The emotional return of the great Cristiano Ronaldo and his famous “Siiiiuuuuu” celebration to Old Trafford in the summer, 12 years on from heading out of the door for Madrid, was met by a wave of excitement and anticipation not just at United but across the whole of English football – the machine that is CR7 was back. And even at 36 years of age his ability and influence show no signs of faltering.
Ronaldo has come back with a bang netting nine times already this season (with five assists) and repeatedly providing the big moments to rescue Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men both domestically in the Premier League and on the European stage in dramatic fashion.
His incredible late leveller, a second equaliser in the game, earned United a vital point at Atalanta in the last Champions League outing – having previously netted in the last ten minutes to complete a stunning 3-2 comeback win in the reverse fixture, which followed his 90+5th minute winner at home to Villareal earlier in the group stage. Ronaldo continues to demonstrate his importance to the team in a competition in which he leads the way in the all-time top goalscorers list, with 139 goals and counting.
As well as maintaining his lead over great rival Lionel Messi on that list – currently standing at a 16-goal surplus – the Portuguese legend also has his sights set on United’s top ten all-time goalscorers. He surpassed his current manager’s record with that brace in Bergamo to make it 127 strikes for the Red Devils, moving him into 15th place in the all-time rankings, and now needs just 29 more goals to move ahead of current tenth place occupier Paul Scholes. Having signed a two-year deal on his return to the club, there is every chance he will achieve yet another milestone in his career – supporters simply can’t ignore him in their free sports picks for this season and next.
Here RoM assesses the current top ten and see how far CR7 can go…
10. Paul Scholes (1994-2011; 2012-2013) 718 Games, 155 Goals
The midfield magician was a regular source of goals during the first half of his United career, often either arriving late to the edge of the box to finish a wonderful attacking move or powering a 30-yard piledriver high into the net. Scholes reached his pinnacle when he netted 20 from midfield in 2002/03 as United regained the Premier League title from Arsenal that season. The latter of his years in the engine room saw him drop into a deep-lying playmaker role, dictating the play and starting rather than finishing the attacks.
His goals per game ratio of 0.418 is the lowest in this list but this can be put down to his longevity, serving the club for 18 seasons and playing a considerable amount of games. In fact, Scholes is United’s third-highest appearance holder and highest-scoring midfielder ever (one of only three midfield players in the top 50 goalscorers in club history), meaning his legendary status with the club is undisputed.
9. Mark Hughes (1983-1986; 1988-1995) 467 Games, 163 Goals
North Walian ‘Sparky’ progressed through the academy to break into the United first team in the early 1980’s when he burst onto the scene as a predatory centre forward – with his goals in a struggling and stuttering Old Trafford side earning a big-money move to Barcelona in 1986. Later brought back from a two-year exile on the continent, his second spell at the club brought with it the start of the United dominance under Fergie with the 1990 FA Cup, 1991 Cup Winners Cup and the first two Premier League crowns in 1993 and 1994 all added to the silverware.
A deadly finisher who scored goals consistently, Hughes was the club’s first real bone fide striker of the Premier League era and formed a lethal partnership with the creative Eric Cantona which played a huge part in powering United to those first two titles, opening the door to over two decades of domestic dominance.
8. Ryan Giggs (1991-2014) 963 Games, 168 Goals
As United’s all-time record appearance holder it is no surprise to see the wing wizard in our top ten of goalscoring greats. Another Wales international legend, Giggs has followed his compatriot Hughes into the management seat for the national side but it is his time terrorising opposition full backs at Old Trafford and elsewhere that will be most cherished by the Red Devils – not least THAT FA Cup semi-final replay goal. Giggs spent all 24 years of his professional career as a one-club hero and racked up 168 goals from the wing since making his first team debut as a fresh-faced teenager in 1990.
By the time of his retirement from playing in 2014 he had spent the previous couple of seasons being used sparingly and often in a central midfield role, imparting his wealth of experience and winning mentality to the latest batch of young talent. His appearance record and league titles (13 for the club) will likely never be bettered.
7. Joe Spence (1919-1933) 510 Games, 168 Goals
Stepping back to the early part of the 20th Century, post-WWI and pre-WWII was the era of goal gluts by long-serving big star strikers and Spence was the man who United called upon to deliver for them in the Second Division at the time. A popular player with the United faithful throughout his 14 years at the club he is another in the top ten of goalscorers and appearance-makers but the fact his last outing was in the 1930s means he is rarely mentioned when club greats are discussed – especially with the team struggling in the second tier during his time here.
Joining as soon as football resumed after the First World War, Spence’s prowess could not lift United back to their heady heights of pre-war success, being the only real ”star” player for a team deep in transition at the time. Somewhat of a forgotten legend for United, Spence was the first player to hit the 500-game milestone in a red shirt and is a well-deserved entry in the history of the club.
6. George Best (1963-1974) 470 Games, 179 Goals
This man needs no introduction. Often looked back on as a wasted talent for his off-field forays with alcohol, gambling and sex after bursting onto the scene a the age of 17 in Manchester’s swinging 60’s – it is easy to forget that the Northern Irishman had achieved more in terms of footballing honours before his mid-20’s than many players before and since have ever achieved in their entire careers. The original of the famous United number 7 legend, Best’s wing trickery and penchant for sublime camera-worthy goals produced two First Division titles and the club’s first ever European Cup success in 1968, with the Ballon D’or prize that year one of a whole cabinet of individual awards and honours.
His induction into the National Football Museum’s Hall of Fame is testament to how his mercurial talent lit up the game as he majestically glided his way past defenders, as if by magic on the quagmire pitches of the era. A real character beloved by all those who witnessed his greatness – he continues to be sorely missed to this day.
5. Dennis Viollet (1952-1962) 293 Games, 179 Goals
As Best came onto the scene, he was replacing another in a long line of linchpin forwards on which United have hung their hat to deliver the success the club has always demanded. Viollet spent ten years at Old Trafford and netted 20 or more goals each season for six of those years in a row between 1954 and 1960 – an incredible feat that can be barely matched by any modern day striker.
He helped the club to claim back-to-back First Division titles in 1956 and 1957 whilst his 32 league goals in 1959/60 remains a club record for a single season. One of the original Busby Babes and survivor of the Munich Air Disaster, Viollet certainly didn’t shrink and served the club tremendously before being surprisingly sold on to Stoke City for £25,000 after scoring 179 goals in 293 appearances; his strike rate of 0.611 goals per game is the best of all in this top ten list.
4. Jack Rowley (1937-1955) 424 Games, 211 Goals
Signing for United in 1937 from lower league Bournemouth and Boscombe Athletic (now known as recent Premier League outfit AFC Bournemouth), Rowley was the first player to amass over 200 goals for the club and starred up front alongside Stan Pearson as they formed a formidable strike pairing to win United’s second ever FA Cup in 1948 and the league championship four years later. Many considered him to be the greatest United striker even if three former Reds have leapfrogged him in the goal rankings since he hung up his boots.
Converted from a left winger into a traditional centre forward, despite his slightly shorter frame, he was lethal in the penalty box and returned from the Second World War break in organised football at the beginning of the Busby Babe dynasty that went on to such great success helped, in part, by Rowley’s incredible scoring record.
3. Denis Law (1962-1973) 404 Games, 237 Goals
One of many Scottish forwards to have featured for United, Law was the standout of them all, playing with distinction throughout the 1960’s and early ‘70’s. Signed for a British record transfer from Italian outfit Torino in the summer of 1962, the former Manchester City forward – who would return to Maine Road for a solitary season to finish his career after leaving United – netted just seven minutes into his debut for the Red half of the city.
That was the precursor of things to come with his 237 goals for the club bringing with them two league titles, one FA Cup, two Charity Shields and the European Cup as well as a Ballon D’or honour for himself. His 46 strikes in all competitions during the 1963/64 season remain a club record and his legendary status for United fans even extends to being forgiven for representing City in two separate spells – a clear sign that scoring hatfuls of goals (0.587 per game) to lead the club to success is all that matters.
2. Sir Bobby Charlton (1956-1973) 758 Games, 249 Goals
One of the most successful Academy graduates in United history – certainly THE most successful before the Class of ‘92 came along, Sir Bobby made his first team debut in 1956 and scored just one shy of 250 goals in a 17-year spell which also featured the aforementioned European Cup triumph and, of course, international glory with England in 1966.
As it did for his teammates at the time, surviving Munich at the age of 20 gave him the catalyst to inspire United to their success of the 60’s and he is widely-regarded as the club’s greatest ever player, holding the record for most appearances and most goals for some 40 years.
1 Wayne Rooney (2004-2017) 559 Games, 253 Goals
With a goals per game ratio of 0.453 Rooney’s 253 goals in United colours – three more than the legendary Sir Bobby – puts him top of the list. Bursting onto the scene at 16 with Everton, he had already completed his move to Old Trafford by the time he was 18 and in a sign of things to come netted an incredible hat-trick on his debut, in a 6-2 Champions League rout of Fenerbahce. His record goal haul helped fire United to a total of 16 trophies, including five Premier League triumphs and the coveted 2008 Champions League success over Chelsea in Moscow.
By the time he departed in 2017 with his legendary status forever intact, not only had Rooney surpassed Sir Bobby’s record goal haul for United, for which he has spoken in humble tones about, but he had also repeated the feat at international level and remains to this day both United’s and England’s record scorer.
CR7 may never reach the heady heights of Sir Bobby and Wayne Rooney in terms of finding the net for the club, but he is already regarded as one of the greatest players ever to represent United and we are in no doubt that he will feature in this Top 10 by the time his current contract runs out.