There was a time when Manchester United was quite unbeatable, or at least that was how it felt during the first years of the Premier League.
Under the leadership of Sir Alex Ferguson, the Red Devils wore the wow factor in pretty much every department, stroking everything in front of them.
Not only did they have the best players in the league, United also seemed to have the biggest wallet – as evidenced by a number of major signings. But recruitment was not always direct, especially during the formal years of Sir Alex’s Premier League reign.
Here, 90 minutes dive deep into his first 15 signings after the formation of what is usually called “the world’s best league”.
15. Graeme Tomlinson
Man Utd’s young striker Graeme Tomlinson in 1996. He moved to Macclesfield Town in 1998. pic.twitter.com/kQFggF1vuk
– Michael H (@ MikeH1964) April 29, 2016
You’re not the only one struggling to imagine Graeme Tomlinson, do not worry. In fact, you’ve never heard of him.
Picked from Bradford in 1994 as an 18-year-old, United had high hopes for the little forward. Those hopes were misplaced, unfortunately, and he failed to join the first team.
14. William Prunier
Mark Thompson / Getty Images
Now you’ll have heard of William Prunier if you’re a 1990s aficionado. The Frenchman is known for the wrong reasons, however, but after a nightmare appearance at Tottenham, he quickly ended his career at Old Trafford.
Luckily for Sir Alex, he was just loaned out – and he was soon on his way back to France for some home comfort.
13. Nick Culkin
Retro: Man Utd ‘Keeper Nick Culkin sets record for shortest Premier League career by coming in two seconds against Arsenal, 1999 (Photo & Video) https://t.co/dopdwvUujb via @waatpies pic.twitter.com/oYQMagxBWC
– Who Ate All The Pies (@waatpies) January 29, 2019
Culkin’s face is another one you’re probably struggling to place. Again, that’s because he barely played – he actually played once, for literally a minute – for United, instead watching from the sidelines for much of Peter Schmeichel’s career.
Played first-team football for QPR for a few years but is basically another wilderness explorer.
12. Tony Coton
Getty Images / Getty Images
Ahhh, now we’re talking – the man with one of the biggest mustaches of the 1980s.
Yes, he did not look like this when he rocked up at United in 1996, but that’s definitely not the point, is it? Incidentally, he never played a first team match for the club.
11. Pat McGibbon
Man Utd defender Pat McGibbon 1996. Never joined the 1st team and was sold to Wigan Ath for £ 250,000 in 1997. pic.twitter.com/h9a7dfrSRM
– Michael H (@ MikeH1964) May 30, 2016
We will actually get to players who played for United soon, we promise.
Unfortunately for McGibbon – who was actually Sir Alex’s first recruit in 1992 – he failed to break into United’s side for five years in the North West, watching as the rest of his academy cohorts took the Premier League by storm.
10. Dion Dublin
Robbie Jay Barratt – AMA / Getty Images
Nowadays, Dublin will probably want to talk to you about renovating a smashed bungalow bought at auction for £ 134,000, but there was once a time when football was his only language.
He was a prolific goal scorer for Aston Villa and Coventry for much of the Premier League’s first decade, but it’s a short two-year stint at United that is often forgotten. This is because he only played 12 top matches, netted twice, before moving on.
9. Karel Poborsky
Ben Radford / Getty Images
There was something about the 90’s and kinky hairstyle was not it? (More on that in a minute).
One such style guru was Czech midfielder Poborsky, who rocked United at 1996 after a crackling European Championship ’96. It cost £ 3.5 million and was highly anticipated by him – you know why if you look at his lobby over Vitor Baia from Portugal – but again it did not go so well.
18 months after his arrival, he was on his way out – after failing to get rid of a guy named Beckham in United’s starting eleven.
8. Jordi Cruyff
Stu Forster / Getty Images
When you arrive from Barcelona and you are the literal son of Johan Cruyff, one of the best ever, you can bet that you have high demands to live up to. Even more so when your child is a little wavy.
But given that Cruyff ranks eighth on this recruiting list, you can probably put two and two together before assuming he’s good-looking pants. Still, he won a Premier League and two Charity Shield crowns – but missed the 1999 Champions League glory when he was in Vigo, which was sent out on loan.
7. Raimond van der Gouw
Michael Steele / Getty Images
One of the big understudies of the Premier League era, Van der Gouw actually did very little for United in six years.
But once he played, he usually ended up on the winning side – and, most importantly, was a pants renewer at times. What a guy.
6. David May
Middlesbrough v Manchester United FA Premier League May 1996 / Getty Images / Getty Images
Injuries ruined the majority of May’s nine years at Manchester, but he remembers happily scoring in the 3-0 win over Middlesbrough on the final day of the 1995/96 season.
It was the match that ended United’s third Premier League title win in four years, and he also played his part in the 99th Champions League win.
5. Ronny Johnsen
Gary M. Prior / Getty Images
Unbanned, unassuming and unorthodox are three fantastic “un” descriptions for Ronny Johnsen, but there are lots of other fantastic adjectives that you can associate with Norwegian.
Let’s go with unexpectedly good, annoying calm and unwavering in their desire to win. The last thing he did, a lot – just check his home cupboard if you do not believe us (and if he allows you).
4. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer
David Rogers / Getty Images
Nowadays, Solskjaer’s latest term as Manchester United boss is everything anyone wants to discuss when the Norwegian is brought up in conversation.
But before all that caprice, he was the best supersub in Premier League history – he shot home goals left, right and center, while looking like a literal baby.
3. Andy Cole
Stu Forster / Getty Images
One of the great Premier League goal-scorers, few would argue against calling Cole one of the deadliest end-players of the last 30 years.
After scoring for fun in Newcastle, Sir Alex splashed out £ 7m in 1995 (believe me, that was a lot then) to take Cole to Old Trafford and did not regret the decision for a second. Scored 93 Premier League goals for the club and won six titles.
2. Roy Keane
Phil Cole / Getty Images
The greatest captain the Premier League has ever seen (probably), Keane was one of the transformative figures who took United’s game to the next level.
An incredible competitor, he symbolized everything that Ferguson stood for – he had an insatiable appetite for winning, while not taking any shit during the process. In the end, it cost him his career when things went awry with Fergie – but boy were they good together.
1. Eric Cantona
Shaun Botterill / Getty Images
Sir Alex Ferguson has previously admitted that his biggest signing was Cantona, so who are we to argue with the big man?
But even if he had not said so, it is quite clear that Cantona was the best of this gang. The Frenchman was a true football genius and was one of the players who could do things that most people could not – and only his presence made United the unstoppable force they were in the mid-1990s.
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