Sir Alex Ferguson’s reign at Manchester United is well known for the incredible array of academy talents that broke through to the first team, particularly the Busby Babes and the Class of ’92.
It’s a tradition that’s engraved deep within the DNA of the club. Famously, Manchester United have named at least one youth graduate in every single matchday squad since October 1938.
But you can’t achieve the kind of success that Sir Alex did without spending some money as well. The Scottish manager signed many players for United, with some of them going on to become legends at Old Trafford.
Let’s take a look at the 5 best signings made by Fergie for the Red Devils:
5. Roy Keane (£3.75 million from Nottingham Forest)
Sir Alex was so impressed by Roy Keane’s exploits at Forest that he hijacked a deal that had been struck with Blackburn Rovers, splashing out a then-record British transfer fee of £3.75 million to bring the Irishman to United.
Keane wasted no time in replacing Bryan Robson in the heart of Ferguson’s midfield, establishing himself as a first team regular in his very first season. He was the kind of no-nonsense, blood-and-thunder leader in the middle of the pitch that United needed
In spite of the numerous controversies he created, not least his fallout with Ferguson towards the end of his time at the club, he is widely accepted as one of the best midfielders United have ever had.
Keane won the Premier League seven times, and famously led United to a comeback against Juventus in the 98/99 Champions League semifinal, en-route to the treble. He also captained the Red Devils from 1997 until his departure in 2005.
4. Peter Schmeichel (£505,000 from Brøndby)
After sealing Schmeichel’s £505k transfer to United in August 1991, Alex Ferguson described the move as the “bargain of the century”, and he wasn’t far off the mark.
United have had a few world class goalkeepers in the Premier League era, and Schmeichel was the first of those ‘keepers. The Danish stopper spent eight seasons at the club, helping them win five league titles and the Champions League in 1999.
He also led Denmark to an improbable win in the 1992 UEFA European Championships. In what is one of the most incredible underdog stories in football, Schmeichel led his country to incredible wins over France, Netherlands and Germany, after having qualified only because of Yugoslavia’s elimination.
His time at the club is perhaps slightly tainted by the fact that he later represented arch rivals Manchester City. But Schmeichel’s contributions to United’s period of dominance in the 90’s, coupled with his ridiculously low transfer fee, earn him a place on this list.
3. Wayne Rooney (£25.6 million from Everton)
At the time of his transfer to Manchester United, Wayne Rooney was the most expensive teenager in the world. At just the age of 18, he’d already made 77 appearances for Everton, and was rated as one of the most exciting young players in World Football.
The Old Trafford faithful instantly fell in love with ‘Wazza,’ when he decimated Fenerbahce on his debut in the Champions League, scoring a hat-trick and providing an assist. It was the beginning of an extraordinary career that spanned 13 years and 16 major honours.
Rooney was a fan favourite throughout his time at the club, despite his premature decline after Ferguson’s retirement. He went on to become both United’s and England’s record goalscorer, and provided several iconic moments in a United shirt, the pick of them being the overhead kick against City at the Etihad.
Since leaving the Red Devils, he returned to Everton before moving to the MLS with DC United. His performances in the USA, where he helped his club reach the playoffs, proved that he still has a lot to offer.
2. Eric Cantona (£1.2 million from Leeds United)
King Eric joined United halfway through the 92/93 season, when the club had been struggling to score goals. Cantona wasn’t actually Ferguson’s first choice – the Scot had tried to sign Alan Shearer, Matt Le Tissier and David Hirst before settling on him.
Cantona’s impact was immediate. United were fifth when he watched them beat Arsenal 1-0 at Highbury from the stands, and one month later they were on top of the table. He scored nine league goals that season as United won the inaugural Premier League by 10 points.
He played a crucial role in the club’s success in the mid 90’s, leading them to three more league titles. Like Keane, he courted controversy on multiple occasions, including an eight month ban after the infamous kung-fu kick on a Crystal Palace fan.
But Cantona was the player around which Ferguson built the foundations of his first great team at Old Trafford. He was a £1.2 million bargain, a deal that was made even sweeter by the fact that he’d been snagged from arch rivals Leeds.
1. Cristiano Ronaldo (£12.24 million from Sporting CP)
It’s hard to imagine that United were able to sign a promising 18-year-old winger for just over £12 million in 2003 when similar players go for close to £50 million now. The Red Devils ended up earning almost seven times the initial amount from Ronaldo’s eventual transfer to Real Madrid in 2009.
In the six intervening years, he was a sheer joy to watch for the Old Trafford faithful. He forged a devastating strike partnership with Rooney and Carlos Tevez, and helped United reclaim the Premier League title from Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea in 2007.
In the 07/08 season, he scored 31 goals in the league to equal Alan Shearer’s record for the most number of goals in a 38-game season (a record broken by Mo Salah last season). He scored numerous mind-boggling strikes, including a 40-yard shot against Porto that earned him the Puskas Award.
One of his notable final contributions to the club was his goal in the 2008 Champions League final against Chelsea, although he missed his penalty in the subsequent shootout that United won. Since then of course, he added to the Ballon d’Or he won while at Old Trafford, by winning it a further four times with Real Madrid, establishing himself as one of the greatest players of all time in an era of global dominance alongside Messi.