Man Utd's best transfers of all time: From Cantona to Ronaldo

Sir Alex Ferguson Cristiano Ronaldo Man UtdGetty Images

Perhaps no club in the world is more famed for its production of homegrown talent than Manchester United. 

From the Busby Babes to the Class of 92 - fantastic teams have been built on players who have come up through the ranks at Old Trafford. 

But success at United has also been built on their ability to exploit the transfer market. Even Sir Matt Busby signed the best striker of his day in Tommy Taylor from Barnsley to spearhead his Babes. 

Sir Alex Ferguson repeatedly broke transfer records to sign the very best - from Roy Keane to Rio Ferdinand. 

The bar to entry is extremely high to make the top 10 of all time - so who were the best of the best?

  • Denis Law Manchester UnitedGetty Images

    Denis Law

    It takes a special player to be adored on both sides of Manchester – and Law was certainly that. 

    Nicknamed 'The King' by United fans, the British-record £115,000 signing from Torino paid back every penny of that fee and more during his time at Old Trafford. 

    Part of Sir Matt Busby’s ‘Holy Trinity’ alongside George Best and Sir Bobby Charlton, he terrorised defences home and abroad in the red of United. 

    He scored 237 goals in 404 appearances and has two statues erected in his honour at the Theatre of Dreams.

    Law cruelly missed out on the 1968 European Cup final due to injury – but his role in Busby’s second great team will never be forgotten. 

    United fans even forgive him for his back-heeled goal for City at Old Trafford to relegate the Red Devils in 1974. 

  • Bryan Robson Manchester UnitedGetty Images

    Bryan Robson

    For so long, 'Captain Marvel' was the beacon of hope for despondent United fans. 

    During their years in the wilderness, it was Bryan Robson who carried the hopes of the club on his shoulders. 

    The ultimate swashbuckling midfielder, he would crash into tackles one minute and score from 25 yards the next. 

    He was well past his best by time Sir Alex Ferguson put together his first title-winning side in 1993 – but it was fitting that he could be part of United’s return to the summit of English football for the first time in 26 years. 

    Robson deserved to have so much more success – but without the £1.5 million signing from West Brom during those fallow years, things could have been so much worse.

  • Eric Cantona Manchester United 1994Getty Images

    Eric Cantona

    Is he United’s greatest ever signing? There is a strong argument to say he is. 

    Eric Cantona was the catalyst and the inspiration for Ferguson’s first great side. To add to that, he was an absolute bargain at £1.2m – and also robbed bitter rivals Leeds United of their best player. 

    After leading Leeds to the title – at United’s expense - in 1992, Cantona headed to Old Trafford and kicked off a period of unprecedented success. 

    He won the title and then the double in his first two seasons, and though he was banned for kung-fu kicking a Crystal Palace fan the following year, he then returned to lead United to another double, while also inspiring a new generation, which included David Beckham and Paul Scholes. 

    In Cantona’s five seasons at Old Trafford, he won four league titles. The only time they weren’t crowned league champions was when he was banned. 

    A true icon.

  • Peter SchmeichelGetty Images

    Peter Schmeichel

    An absolute bargain at £550,000 – Peter Schmeichel remains the benchmark for United goalkeepers. 

    He would even be a strong contender for the finest keeper in the history of the game. Schmeichel changed the way the position is played, with his volleyball-inspired moves allowing him to pull off the most spectacular of saves. 

    His enormous throw became a key feature of United’s attacks – particularly when bowling the ball out to Ryan Giggs or Andrei Kanchelskis on the wings. 

    He won it all at United and bowed out in perfect style by captaining them to victory in the Champions League in 1999 to complete an unprecedented treble.

  • Cristiano Ronaldo Manchester United Champions League trophy

    Cristiano Ronaldo

    David Beckham’s shirt was always going to be a big one to fill – but Cristiano Ronaldo did precisely that to become an even more iconic No.7 for United. 

    He arrived as a £12 million, teenage show pony – and left as the finest player on the planet. 

    Under Ferguson’s guidance, Ronaldo went from infuriating winger to the complete forward, who was a key figure in the former United manager’s last great team. 

    With the Portuguese leading the line, United reached back-to-back Champions League finals – winning the trophy in 2008. He was an absolute goal-machine, scoring 42 times in that campaign. 

    He was sold for a then-world record £80m to Real Madrid in 2009 and developed into an even greater player. 

    Back at United now – you wouldn’t put it past him to force himself onto this list for a second time before he leaves once more.

  • Wayne Rooney Manchester UnitedGetty Images

    Wayne Rooney

    There is still a sense of unfulfilled potential where Wayne Rooney is concerned, but by the time he ended his Old Trafford career, he had achieved the dual feat of becoming the all-time leading goalscorer for both club and country. 

    He won the lot at United, was part of Ferguson’s last great team, captained the club and produced too many iconic moments to mention - but perhaps none more so than his spectacular derby-winning overhead kick against Man City. 

    Maybe one day he will return to manage the club and further embellish his legendary status.

  • Bryan Robson & Roy KeaneGetty Images

    Roy Keane

    It says everything about Roy Keane’s influence at United that nearly 17 years since his acrimonious exit, his position in the team is still to be filled. 

    True, Ferguson found ways around the Irishman’s absence by changing his system, but United have longed for that all-action, box-to-box midfielder ever since their captain walked away.

    A British-record signing when bought from Nottingham Forest for £3.75m, Keane successfully filled the void left by Bryan Robson’s ageing limbs and was the heartbeat of United’s team for more than a decade in which they dominated the Premier League. 

    He was cruelly suspended for the 1999 Champions League final, but his performance in the semi-final against Juventus was arguably his finest for the club.

  • Denis IrwinGetty

    Denis Irwin

    Perhaps the most underrated signing Ferguson ever made, Irwin proved to be an absolute bargain when signed for £625,000 from Oldham, as he became the best left-back in the Premier League for years. 

    Two-footed, with wonderful delivery and a wicked free kick, the Ireland international was akey figure in two double-winning teams and the treble-winners of 1999. 

    A near-faultless full-back, who can proudly stand alongside any Old Trafford legend. 

    The fact he gets on this list ahead of Patrice Evra is a measure of his brilliance.

  • Nemanja Vidic | Man Utd's 20 greatestGetty Images

    Nemanja Vidic

    There are so many of Ferguson’s centre backs who could easily make this list. Steve Bruce, Gary Pallister, Jaap Stam, Rio Ferdinand - but Nemanja Vidic gets the nod due to his bargain price of £7m.

    The Serbian was not as technically gifted as Ferdinand, and was not as complete as Stam, but his arrival - along with Patrice Evra in 2006 - transformed United’s defence, brought the best out of Ferdinand and proved the platform for Ferguson’s last great team.

    Vidic was ferocious in the tackle, fantastic in the air and so powerful on the ground that, for a long time, he was unplayable.

    He won five titles and the Champions League in his time at United - as well as the hearts of the fans for his full-blooded style of defending.

  • Paddy Crerand Manchester UnitedGetty Images

    Paddy Crerand

    It is easy to think football started in 1992 with the inception of the Premier League, and while any list of United’s greatest signings will be dominated by Ferguson’s iconic teams, respect must also be paid to their predecessors. 

    Any number of Ferguson signings could be interchanged, given their remarkable trophy haul. But Paddy Crerand stands out as a key part of Busby’s European Cup winners.

    The hard-tackling midfielder was part of Busby’s rebuild after the Munich tragedy. He was uncompromising in the tackle, while gifted with his use of the ball. He was a complete midfielder. 

    And while he may not be an obvious choice to newer generations of United fans, to a certain era he is an absolute must for this list as an integral member of a team that won two league titles, the FA Cup and European Cup.