PETER SCHMEICHEL 1991-1999
Manchester United’s greatest-ever goalkeeper was signed for a bargain price of £750,000 - remarkable business given the impact he made in eight years at Old Trafford. A colossal presence, he was a remarkable shot-stopper and his aura terrified opposing teams while transmitting calm to his own defenders. A measure of his greatness is that it took Fergie until 2005 – six years after Schmeichel left – to adequately replace him with Edwin van der Sar.
ERIC CANTONA 1992-1997
The enigmatic Frenchman was recently voted United’s greatest player by the club’s fans, even though he was only at Old Trafford for five years. But Cantona, who arrived from Leeds in 1992 for just £1.2million, proved the catalyst for the remarkable success United have enjoyed since then. He was the missing piece in the jigsaw, providing the inspiration for United to end their 26-year wait for the title. Controversial – he was banned for THAT kung-fu kick assault on an abusive Crystal Palace fan – Cantona was unquestionably an era-defining signing.
ROY KEANE 1993-2005
Arriving from Nottingham Forest as the long-term successor to Bryan Robson, Keane was a leader and captain who drove United to success after success by sheer force of will as much as any football talent he had. Like Cantona, he was no stranger to controversy both on and off the pitch, famously savaging his team-mates in a 2005 MUTV interview which was deemed too critical to be broadcast. It eventually led to his acrimonious exit in the November of that year, but by that stage Keane’s legendary status at United was assured.
CRISTIANO RONALDO 2003-2009
Derided as a show-pony with fancy tricks when bought for £12.24m from Sporting Lisbon in 2003 - after Fergie’s players raved about him having faced him in a friendly - Ronaldo blossomed into the best player on the planet... until Lionel Messi came along. With his spectacular goals, formidable speed and Riverdance-style stepovers, Ronaldo was United’s star player for several years, until the lure of Real Madrid proved too much for him and Ferguson sold him to them for a world record £80m, making a handsome profit in the process.
WAYNE ROONEY 2004-Present Day
Rooney had announced himself as a future star of world football with his stunning displays for England at Euro 2004, after which Fergie bought him from Everton for £27m. A stunning hat-trick on his debut in the Champions League against Fenerbahce served notice of what was to come from Rooney. Seven years on, he has become United’s most influential player, taking up that mantle from Ronaldo. Fergie played a blinder in persuading him to stay during his contract stand-off a year ago and Rooney is on course to eclipse Sir Bobby Charlton as the club’s all-time leading goalscorer.
RALPH MILNE 1988-1991
Ferguson, speaking at a League Managers’s Association dinner in 2009, said of former Bristol City midfielder Milne: “My worst signing? Ralph Milne. I only paid £170,000 but I still get condemned for it.” Milne made just 23 appearances for United. He quit playing at the age of 30 in 1991, his status as one of Fergie’s worst ever signings assured.
JUAN SEBASTIAN VERON 2001-2003
Although he won the title with United in 2003, Veron was sold to Chelsea later that summer after just two years at Old Trafford. Having arrived from Lazio for £28.1m, he must go down as the most expensive mistake of Fergie’s illustrious reign. The Scot was unable to accommodate him in central midfield alongside Roy Keane and Paul Scholes, and eventually accepted the signing had not worked, flogging him for just £15m. A great player, but ultimately a flop at United.
MASSIMO TAIBI 1999-2000
Signed in haste at the start of the 1999-00 season for £4.5m following the retirement of Schmeichel, Taibi conceded arguably the biggest howler in Premier League history when he allowed a tame shot from Southampton’s Matthew Le Tissier to go through his legs. It proved the beginning of the end for the gaffe-prone Italian keeper. A 5-0 defeat at Chelsea turned out to be his fourth and final appearance for United.
After moving unsuccessfully for Brazil World Cup winner Ronaldinho - then arguably the best player in the world - in 2003, United somehow ended up signing his less celebrated international team-mate that summer. From the moment he pulled on a United shirt, Kleberson looked way out of his depth in the Premier League, where he was never able to impose himself on games. Despite costing £6m, Kleberson made only 30 appearances before joining Besiktas in 2005 for less than half of what United paid for him.
ERIC DJEMBA-DJEMBA 2003-2005
So bad they named him twice was the joke that followed our hero around after he was signed for £3.5m from Nantes in 2003. Hailed as a long-term successor to Roy Keane, the Cameroon midfielder was more like Roy Kinnear. never up to the standard required, he was out the door after just 18 months. Fergie does deserve some credit for persuading Aston Villa to pay £1.3m for him when United sold him in 2005, though. Declared bankrupt in 2007, he now plays in Denmark.