Sir Alex has bought players wisely in the last few years, but his attempts to find value in the market have produced varying results over the past 27 years. Here is the best 10 of his signing to MU all the time:
1. Peter Schmeichel: £750,000 from Brondby
Ferguson is going out on a high. He took on the challenge of Manchester City and wrestled back the Premier League trophy to Old Trafford. But he hasn’t quite cartwheeled out of the club like Peter Schmeichel did on 26 May 1999. Ferguson called the deal that brought Schmeichel from Brondby to United “the bargain of the century”. It’s difficult to argue with that assessment. The keeper played for United 292 times before sailing off on the club’s greatest ever night.
2. Eric Cantona: £1.2m from Leeds
Eric Cantona has been credited with the emergence of Fergie’s Fledglings, as the young United players of the late 1990s were named in an ill-advised attempt to rekindle the spirit of the Busby Babes. Cantona played his part, but the Neville brothers, Paul Scholes, Nicky Butt and David Beckham were already workaholics. Their youth coach, Eric Harrison, was every bit as tough as Alex Ferguson, so Cantona was not required to show these players how to train. Instead, Cantona provided panache. He scored 82 goals in his five seasons at United, but his impact cannot be measured in statistics. He inspired the team that won the inaugural Premier League; he scored the penalties in the 1994 FA Cup final to set up the club’s first Double and he kept alive the aura of the No7 shirt.
3. Cristiano Ronaldo: £12.25m from Sporting Lisbon
By the time Cristiano Ronaldo moved to Real Madrid in the summer of 2009, a lot of United fans were happy to see him go. He looked selfish, arrogant and bored. He wanted to be elsewhere, and supporters could not bear to watch a player whose every action seemed to constitute a rejection of their club. But no one disputes his ability or impact. Ferguson loved Ronaldo and was always keen to emphasise the bravery of the attacker, who was willing to carry the ball and make things happen. Ronaldo made Ferguson’s second Champions League title win happen, and for the trophies and £67.75m profit in transfer fees he earned the club, his signing must rank as one of the best signings ever made by a football club.
4. Denis Irwin: £625,000 from Oldham
Denis Irwin was so championed for being underrated that he became one of United’s most celebrated players during his 12 years with the club. Only seven players have made more than his 529 appearances for United. Irwin could strike free-kicks like David Beckham and he was as reliable as Eric Cantona from the penalty spot. When asked to pick his best Manchester United line-up a few years ago, Irwin went out of his way not to pick himself. Modest to the end, he stuck Jaap Stam at left-back. It’s probably best that he didn’t go into management.
5. Roy Keane: £3.75m from Nottingham Forest
Dwight Yorke tells a story about his first day training with Manchester United. He was in the same team as Roy Keane in a five-a-side and Keane kept smashing his passes at the new striker. As soon as Yorke miscontrolled one of these overhit passes, Keane strolled over to him, shook his head witheringly and said: “Welcome to United. Cantona used to kill them.” Cantona had been the catalyst United needed to win the league title, but Keane was the driving force that pushed them forward in Europe. Even after Keane’s misadventures managing Sunderland and Ipswich Town, some United supporters would welcome him back with open arms.
6. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer: £1.6m from Molde
Many United fans hope Solskjaer will take over from Ferguson. He has now won the league twice with Molde and his celebrations remain as iconic as they were the night he slid on the Camp Nou turf in 1999. Solskjaer was known as a super sub while at United, and while he was capable of coming off the bench and scoring four goals in 12 minutes, he was also an intelligent and accomplished striker who could double up as a right-winger. Of all the ex-United players in the running for Ferguson’s job, Solskjaer would be greeted most fondly by supporters.
7. Steve Bruce: £825,000 from Norwich
Not many centre-backs score 19 goals in a season, but Steve Bruce managed it in 1990-91. Three of those came during United’s victorious Cup-Winners’ Cup run. He was never as prolific again, but his two late headers against Sheffield Wednesday in April 1993 will always be remembered as one of the club’s most spectacular comebacks. Bruce hadn’t scored in six months, but his goals pushed United towards their first championship in 26 years. Things could have been very different for United that Saturday afternoon. There was tension within the club after so long without a title, and Bruce had been critical of his team’s lack of goals on local TV the night before the game. His goals in the last 10 minutes of that match changed the complexion of the season and the future of the club.
8. Edwin van der Sar: £2m from Fulham
Edwin Van der Sar was 34 when he arrived at Old Trafford, but he became the only goalkeeper in Ferguson’s time at the club who could be compared with Peter Schmeichel. Van der Sar was everything a keeper should be: composed, focused and he could pick a pass. When looking to replace Van der Sar, United’s scouts looked for someone who could build attacks from the back – a style developed by Schmeichel’s long throws and perfected by Van Der Saar’s unerring boots.
9. Nemanja Vidic: £7m from Spartak Moscow
Nemanja Vidic looked lost on his full debut for Manchester United. His discombobulation was partly the fault of Patrice Evra, who was also hauled off at half time in his first start for the club. United lost 4-1 to Manchester City that day, but Vidic can now look back on the occasion and smile. “We speak about that first game quite often,” says Vidic. “Neither of us started well and we used to say we wanted to leave. We can laugh about it now.” Vidic can afford to chuckle about his debut and he has also produced a few laughs in the Old Trafford crowd, by inspiring one of the chants that ring around the ground: “He comes from Serbia, he’ll fucking murder ya.”
10. Robin van Persie: £22.5m from Arsenal
Some Arsenal fans were happy enough to see the back of Robin van Persie last summer. They reasoned that he was an overpriced, aging and injury-prone striker who had put in one decent season in his Arsenal career. You won’t hear many Arsenal supporters suggest that now. Van Persie said he joined United on the advice of the “little boy inside”, who was “screaming Manchester United”. Roberto Mancini has spent the season wishing he listened to his bank manager instead. Van Persie has only been at the club for eight months, but without the championship medal his goals secured, Ferguson would not be considering retirement.