Continuing our series where we look at the legacy of an iconic shirt Kevin Henning traces the origins of Manchester United’s number 7. It started with the Best…
We all know the stories of the original playboy of football, I’m not going to start recounting tales of Miss Worlds, butlers enquiring where it all went wrong and fancy boutiques in Manchester. Best was where it all started for United’s number 7 shirt. He brought glamour to the game on a scale never witnessed before. It may have ended prematurely both on the pitch and in life but the Belfast Boy began the magic.
The tricky Scouse winger was signed from Tranmere Rovers as an unknown but quickly became a favourite with the fans with his jinking runs and flair play.
A terrible knee injury cut down the number of appearances made by Coppell but he lingered in the memories of reds. As revered for his stylish play at Old Trafford as he was despised for his farcical thirty three day stint as Manchester City manager.
Known as ‘Captain Marvel’ due to his warrior like bravery and determination, Robson was THE central midfielder of the ’80’s. Signed by Ron Atkinson from West Brom in 1983, his signing was carried out prior to an Old Trafford league match on a desk fetched by United’s caretaker.
Robson was United’s main man in a period where they consistently played second fiddle to great rivals Liverpool but he was always a thorn in the side of the Scousers. His goal in the FA Cup semi final replay at Maine Road was rewound and replayed in our front room by my red brother so many times that I can still hear the words of Brian Moore to this day – “Robson!!! And Grobbelaar didn’t even smell it!”
Upon the his arrival in 1986, Alex Ferguson quickly realised that the trilogy of heavy drinkers that consisted of Robson, Paul McGrath and Norman Whiteside needed to be disbanded and decided that the ball winner in the New Balance boots was the one he wanted to keep.
Robson finally got the Championship medal he had always craved during the twilight of his career when United ended their 26 year title drought by winning the inaugural Premier League.
While at United, Alex Ferguson saw the showbiz side of Goldenballs on numerous occasions.
Signed during a chance conversation between officials of United and Leeds regarding a bid from the Yorkshire outfit for Dennis Irwin, Eric Cantona was the catalyst that turned the Red Devils from nearly men into Champions.
His Old Trafford career was one of the most controversial of modern times with the Frenchman never too far from mischief. Sent off in consecutive matches for a stamp on Swindon Town’s John Moncur followed by a harsh red card for a collision at Arsenal four days later, Cantona returned from a five match ban and bagged a brace to settle a Manchester derby upon his return.
He will always be remembered for the night at Selhurst Park though when Palace supporter Matthew Simmons, out of his seat and at the front of the stand, allegedly shouted at Cantona – “That’s an early bath for you Eric!”. The Frenchman responded with a flying kick followed by two punch combo attack on the well spoken hooligan and was promptly banned for nine months.
He returned to win the double almost single handedly the following season and went on to become one of the biggest legends at Old Trafford before his surprise retirement in 1997. Eric Cantona’s name can be heard being sung by United’s fans at most of their away games to this day.
Often referred to as a show pony who could play a bit, if David Beckham weren’t so damned good-looking, his footballing ability would be appreciated far more than it is.
A United fan since he was sent to the Bobby Charlton soccer school as a boy, Beckham fulfilled a fantasy career, playing for his boyhood heroes, winning trophy after trophy before stints at Real Madrid, AC Milan and a semi-retirement in the sunshine of Los Angeles. He threw in over a ton of England caps to top off a marvellous career.
While at United, Alex Ferguson saw the showbiz side of Goldenballs on numerous occasions starting with a drunken phone call in the small hours weeks after Cantona’s retirement during which Beckham demanded the number 7 shirt. After marrying the only Spice Girl never to have independently topped the hit parade, Ferguson watched a showbiz circus engulf Old Trafford and didn’t like what he saw. The attention seeking Essex Boy publicly displayed the cut on his forehead suffered when the United boss kicked a boot at him following a defeat at home to Arsenal and the scars between the two never healed.
Pointless showboating made way for devastating destruction as Ronaldo became the most effective attacking player in the Premier League.
The twinkle-toed Portuguese teenager arrived at Manchester United following a friendly between the Red Devils and Sporting Lisbon when the United defence begged Alex Ferguson to make a bid for the winger who had just run them ragged. He came to Old Trafford with a ridiculous hair-style and an equally unnecessary array of tricks that often confused his teammates more than the full back marking him. Ruud Van Nistlerooy was often left fuming as step-over followed step-over resulting in plenty of time for defenders to get back into position in time for the cross to finally arrive.
Ferguson knew he had a rough diamond on his hands though and set about polishing the Madeira born winger into a precious gem. Pointless showboating made way for devastating destruction as Ronaldo became the most effective attacking player in the Premier League. He perfected a new way of taking free-kicks, apparently driving through the valve resulting in rocket like shots with an un-erring accuracy.
It wasn’t always fantastic goals and wonderful assists though; Christiano Ronaldo also had a dark side to his game. Temper tantrums, play acting and selfishness were all traits that infuriated opposing fans up and down the country and turned him into the pantomime villain at many a Premier League stadium.
Supporters always knew that constant abuse and a few hard tackles from a rough house full back was more often than not likely to lead to a Portuguese dummy being thrown out of the pram. The two sides of Ronaldo were displayed perfectly at local rivals Manchester City where he was twice shown red cards despite being the player most feared by the Citizens’ faithful.
A move to Madrid was always on the cards and Ferguson finally approved and Ronaldo left for the Bernabeu for a world record £80 Million fee in 2008.
And so we come to Michael Owen. The Liverpool legend who walked out of Anfield seeking World domination only to return to these shores with his tail between his legs and a strange move to Newcastle. A career plagued by injuries saw the Cheshire born striker trying to resurrect it by touting himself in a bizarre self produced brochure sent to all Premier League clubs.