica in Los Angeles in a friendly and Eusebio faked injury almost every time Nobby went near him."

It is also worth remembering Stiles's excellent handling of Real Madrid's Amancio in the semi-finals of that competition.


The homegrown talent was a very creative footballer but he also had the physical attributes to do the job of nullifying his rivals. An abrasive and aggressive performer, particularly after reverting to midfield, he must have been a nightmare to play against.

Certain games spring to mind to sum up his impact - his introduction as a substitute at Liverpool in 1988, when the 10-man Reds earned a point by coming back to draw 3-3, was pivotal as he was able to stop Steve McMahon and John Barnes from dictating the play.

The Northern Irishman was also able to ruffle Arsenal's feathers in some particularly stormy encounters, as he managed to quell the threat of David Rocastle in 1987 to the extent that the skilful Gunners midfield man was sent off.

Norman Whiteside keeps tabs on Liverpool's Steve Nicol.


Anybody whose autobiography is entitled 'Tackles Like a Ferret' is always going to be a suitable candidate when it comes to dishing out a man-marking assignment. A much-respected defender who could play in a variety of roles, he was perfect for using his nous, athleticism and intelligence to good effect. 

Bobby Robson called upon his talents during Italia 90 for England and, following the move to United, the Londoner was sometimes handed specific tasks. One of these proved to be impossible, in attempting to keep tabs on Romario when an under-strength Reds side, due to UEFA's foreigners rule, was beaten in Barcelona in 1994, but there is no doubting his ability to stifle the most creative of opponents.

He sometimes played as a spare man in defence at QPR and was adept at picking up centre-forwards who liked to break into space.

Paul Parker gets to the ball first in a game against Barcelona.


Man-marking may be viewed as something of a dying art but there have been fewer classic examples of the tactic than the Spaniard's smothering of Chelsea danger-man Eden Hazard. The United midfielder was too eager when first assigned the job and was sent off at Stamford Bridge in the Emirates FA Cup in 2017.

He learned his lesson and stuck to the Belgian like glue as Jose Mourinho's Reds defeated his former club 2-0 at Old Trafford later that year. It was the first time since 2007 that the Blues had failed to register a single shot on target in a Premier League match and much of this was down to the fact their creative force was completely marked out of the game.

"He never complained," said Ander. "He's very nice and a very special guy. After the game, we spoke because we had some challenges between us but, in my opinion he's the best player in the Premier League."

Despite numerous tussles, Ander Herrera has great respect for Eden Hazard.

There are many other fabulous markers we have left out and it was certainly more common in a bygone era, when it was an obvious tactic to nullify the main threat of the opposition.

Whenever the situation dictates, however, it is a handy option to have when it comes to unsettling your rivals.

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