There was once a time when Manchester United were pretty much unbeatable, or at least that’s how it felt during the early years of the Premier League.
Under the guidance of Sir Alex Ferguson, the Red Devils had the wow factor in pretty much every department, brushing aside all that was put before them.
Not only did they have the best players in the league, United also seemed to have the biggest wallet – evidenced by a number of big money signings. But recruitment wasn’t always straight forward, particularly in the formative years of Sir Alex’s Premier League reign.
Here, 90min deep dives into his first 15 signings after the formation of what’s commonly referred to as ‘the best league in the world’.
15. Graeme Tomlinson
You’re not the only one struggling to picture Graeme Tomlinson, don’t worry. In fact, you’ve probably never heard of him.
Plucked from Bradford in 1994 as an 18-year-old, United had high hopes for the diminutive forward. Those hopes were misplaced, unfortunately, and he failed to feature in the first team.
14. William Prunier
Now you will have heard of William Prunier if you’re a 1990s aficionado. The Frenchman’s famous for all the wrong reasons, though, after a nightmare performance at Tottenham swiftly ended his career at Old Trafford.
Fortunately for Sir Alex, he was only signed on loan – and was soon gallivanting back off to France for some home comforts.
13. Nick Culkin
Culkin’s face is another you’re probably struggling to place. Again, that’s because he barely featured – he actually played once, for literally a minute – for United, instead watching on 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
Ahhh, now we’re talking – the man with one of the greatest moustaches of the 1980s.
Yes, he didn’t look like this when he rocked up at United in 1996, but that’s absolutely not the point is it? He also never played a first team game for the club, incidentally.
11. Pat McGibbon
We’ll 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 during five years in the north west, watching on as the rest of his academy cohorts took the Premier League by storm.
10. Dion Dublin
These days, Dublin will probably want to talk to you about refurbishing a downtrodden bungalow bought at auction for £134,000, but there was once a time when football was his only language.
He was a prolific goalscorer for Aston Villa and Coventry for much of the Premier League’s first decade, but it’s a short two-year spell at United that’s often forgotten about. That’s because he only played 12 top flight games, netting twice, before being moved on.
9. Karel Poborsky
There was something about the ’90s and cracking hairdos wasn’t there? (More on that in a minute).
One such style guru was Czech Republic midfielder Poborsky, who rocked up at United in 1996 after a cracking Euro ’96. Costing £3.5m, much was expected of him – you’ll know why if you watch his lob over Vitor Baia of Portugal – but again things didn’t pan out too well.
18 months after arriving, he was on his way out – after failing to dislodge some guy called Beckham in United’s starting XI.
8. Jordi Cruyff
When you arrive from Barcelona and you’re the literal son of Johan Cruyff, one of the best ever, you can bet your ass that you have high standards to live up to. Even more so when your barnet is a bit wavy.
But given that Cruyff ranks eighth on this list of signings, you can probably piece two and two together before surmising that he was pretty pants. Still, he did win a Premier League and two Charity Shield crowns – but missed out on 1999 Champions League glory as he was in Vigo, shipped out on loan.
7. Raimond van der Gouw
One of the great understudies of the Premier League era, Van der Gouw actually did very little for United in six years.
But when he did play, he usually ended up on the winning side – and, most importantly, was an innovator of trousers at times. What a guy.
6. David May
Injuries ruined the majority of May’s nine years in Manchester, but he’s remembered fondly for scoring in the 3-0 win against Middlesbrough on the final day of the 1995/96 season.
That was the game that wrapped up United’s third Premier League title win in four years, and he also played his part in that ’99 Champions League win.
5. Ronny Johnsen
Unheralded, unassuming and unorthodox are three great ‘un’ descriptions for Ronny Johnsen, but there’s plenty of other smashing adjectives that you can associate with the Norwegian.
Let’s go with unexpectedly good, unnervingly calm and unwavering in his desire to win. That last one he did, a lot – just check his home trophy cabinet if you don’t believe us (and if he lets you).
4. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer
These days, Solskjaer’s recent tenure as Manchester United boss is all anybody wants to discuss whenever the Norwegian is brought up in conversation.
But before all that caper, he was the best super sub in the history of the Premier League – firing home goals left, right and centre, while looking like a literal baby.
3. Andy Cole
One of the great Premier League goal merchants, few would argue against calling Cole one of the most lethal finishers of the last 30 years.
After scoring for fun at Newcastle, Sir Alex splashed out £7m in 1995 (trust me, that was a lot back then) to bring Cole to Old Trafford and didn’t regret the decision for a second. Scored 93 Premier League goals for the club, scooping six titles.
2. Roy Keane
The greatest captain the Premier League has ever seen (probably), Keane was one of the transformative figures that lifted United’s game to the next level.
An unbelievable competitor, he epitomised everything that Ferguson stood for – possessing an insatiable appetite for winning, while taking absolutely no sh*t in the process. Ultimately, that cost him his career when things went sour with Fergie – but boy were they good together.
1. Eric Cantona
Sir Alex Ferguson has admitted previously that his greatest signing was Cantona, so who are we to argue with the great man?
But even if he hadn’t said that, it’s plainly obvious that Cantona was the best of this bunch. A real footballing genius, the Frenchman was one of those players that could do things that most couldn’t – and his mere presence made United the unstoppable force they were during the mid 1990s.