How Does Robin Van Persie Compare to Manchester United's 19 Best Strikers?

Scott RomFeatured ColumnistMarch 14, 2014

How Does Robin Van Persie Compare to Manchester United's 19 Best Strikers?

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    Robin van Persie joined Manchester United on the back of winning the Premier League Golden Boot, as well as being named PFA and FWA Player of the Year. For all the individual accolades he has collected during his career, he's barely won any trophies, with his last before moving to Manchester coming when he was just 21 in the 2005 FA Cup final against United. 

    In his first season in Manchester, Van Persie scored 30 goals in 48 appearances in all competitions. But after so many barren years with Arsenal, it was the Premier League title he was after, and his goals made that record-breaking 20th title win possible.

    This season he has scored 14 goals in 20 games but there won't be any silverware for him, unless United somehow manage to pull off the miraculous and win the Champions League.  

    In terms of technical ability alone, aside from the number of goals he contributes, he's one of the most talented players the club has ever seen. He joins a long list of top United strikers but where does he rank amongst them? Judging on goals scored, trophies won, affinity with the fans, longevity of career and general contribution to the team, here are United's top 20 strikers.

Norman Whiteside

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    With 67 goals in all competitions, Norman Whiteside is just outside the top 30 goalscorers at United, having spent seven years in the first team after joining the youth set up as a teenager.

    In Whiteside's autobiography, Determined, Whiteside revealed that he found out United wanted to sign him when he was in the White House on a school trip in America. 

    He became the youngest player to feature in the first team since Duncan Edwards when he made his debut two weeks before his 17th birthday.

    Whiteside won two FA Cups during his time with the club and scored in both finals. In 1983, United drew 2-2 with Brighton and Hove Albion at Wembley which forced the final in to a replay. United won that 4-0 with Whiteside scoring after half an hour.

    In the 1985 FA Cup final, United went down to ten men with over ten minutes remaining but with the scoreline at 0-0 the game went in to extra time. In the second half of extra time, Whiteside scored a fantastic goal to win the trophy.

    Goals per game: 0.24

Dwight Yorke

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    Dwight Yorke made the move to United in the summer of 1998 for a pricey £12.8 million. Having enjoyed a successful stint at Aston Villa, he was ready for the step up but even he probably couldn't have predicted what would happen in his first season.

    He finished 11th in the Ballon d'Or voting after playing a crucial role in United's Treble-winning season. He was the top scorer in both the Premier League and Champions league, including a crucial goal in the semi-final against Juventus and scoring both goals in the 2-0 win over Inter Milan in the quarter-finals. He also netted an 88th-minute equaliser against Liverpool in the FA Cup before Ole Gunnar Solskjaer scored the last-minute winner.

    Yorke only spent four seasons at the club though after Sir Alex Ferguson reportedly grew tired of his partying lifestyle.

    He is the 35th highest scorer in the club's history and won another two league titles on top of the success of 1999.

    Goals per game: 0.43

Brian Kidd

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    Brian Kidd started his career in United's youth team and was a part of one of the best teams in the club's history.

    On his 19th birthday Kidd scored in extra time in United's 4-1 win over Benfica in the European Cup final, clearly the most important of the 70 goals he scored for the club, which put him in the top 30 goalscorers.

    Kidd returned to the club just four years after retiring as a youth team coach, going full circle, before being promoted to Sir Alex Ferguson's assistant manager in 1991.

    At the end of his first season United won the League Cup, the following season it was the first league title in 26 years, the year after it was the double and two years after that another double. His celebration after Steve Bruce scored a late winner against Sheffield Wednesday in the final weeks of that season will be in the memory of United fans forever.

    His career, from a United fan's perspective, took a bit of a nose dive after that. He left the club half way through the 1998-1999 season, just months before the historic treble, to become Blackburn's manager. They were relegated at the end of that season and he was sacked soon after.

    He has since had stints at Leeds and Manchester City, but United fans would still like to think of him as a red deep down.

    Goals per game: 0.26

George Wall

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    George Wall joined United from Barnsley in 1906 and was part of the team that won the club's first league title in 1908. 

    He went on to celebrate another title, as well as the club's first FA Cup in 1909. 

    After nine years at the club he was sold for £200 to Oldham, but he still features in the top 20 scorers for the club with 100 goals in all competitions.

    Goals per game: 0.31

Sandy Turnbull

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    Sandy Turnbull started his career at Manchester City but moved across town to United in 1907. Like Wall, he was part of the team that won United's first league titles. 

    It was his goal in a 1-0 win over Bristol City that saw United win their first ever FA Cup. He was also the first player to score at Old Trafford.

    Turnbull was sadly killed in World War I at the Battle of Arras in 1917.

    Goals per game: 0.41

David Herd

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    Associated Press

    David Herd is the 13th highest goalscorer in United's history and is also the 15th highest scorer in Arsenal's history, which says a lot about his status as a striker.

    He moved to Manchester from London in 1961 as United looked to rebuild after the Munich Air Disaster.

    He scored two goals in United's 3-1 win over Leicester City in the FA Cup final in 1963, before winning the league in 1965 and 1967.

    However, after breaking his leg, his appearances became more limited and he didn't play in the 1968 European Cup final. He left the club on a free transfer that summer after scoring 145 goals in 265 games.

    Goals per game: 0.55

Stan Pearson

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    Stan Pearson joined United as a teenager and spent the first few years of his career playing for the youth team, before making his debut for the first team when he was 18 in 1937.

    In 1946 he scored a hat-trick against Liverpool and was the last United player to do so until Dimitar Berbatov repeated the feat in 2010.

    United beat Blackpool in the 1948 FA Cup final, with Stanley Matthews playing for the opposition, and Pearson scored in the 4-2 win.

    Pearson also won the league in 1952 but then left the club for Bury two years later, having scored 148 goals in 343 games.

    Goals per game: 0.43

Brian McClair

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    Brian McClair joined United from Celtic in 1987 and in his first season became the first player since George Best to score more than 20 goals in a season, with an impressive 31 goals in 48 games.

    The only other years he came close to being that prolific were between 1990 and 1992, with him scoring 25 goals a season, but he more often scored less than 10 goals a season.

    He spent eleven years with the club, winning four league titles, three FA Cups, a League Cup, Cup Winners Cup and Super Cup. He scored the only goal in the finals of the League Cup and UEFA Super Cup, and he also netted in the 1994 FA Cup final.

    McClair returned to the club three years after leaving as the reserve team manager and won the Premier Reserve League. The following season he took charge of the under-19 team and won the FA Youth Cup. 

    He is now the Director of United's youth academy and is United's 15th highest goalscorer of all time.

    Goals per game: 0.27 

Joe Spence

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    Joe Spence started his senior career at United after joining the club in 1919 from Scotswood, where he had played as a youngster.

    Sadly, he didn't win any silverware at the club, despite spending 14 years there. Still, his appearance record stood for 40 years until it was beaten by Bill Foulkes and even without playing in a side capable of winning trophies, he still scored enough goals to rank himself in the top 10 scorers of all time.

    Goals per game: 0.33

Mark Hughes

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    Mark Hughes joined United's youth team as a teenager and made his debut five years later in 1983. He scored 47 goals in 121 games during his first three seasons at the club and played in the victorious 1985 FA Cup final against Everton.

    He was then sold to Barcelona for £2 million but returned to Manchester two years later and spent a further seven years at United.

    Hughes scored twice in United's 3-3 draw against Crystal Palace, the second goal coming five minutes before the end of extra time to force a replay, which United then won. He scored in United's 4-0 win over Chelsea in the FA Cup final four years later too, after scoring a late equaliser against Oldham in the semi-finals to secure a replay.

    He also scored both of United's goals in their 2-1 win over Barcelona to win the European Cup Winners Cup.

    After leaving the club for Chelsea, he distanced himself from United where he was known as a legend, and this gap has grown over time. 

    When he became Manchester City manager in 2008, ensuring that he would never replace Sir Alex Ferguson (something that had actually been tipped as a possibility once upon a time), he further damaged the relationship.

    Still, ranking ninth in United's all time scorer list, as well as winning eight trophies with the club, ensure his name is forever in the history books.

    Goals per game: 0.35 

Andy Cole

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    The signing of Andy Cole was one of the most exciting acquisitions for United fans in the Ferguson era, thanks to his fantastic goalscoring record at Newcastle.

    Whilst his first season ended in disappointment, with United missing out on the league to Blackburn by a point, Cole more than made up for it in the years to come.

    He won the double in his first full season, the league in second season and he played a crucial role in United's treble-winning season in 1998-1999. He scored the winner against Juventus in the Champions League semi-final, as well as the winning goal in the final game of the season against Tottenham Hotspur to ensure United won the title.

    Cole left the club in 2004 but is now an official ambassador at United.

    Goals per game: 0.44

Wayne Rooney

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    Whilst Wayne Rooney isn't the most popular figure at United, thanks to his desire to leave the club on two separate occasions, there's no denying that he has been a great striker since joining from Everton. He would probably rank higher on the list if not for the acts of disloyalty in 2010 and 2013, which both led to massive new contracts at the club.

    Rooney is currently the fourth highest scorer at the club and stands a good chance of one day becoming the all time top scorer, with him just 39 goals short of Sir Bobby Charlton's record.

    Still, it's not just his goals that he is lauded for, but his work ethic too, with him rarely playing in his preferred position of up front and often accommodating other great players like Cristiano Ronaldo and van Persie.

    Rooney scored the record-breaking 19th title-winning goal against Blackburn in 2011, he has scored more goals in Manchester derbies than any player for either side and has already played for the club for ten seasons.

    He's won the Premier League five times, the Champions League, two league cups and currently has 210 goals for the club.

    Goals per game: 0.49

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer

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    In terms of most popular United players ever, there aren't many who would rank more highly than Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

    Having joined the club on the back of United missing out on Alan Shearer, Solskjaer went on to have a fantastic career in Manchester, after being bought for just £1.5 million.

    Several players have career defining moments but it's hard to think of many that match Solskjaer's. As United went in to injury time in the 1999 Champions League final, they were 1-0 down.

    Teddy Sheringham, whose absence from this list shows just how tight a competition it is amongst strikers at United, scored an injury-time equaliser. Then Solskjaer scored an injury-time winner. He later reflected on the goal, Reuters.

    I was just looking forward to extra time and getting to play an extra 30 minutes in the Champions League final. To have been such a big part of their lives—many have told me it was the biggest moment of their lives, bigger than their wedding day. But they don't say that if their wives are with them.

    Despite spending so much of his United career on the bench, he still features amongst the top 20 strikers at the club, having scored 126 goals.

    Goals per game: 0.34

Dennis Viollet

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    Associated Press

    Dennis Viollet was a Manchester boy who started his career in United's youth team. After breaking in to the first team he played alongside Tommy Taylor in the famous Busby Babes team.

    Viollet escaped the Munich Air Disaster relatively unscathed after he and Sir Bobby Charlton swapped seats with Tommy Taylor and David Pegg ahead of the fateful take off.

    United goalkeeper at the time, Harry Gregg, later spoke to The Daily Mail about his memories of Viollet after the crash.

    I ran round the back and found Bobby Charlton and Dennis Viollet lying in a pool of water. I thought they were dead and dragged their bodies like rag dolls towards the seats that had been thrown 20 yards from the plane.

    As Busby looked to rebuild the club, Viollet played an important role, and he went on to score 32 goals in 36 games, which remains a club record.

    After 10 years at the club, scoring 178 goals in 294 appearances, Viollet was sold to Stoke for £25,000. He remains the fifth highest scorer in the club's history alongside George Best.

    Goals per game: 0.61

Jack Rowley

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    United paid Bournemouth £3,000 for Jack Rowley when he was just 17, and he quickly proved to be money well spent. In his second game he scored four goals against Swansea Town.

    When Sir Matt Busby became manager several years later, Rowley was converted from a left winger in to a centre forward and regularly scored more than 20 goals a season. He was then given the nickname "the Gunner".

    He scored twice in United's 1948 FA Cup final victory over Blackpool and formed a great partnership with Pearson. The club had gone over 40 years without a league title until Rowley helped fire Busby's team to success with an impressive 30 goals in 41 appearances.

    After 12 years in Manchester, Rowley left United to become a player-manager at Plymouth Argyle.

    Goals per game: 0.50

Tommy Taylor

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    Tommy Taylor joined United from his hometown club, Barnsley, for £29,999 in 1953. To avoid the pressure of becoming the first £30,000 player, Busby reportedly gave a tea lady the extra £1.

    The great Alfredo Di Stefano of Real Madrid dubbed him "Magnifico," but his life was cut short before he was even able to reach his peak, with Taylor dying in Munich when he was just 26.

    Taylor had spent just five seasons at the club but still manages to rank 14th in the highest ever scorers. He scored 112 goals in 166 league games, 11 goals in 14 European Cup matches and five in nine FA Cup ties.

    Goals per game: 0.69

Ruud Van Nistelrooy

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    JON SUPER/Associated Press

    Ruud van Nistelrooy joined United for £19 million in 2001 and went on to score 100 goals in just his first three seasons at the club.

    At the end of his second season he was the league's top scorer, which contributed significantly to them winning the league title in 2003. He was a symbol for the hatred between United and title rivals at the time, Arsenal. When he missed a late penalty against them in 2003 he was bombarded by their players jumping on him, pushing him and shouting in his face.

    In an interview with The Daily Mail (h/t Give Me Sport), Martin Keown later reflected on the incident, which saw him receive a three-match ban and £20,000 fine. 

    Yes I could have done far better – and should have. But I can’t take it back and I’m not sure I want to take it back. He was probably the best finisher Manchester United have had. But he got what he got then because we’d had enough of him.

    The following season Nistelrooy contributed to ending Arsenal's 49-game unbeaten run by scoring a penalty in a 2-0 win.

    Van Nistelrooy scored in United's 2004 FA Cup win and was named Man of the Match, but his three trophies in his five years didn't do justice to the contribution he made to the club and the Premier League.

    The fans loved him all the same though and the feeling was seemingly reciprocated, as reported by Fox Sports years after he left the club.

    It was a fantastic five years, it was crazy, all of the games that we played in the league, in the cups and in the Champions League. As a football player playing for United and at Old Trafford, it was something crazy and it felt like a dream at the time. The fans were really special. From the first day onwards it was there and it just gives you that extra 10 or 20 per cent on the pitch, home and away. The away fans were always there and firing the team on, and individual players as well. My relationship with the fans was very special and that’s why leaving in the way I did was, and still is, a real shame for me because I couldn’t really say goodbye to them. It was my only regret that it went like that and it’s a shame that it happened, particularly for the fans as I saw the people at the club before I left but I never got a chance to properly say goodbye to the fans.

    Van Nistelrooy left under a bit of a cloud after being left out of the starting team for the League Cup final in 2006 and not being substituted on. His reaction to Ferguson's decision saw a breakdown in their relationship and led to his departure to Real Madrid at the end of the season.

    Goals per game: 0.68

Eric Cantona

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    Eric Cantona was the catalyst to United's success in the 1990s after joining the club from rivals Leeds. At just £1.2 million, Cantona was a bargain.

    His inspirational performances on the pitch saw United end their title drought, winning the league for the first time in 26 years in his first season at the club. 

    In five seasons in Manchester, he won the league four times, two FA Cups and was an icon to the fans. His most infamous moment came when he kicked a racist football fan in the crowd at Crystal Palace, something Gary Neville later told The Mirror all fans respected him for.

    If you asked 100 per cent of football fans – and not just United fans – what they now think about that incident they probably respect Eric for doing what he did. Supporters think, ‘well yeah, he was having a go, he was criticising’, and I believe Eric now gets a level of respect for reacting like he did. It was all about passion and emotion. Alright, you can’t condone a player going into the stands and doing what Eric did. But the reality is that’s real life. That’s what football is. You’re going to get that forever more.

    Whilst not part of the team that won the treble two years after he retired, he can certainly take some credit, given he had inspired so many of the players in that team, the Fergie Fledglings. 

    Ryan Giggs lauded the impact Cantona had on his career in 1994, as reported on ManUtd.com.

    Everything about Eric is cool. To play with him is a dream. Eric is the extra dimension in our team. When he was suspended toward the end of last season, you could see that. And when he came back it lifted us all. He is the best passer I have ever seen. He brings people into the game, up front, midfield, wherever he goes, he gives us so much variety. People try to put a block on him, but he’s forever thinking of ways to evade his marker, create space for himself. When Eric gets the ball he is brilliant at putting it out on to the wing. He can judge how fast we can run and he puts balls out to us so perfectly weighted it means we don’t even have to break stride. 

    He’s such a strong personality, Eric. When we won the title for the first time, it was just after he’d arrived and a lot of us players, including me, were saying: ‘OK, but when the going gets tough, where will he be?’ It’s proved exactly the opposite. Given the amount of stick he got in the press, he had to be a big man to shrug it off. And I’ve never known a player want to get involved like he does, demanding the ball all the time. Even if he’s having a bad game, he’ll work hard for the team.

    All that stuff about 'the ball responding to my touch like a woman to the caresses of a man she loves' makes us laugh too, but the thing about Eric is he works so hard to justify the poetry. When you see Eric Cantona staying on for extra training, brushing up on his skills, it makes you realise you can’t be satisfied with what you’re doing.

    In an interview with Sky Sports (h/t to The Republik of Mancunia) in 2008, Cantona summed up his feelings for the club. 

    “In the last minutes of my life I will have this club in my heart.”

    Goals per game: 0.44

Denis Law

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    Associated Press

    Denis Law first moved to Manchester to play for rivals City but lasted just over a season before leaving for Torino. He spent a season in Italy before returning to Manchester, this time to play for United, for a record-breaking £155,000.

    He won his first trophy at the end of his first season, scoring a goal in United's 3-1 win over Leicester City in the FA Cup final.

    Two years later United won their first title since Munich and Law won the Ballon d'Or, the first United player to ever do so. He was also the league's top scorer. 

    Liverpool won the league the season after but United reclaimed the crown the following season, with Law scoring 25 goals.

    The 1967-1968 season is one of the greatest in the club's history but Law missed the European Cup semi-final and final with an injury. He scored two goals in the three games he did feature in Europe that season though.

    Law spent 11 seasons at the club before returning to City where he played for one season before retiring.

    He is often incorrectly blamed for relegating United in 1974 after scoring against them for City. The Daily Mail later reported on how Law felt after scoring that goal.

    I was inconsolable. I didn’t want it to happen. How long did the feeling last? How long ago was the game? Thirty-odd years. There is your answer.

    Law is an official club ambassador and was immortalised in 2008 when the club created a statue of him, Bobby Charlton and George Best—the Holy Trinity—outside of Old Trafford. He is the second highest scorer in the club's history and the greatest striker to ever play for United.

    Goals per game: 0.59

And What About Van Persie?

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    Van Persie has a scoring rate which outshines every striker in this list except Ruud van Nistelrooy and Tommy Taylor, which tells you a lot about how good he has been for United.

    His ball control, finishing and vision put him amongst the best players who have ever worn United's shirt but after just a season-and-a-half, it's difficult to place him against club legends, some of whom spent a decade or more playing at Old Trafford.

    Over recent weeks he has been linked with a move away from the club in the summer after reportedly being unhappy, which is something he has vehemently denied in the club's official programme for this weekend's game against Liverpool.

    As reported in The Guardian, van Persie has claimed that he would like to extend his contract beyond the two years he currently has remaining.

    The truth is I'm very happy at this club. I signed for four years and I'd be delighted to stay even longer, beyond the next two years I have left on my contract. This is how I feel, although it's not what has been suggested in the media.

    In terms of ability, van Persie ranks amongst the top five strikers United have had at the club. But as it stands, he has scored fewer goals than the likes of Teddy Sheringham, Dimitar Berbatov and Javier Hernandez.

    He has already inspired United to title success, but how many more years he stays and how many more trophies he helps win will define his legendary status at the club.

    Goals per game: 0.62