All-time XI teams are a frequent mental exercise that sports writers all over the world engage in and the moment is always right when it comes to picking an all time XI for English giants, Manchester United. So without much further ado, here’s the Manchester United All-time XI in all its glory. Each player has been selected not only on the basis of his achievements but also on the basis of what he brought/brings to the side in more qualitative terms. An important criteria for consideration was that the player spent the bulk of his career or at least his best years playing for United.
- GK: Peter Schmeichel
- RB: Denis Irwin
- LB: Roger Byrne
- CB: Duncan Edwards
- CB: Jaap Stam
- RM: George Best
- LM: Ryan Giggs
- CM: Bobby Charlton
- CM: Roy Keane
- CF: Denis Law
- CF: Eric Cantona
- Subs: Edwin van der Sar, Gary Neville, Paul Scholes, David Beckham, Ole Gunnar Solksjaer
Today’s post centers around legendary United goalkeeper, Peter Schmeichel.
Honours: Premier league (1993, 1994, 1996, 1997, 1999), FA Cup (1994, 1996, 1999), League Cup (1992), Charity Shield (1993, 1994, 1996, 1997), Champions League (1999), European Super Cup (1991)
Peter Schmeichel was arguably the easiest name to put down on the team sheet above purely because of his undisputed status as the best goalkeeper to have ever donned the United jersey. Schmeichel transferred to Manchester United in 1991 for a little over half a million pounds and when he left in 1999, joined an ever burgeoning list of players who would be remembered in history as the best signings of Sir Alex Ferguson’s career.
When the Danish shot stopper arrived at Old Trafford, he was a relatively unknown entity. However by the end of the season, he had earned his epithet of The Great Dane. The moniker had initially been picked up due to Schmeichel’s huge 6’3″ frame that meant that he needed a special 3XL goalkeeper shirt thus dominating the United defensive box and goal. While Schmeichel had the luxury of being protected in goal by players of the ilk of Steve Bruce, Gary Pallister and Jaap Stam, he was an excellent player in his own right.
Even if an attacker managed to get past the United defensive line, he was suddenly dealing with a gigantic blonde haired Viking who was practically foaming at the mouth to get the ball. Schmeichel’s was a rare combination of heart and technique. The goal keeper tried to stay on his feet for as long as possible, forcing the striker to make the first move and take pressure on himself.
Even when he was needed to make a save, Schmeichel won the one-on-one duels more often than not. Surprisingly agile for his physique, Schmeichel ensured that some part of his body always deflected the ball away from goal – whether it was a punch to turn it around the post, an outstretched leg to deflect the ball wide or his famous starfish jumps that made the big goalkeeper even bigger. Truly strikers facing him had a very unenviable job and few at the time could fancy scoring against him.
It is an ode to Schmeichel’s skills that he kept a clean sheet in nearly 180 of his 398 games for the club. After having experimented with multiple goal keepers over the past many years, United finally found a goalkeeper who lent a sense of calm and control at the back allowing the midfielders and forwards to get on with the job of scoring goals.
In addition to being a fantastic goalkeeper, Schmeichel was fiercely competitive. He has himself been quoted as saying how he used to intimidate opposition strikers to try and put them off their shot. Even his own team mates were not spared the rod as he often screamed at them as he marshalled them from goal. He was a hot tempered fellow on the pitch and more often than not could be found shouting at somebody – friend or foe no bother. Younger players were in fact known to quake at the mention of his name and one can only imagine how players like the Neville brothers and Nicky Butt managed to find their foothold as youngsters with a mean looking blonde in their face all the time. Schmeichel used his screaming to channel his energy into concentration.
While his chief duty was to ensure that the ball stayed out of his net, Schmeichel did fancy himself as an attacker too, often going up field to assist in attack especially in set pieces. The opposition goalkeeper in your box, especially one of such presence , was very unsettling for defenders and before they could reassess the threat, Schmeichel had served his purpose by allowing his team mates space to get away the shots on goal. His throws and kicks were spot on as well and served to take out at least half a dozen opponents before landing inch perfect for a team mate.
Ferguson had been at the helm at Old Trafford for five years without much success at the top level and he realised that he needed a strong goalkeeper to make any serious challenges for the English Championship. In his first year itself, Schmeichel was mighty effective, bringing his club within sniffing distance of the title. In the off season, Schmeichel helped his Denmark national team win the Euro 92 before returning to Old Trafford for his second full season at the club.
By the end of the season in 1993, Schmeichel had helped United become English Champions for the first time in 26 years. He followed it up with a superb third season helping United to the Premier League and FA Cup double. In 1996, Schmeichel helped United to another double. While many believed that the 1996 Premier League was won chiefly due to Eric Cantona, it would be a gross disservice to Schmeichel who was equally brilliant pulling out saves from nowhere to keep his team in the hunt game after game. After winning another league title in 1997, Schmeichel announced he would leave Old Trafford at the end of the 1998-99 season.
It was almost like a swan song when Schmeichel’s determination and skill in equal parts contributed to push Manchester United to a treble that season. With the FA Cup and the Premier League already wrapped up, United traveled to the UEFA Champions League final without captain Roy Keane who was out serving a suspension. Peter Schmeichel donned the captain’s armband and led his team to one of the greatest comeback victories in the history of the club and arguably the Champions League tournament. Schmeichel’s final moments as a Manchester United player, thus, were spent holding aloft the UEFA Champions League cup, bringing to a close his spectacular 8 year career with the Old Trafford giants.
Long before Iker Casillas, Petr Cech, and Manuel Neuer, Peter Schmeichel had opened the footballing world’s eyes as to the treatment of goalkeepers who were hitherto considered a necessary evil. People were suddenly enthusiastic about a goalkeeper. Kids in school didn’t hate keeping goals anymore and “not everybody wanted to be a striker”. Peter Schmeichel made the goalkeeper’s job look cool. He proved the important part goalkeepers can play in their team’s victories singlehandedly lifting team spirit. He set the gold standards by which modern goalkeepers today are measured.