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Top ten Manchester United strikers 1982-2012

With Robin van Persie making his debut for Manchester United in their Premier League opener with Everton, it is time to look back at some of Old Trafford's greatest strikers.

The Theatre of Dreams has played host to some of the world's best goalscorers. In any all-time historical list, the likes of Charlton, Law and Best would feature prominently, but football has changed and this feature focuses on the best of the modern-day Manchester United forwards.

And, in case you are wondering, Cristiano Ronaldo isn’t included as, despite his goalscoring prowess for United, he was not classed as a striker.

Here’s our top 10 - and five other players who failed to make the grade in Manchester.

10. Teddy Sheringham

(1997-2001) – 145 appearances, 46 goals

Teddy Sheringham had big boots to fill, as he was seen as the natural replacement for Eric Cantona.

When he moved to the Red Devils from Tottenham in the summer of 1997, one of England’s most natural finishers struggled to settle in initially.

He missed a penalty on his debut, ironically back at White Hart Lane and his first two Premier League seasons, were trying campaigns, with more time being spent on the bench than making the starting 11.

Sheringham’s legendary status at United was cemented in four incredible days in 1999. First, he came off the bench to score with his first touch in the FA Cup final against Newcastle.

Then, he started the historic comeback in the Nou Camp that shattered Bayern Munich’s dreams and completed the unique treble of 99.

His best season with the club was his final campaign (2000-01), when he displaced Dwight Yorke and became a regular starter again, netting 15 times in the league and winning the PFA Players Player of the Year award before sealing a free transfer move back to Tottenham.

Teddy Sheringham wasn’t the most natural finisher but he had a knack of coming up with vital goals when required.

9. Norman Whiteside

(1981-1989) – 274 appearances, 67 goals

In a period when Manchester United had a very mediocre spell, Norman Whiteside often delivered the goods.

In seven years with the club, he won two FA Cup winners medals and a League Cup trophy and could have gone onto so much more had it not been for premature retirement from the game, aged 26 in 1991.

Whiteside became the team’s youngest player since the days of Duncan Edwards, when he featured in a league win at Brighton in 1982.

The following season (1982-83), Ron Atkinson partnered him upfront alongside Frank Stapleton and the Northern Irishman became a huge hit, breaking records to become the youngest scorer in both League Cup and FA Cup finals.

Having fallen down the pecking order upfront, Whiteside was moved into a midfield role for the rest of Atkinson’s management at Old Trafford but formed a great partnership with Bryan Robson and it led to his most memorable moment.

He curled in a stunning winner to defeat highly-fancied Everton in the 1985 FA Cup final, after Kevin Moran had been dismissed for the Red Devils.

Despite often finding the net in a more advanced position under Ferguson, persistent knee problems and alcohol temptations led to him being sold to Everton in the summer of 1989, where his career ended through injury.

Norman Whiteside was a popular and talented footballer in the 1980s and his story is another case of what might have been.

8. Dwight Yorke

(1998-2002)- 152 appearances, 66 goals

Dwight Yorke often played with a smile on his face. He enjoyed his football and was part of one of the deadliest striking partnerships in Manchester United’s rich history.

With a strike rate of one goal per three matches it’s easy to see why Alex Ferguson paid over £12m to get his man in August 1998.

Yorke went straight into the side and scored twice on his home debut, a 4-1 victory over Charlton and began a formidable and telepathic partnership with Andy Cole.

He finished joint top goalscorer in the 1998-99 Premier League season and contributed valuable goals in the Champions League against the likes of Barcelona and Juventus, as United went onto the historic treble.

Another 22 goals in all competitions followed in 1999-00 but an ‘Indian summer’ in Teddy Sheringham’s career meant Yorke’s first-team opportunities became more limited afterwards.

He did bag a first half hat-trick in February 2001, when Manchester United crushed Arsenal 6-1 at Old Trafford but a highly public relationship with model Jordan (Katie Price) led to him falling out of favour with Ferguson.

Just one solitary strike in 2001-02 followed and he was sold to Blackburn Rovers, where his career continued to decline afterwards.

Yorke didn’t quite have the impact that many Manchester United fans would have hoped for but he left plenty of great memories and was a natural goalscorer in his four years at the Theatre of Dreams.

7. Frank Stapleton

(1981-1987) – 288 appearances, 78 goals

In 1981, Frank Stapleton joined a Manchester United side from Arsenal that was struggling badly to relive former glories.

He wasn’t a regular goalscorer but he always worked hard for the cause and played a significant part in the Red Devils two FA Cup successes during the 1980s.

The Irishman scored in the 1983 final against Brighton, becoming the first player to score in two FA Cup finals for two different clubs.

Stapleton also featured at Euro 88 and World Cup 1990 for his country and made the Football League First Division PFA Team of the Year in 1983-84.

He was liked and regularly used by Ron Atkinson but was marginalised when Alex Ferguson arrived in November 1986 and was sold to Ajax a year later.

His scoring record wasn’t the best but there was much more to Frank Stapleton’s game than finding the back of the net.

6. Andy Cole

(1995-2001) – 275 appearances, 121 goals

Having earnt the nickname ‘Cole the goal’ at Newcastle, Andy Cole went onto have a successful spell at Old Trafford, which saw him achieve iconic status and will plenty of silverware.

His move to the Theatre of Dreams in January 1995 for a British transfer record of £7m surprised the game but he quickly made an impact, becoming the first player to score five in a game, when United beat Ipswich Town 9-0 in March 95.

Lambasted for missing many chances at Upton Park in May 1995 that cost Ferguson’s side the title to Blackburn, Cole struggled to find his top form for two seasons and suffered two broken legs in a reserves match in October 1996.

Recovering from this setback, Cole’s best season at the club was in 1998-99, when together with new signing and best friend Dwight Yorke. They terrified defences across the planet with their natural and free-flowing understanding of each other’s game.

Cole scored 24 goals that season, one shy of his total tally in 1997-98 but he had a well-documented feud with Teddy Sheringham that season, which still runs sharply today.

Cole won the Champions League, two FA Cups and five Premier League titles at Old Trafford before a move to Blackburn in December 2001.

On his day, Andy Cole was almost unplayable and one of the best goals poachers I’ve ever seen in a Manchester United shirt

5. Ruud van Nistelrooy

(2001-2006) – 219 appearances, 150 goals

Speaking of goal poachers, Ruud van Nistelrooy had an uncanny habit of being in the right place at the right time. He is Manchester United’s record goalscorer in European competition and it’s hard not to see why.

A serious cruciate knee ligament injury delayed him signing for the club by a year but when he arrived, the Dutchman meant business.

He smashed the record for an individual scoring in consecutive Premier League matches, netting in eight successive games in his debut season.

In 2002-03, he won the Premier League title, ended as winner of the Golden Boot with 25 goals, including three hat-tricks and scored his best goal for the club, with an amazing solo effort, starting from 50 yards out at home to Fulham.

Ruud broke his own record for scoring in successive Premier League matches to ten between the end of 2002-03 and the start of 2003-04 and scored two in the Red Devils FA Cup final triumph over Millwall in May 2004.

Injury ruined the following season, despite breaking Dennis Law’s record of goals in European competition for the club before signing off with another 21 league strikes in 2005-06 and a League Cup medal from the bench.

Although he left for Real Madrid in fairly acrimonious circumstances in 2006, Ruud van Nistelrooy has been of Europe’s most renowned finishers and regularly found the target in his successful spell at Old Trafford.

4. Wayne Rooney

(2004-PRESENT) – 365 appearances, 181 goals

Wayne Rooney is the only one of this top ten to still be playing at Manchester United and as he is still only 26, he could go onto be the greatest of all-time.

Rooney isn’t everyone favourite person. He has a short temper, seen red mist on occasion and broke trust with some fans for his sudden transfer request he made in October 2010, which was quickly ratified with a crazy new deal.

Some see him as greedy but he is very good with media commitments and no-one can doubt that for his club, he is a world class striker, as his record shows.

To date, Rooney has won four Premier League titles, two League Cups, one UEFA Champions League, the FIFA World Club Championship and various individual awards.

This includes recognition from his fellow peers and the ‘Best Goal’ award at the 20 Season awards, for his stunning bicycle kick to defeat Manchester City in February 2011.

Rooney has left Red Devils fans with many epic memories. Some favourites would include his hat-trick on his European debut for the club against Fenerbahce, the wonderful volley at home to Newcastle in his maiden season and the penalty that sealed the club’s 19th league title in May 2011.

There are no doubts about Wayne Rooney’s abilities as a top finisher and combined with the fact that he can play in a variety of roles, the best could still be yet to come.

3. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer

(1996-2007) – 366 appearances, 126 goals

A surprise acquisition he might have been but the ‘baby-faced assassin’ had a fantastic knack of coming up with a goal at the crucial moment. He was a team player and a great super sub.

Arriving from Norway in June 1996, Solskjaer (pictured) immediately became a huge hit with United followers, scoring 18 league goals in his first season, as the club retained their Premier League title.

Rejecting the chance to move to Tottenham in August 1998 was a smart move, even if regular game time was limited, especially when Dwight Yorke arrived.

Solskjaer achieved an incredible feat in February 1999, when he came onto the pitch at Nottingham Forest and scored four goals in 18 minutes as a substitute.

Then, there was the moment in the Nou Camp, when he struck the dramatic injury-time winner that saw the Red Devils reaching the promise land, by winning the Champions League and achieving that unique treble.

The Norwegian became a more regular fixture when Andy Cole and Yorke departed and his adaptability of playing on the right wing during 2002-03, saw David Beckham’s days at the club come to an end.

Three injury-stricken seasons followed and he retired from the game in 2007. Forging out a successful management career with Molde FK in Norway, Solskjaer could be a natural successor to Ferguson in later years to come as boss at Old Trafford.

2. Mark Hughes

(1982-1995) – 467 appearances, 163 goals

Mark Hughes earnt the tag of ‘Sparky’ and that is what he was, during his great legacy with the club.

He spent ten seasons at Old Trafford over two spells and was a powerful and popular attacker with the Old Trafford faithful.

Top scorer in his first full season with the club, he was sold to Barcelona in 1986 and after an unsuccessful spell with the Catalans and at Bayern Munich, Alex Ferguson resigned him again in 1988. It proved into a masterstroke.

Determined on the pitch and liking a challenge, he was an integral part of the spine that helped parachute the club back to the top of the English game.

Hughes scored both goals to help Manchester United win the 1991 Cup Winners Cup and won the FA Cup twice.

He also played a vital role in the 1994 double winning side, which included a famous extra-time volley against Oldham in the semi-finals; one of the best goals ever scored at the former ‘Twin Towers.’

Hughes departed for Chelsea in the summer of 1995 but gave the club dedicated and stunning service and although he did go onto manage Manchester City, will still rank amongst one of the best finishers at Old Trafford.

1. Eric Cantona

(1992-1997) – 185 appearances, 82 goals

The volatile Frenchman might only just have made the top 25 in total of goals but he was idolised by the public, the media and more importantly, the fans in Manchester.

At just over a £1m, Eric Cantona’s switch across the Pennines from Leeds to Manchester United in November 1992, was controversial but one of Alex Ferguson’s best decisions ever.

His impact was immediate, helping the club to the championship in 1992-93 and became the PFA Players Player of the Year winner the following season, as the Red Devils steamrollered the opposition to win the double.

Charismatic, colourful and class are the first words many would think about Cantona and he had his moments of madness. His kung-fu kick on a Crystal Palace supporter in January 1995 brought shame to the game of football.

120 hours of community service and eight months later, he returned to a media frenzy against Liverpool and turned the 1995-96 title race, into a one man crusade.

Cantona inspired the team to another double, scoring pivotal goals and settling a drab FA Cup final against Liverpool.

He retired from the game in May 1997, quite possibly before he reached his peak. However, Eric Cantona’s legacy on the game and most especially at Manchester United, have gone down in folklore.


Dion Dublin

(1992-1994) – 17 appearances, 3 goals

Fighting off attention from Chelsea and Sheffield Wednesday, Alex Ferguson believed signing Dion Dublin from Cambridge United for £1m in August 1992, would turn into a bargain.

17 appearances later, he only managed three goals and was sold to Coventry City in September 1994 for a handy profit of £2m.

Injury didn’t help Dublin, as he broke his leg just a month into his arrival at the club, as did the prominent form of Cantona which kept him out of the side.

He was desperately unlucky and as he showed at both Coventry and Aston Villa, was a superb finisher. Sometimes, it doesn’t come off when you sign for the big boys.

David Bellion

(2003-2006) – 40 appearances, 8 goals

With a one in five scoring rate, David Bellion’s move to Manchester United was part of a disastrous trio of signings Ferguson made in the summer of 2003. Don’t worry Alex; nobody remembers Kleberson and Eric Djemba-Djemba either.

He never looked confident, prolific or talented to be honest and despite some early season strikes in 2004-05, became a forgotten man very quickly.

His career has taken him to Nice, via Bordeaux and West Ham and to say he’s done very little in his career would be an understatement.

Alan Smith

(2003-2007) – 93 appearances, 12 goals

Once upon a time, Alan Smith vowed he would never play for Manchester United. Nice to know where your loyalties lied with the Leeds supporters then Alan!

Arriving for a costly £7m in the summer of 2004, Smith was converted into a holding midfield position by Ferguson but maybe, that’s because he was fairly wasteful infront of goal.

There was a spectacular home debut goal against Norwich City, one Premier League trophy and the League Cup in 2006 but very few other highlights and a serious injury in an FA Cup tie at Anfield left him on the sidelines and eventually, on the way to the exit door.

He was talented but this was a poor and desperate piece of business. Smith was a £7m flop.

Mark Robins

(1988-1992) – 70 appearances, 8 goals

It is widely believed that Mark Robins saved Alex Ferguson’s job in 1990.

With United 15th in Division One and out of the League Cup, many believed defeat to Nottingham Forest in the FA Cup third round would spell the end for Ferguson at Old Trafford.

Robins came off the bench to score a late winning goal, saving Ferguson’s job and changing United’s history.

Whilst the Scot went onto unparallel success, Robins quietly drifted away from the limelight, never inspired confidence as a natural goalscorer and was sold to Norwich City in 1992 for £800,000.

Erik Nevland

(1997-2000) – 6 appearances, 1 goal

Poor Erik Nevland, he has a place alongside William Prunier and Bebe as amongst the worst signings ever made by the Scotsman.

Does anybody remember him playing for Manchester United? No I don’t either but he did.

The club signed him after scoring hat-tricks in three games whilst on trial but clearly the defences were unstable then.

If anyone can find his only goal for the club on YouTube, against Bury in the Worthington Cup in September 1998, then good luck. We’ll be seeing t-shirts next saying; “I was there when Nevland scored!”

All statistics from

By Simon Wright – Follow me on Twitter @Siwri88

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