Ask any Manchester United fan what the most iconic shirt at Old Trafford is, and they will tell you the number 7. So many club legends have worn that shirt, and it is associated with the club’s greatest players. Anybody who wears the legendary number 7 is instantly adding even more pressure to the task of playing for the club. In many ways, this takes away the heat from another equally important number. Almost every player who has been the regular Manchester United number 10 is regarded as a legend.
In recent years the number 10 has become more than merely a shirt number. In today’s game it now has a position named after it, and refers to playing in the hole behind the striker. As this list of United legends who have worn that number prove, it was generally favoured by centre-forwards.
Manchester born and bred, Dennis Viollet was one of the original Busby Babes. He made his debut aged 19, at the back end of the 1952 – 53 season, scoring in his second appearance. The following year he broke through to become a first team regular, and made the number 10 shirt his own. Viollet would go on to become one of the most prolific strikers in United’s history. Blessed with lightning quick pace, he proved a handful for many opposition defenders.
He survived the Munich Air Disaster with minor injuries although his equally prolific strike partner, Tommy Taylor died in the crash. Viollet left Old Trafford in 1962, having scored 179 goals from 293 appearances in all competitions. Despite such a terrific record he was incredibly only capped twice by England, scoring once. It was something of a surprise when Matt Busby accepted a £25,000 bid from Stoke City for the then 28 year old. Unsurprisingly, Busby had a replacement lined up for his position and his number 10 shirt.
In the summer of 1962, Manchester United broke the British transfer record to sign Denis Law from Torino. Law had been in Turin for just one season, and never really settled there, despite being voted best foreign player in Italy. United forked out £115,000 for his services and it wasn’t long before the fans crowned him “King of the Stretford End”,
In his first season at Old Trafford, United were almost relegated but won the FA Cup. Partnered with fellow Scot David Herd, the pair hit 190 goals between them in their first three seasons together. Law went on to lift two league titles at Old Trafford, but a knee injury prevented him from appearing in the 1968 European Cup Final. United won 4 – 1 to become the first English club to lift the trophy.
With 237 goals in all competitions, Law is the club’s third highest all-time goalscorer. No player has hit three or more goals in a game on more occasions, having claimed the match ball eighteen times in a red shirt. Wayne Rooney, who recently overtook Law in the clubs goalscoring charts, changed his shirt number to ten because it was his number.
Law left United in 1973, having been given a free transfer by then manager Tommy Docherty. He joined cross town rivals Manchester City. His last act in English football was scoring a back-heeled winner against United at Old Trafford. Contrary to popular belief, this did not relegate his former club. Results elsewhere deemed that they would have gone down even if they had won. This did nothing to diminish his legendary status within the club. A bronze statue of Law, Bobby Charlton and George Best now stands outside Old Trafford, named “The United Trinity”.
Denis Law was still at the club when his fellow countryman Lou Macari joined from Celtic in 1973. Midway through the 1974 – 75 season, Macari donned the number 10 shirt and generally wore it whenever selected. With the club playing in the Second Division, the midfield pairing of Macari and Sammy McIlroy was one of the main reasons behind United’s instant return to the top flight.
Macari was an attacking midfielder who was vital to the way the team played under Tommy Docherty. Throughout his Old Trafford career he usually averaged around ten goals a season. It was his shot that deflected off Jimmy Greenhoff and into the Liverpool net that won United the 1977 F.A. Cup Final.
Macari left United to join Swindon Town in 1984, having seen his path to the first team blocked by the likes of Bryan Robson, Ray Wilkins and Remi Moses. He is always spoken of fondly by any United fan who watched the team in the 1970’s. He also owns the “Lou Macari Chip Shop” near the ground, which is always full on match days.
Throughout the early 1980’s, the number ten shirt was generally handed to Norman Whiteside if he played up front. If he was deployed in midfield it would be Frank Stapleton that wore it. When he first broke into the United side, Mark Hughes would wear the number 9. Unfortunately for the fans, his red hot form attracted the attentions of Barcelona. The Catalan giants took Hughes to the Nou Camp in 1986.
Hughes didn’t enjoy his time abroad, and jumped at the chance to return to Old Trafford in 1988 following a season long loan at Bayern Munich. By the time “Sparky” returned to United, Brian McClair had made the number 9 shirt his own. Hughes did the same with the number 10 shirt. When the Premier League decided to bring in allocated squad numbers in 1993, this became his shirt.
Hughes was one of the most powerful strikers the English game has ever seen. Very few players could hold the ball up, bringing team-mates into play, better than him. He was often cited as a scorer of great goals rather than a great goalscorer, famed for the power and technique with which he could hit a volley. He was also a man for the big occasion, scoring in both the 1990 and 1994 F.A. Cup Finals. His finest moment was scoring both goals against his former club Barcelona in the 1991 European Cup Winners’ Cup Final.
Hughes left Manchester United to join Chelsea in the summer of 1995, and would later play for Southampton, Everton and Blackburn. He retired in 2002 at the age of 38 to concentrate on managing Wales, having already been in charge for three years. The fact that he has since managed Manchester City has not tarnished what he achieved at United in most fans eyes.
The Manchester United number 10 shirt remained vacant during the 1995 – 96 season following Hughes’ departure. David Beckham was assigned the shirt for the following campaign. In his first Premier League appearance wearing the number, he scored the famous halfway line goal against Wimbledon. This goal brought him to the attention of the world, and made him a star overnight.
He scored twelve goals in all competitions during that campaign, most of them memorable long range strikes. When Eric Cantona retired in May 1997 Beckham was given his number 7 shirt, which he wore until he left in 2003. Beckham only wore the number ten shirt for one season, but the shirt would not be vacant for long.
Quite a few eyebrows were raised when Alex Ferguson splashed out £3.5 million on a 31 year old striker in 1997. The departure of Eric Cantona had left United with a hole to fill in the attack, and Teddy Sheringham was a shrewd signing. Despite missing a penalty against his old club Tottenham on his debut, he fitted in immediately at Old Trafford. He linked up well with Ole Gunnar Solskjær and Andy Cole, despite a personal rift with the latter.
During the club’s historic Treble win in 1998 – 99, Sheringham struggled for playing time following the arrival of Dwight Yorke. Despite starting just 11 matches he would score two of the most important goals of the season. After being introduced as a substitute in the ninth minute of the 1999 F.A. Cup Final, he scored two minutes later. United went on to beat Newcastle 2 – 0.
The 1999 Champions League Final was undoubtedly the defining moment of his whole career. He replaced Jesper Blomqvist midway through the second half, with United trailing 1 – 0 to Bayern Munich in the Nou Camp. It stayed this way until the 90th minute, when the Red Devils won a corner, which Beckham swung in. The ball was cleared but found Ryan Giggs on the edge of the box, whose mishit shot found Sheringham two yards out. The striker scooped it over the line to draw his side level. Two minutes later, Solskjær poked home the winner.
Sheringham endured another frustrating season in 1999 – 2000, but collected a second successive Premier League title. In 2000 – 01, injuries to Cole and Solskjær coupled with the alarming decline of Dwight Yorke meant that he was now first choice striker. He responded by hitting 21 goals and topping the club’s scoring charts. This would be his last season in the red of United, who had lined up a deal with PSV Eindhoven for Ruud van Nistelrooy. Sheringham rejected a new contract at Old Trafford, and re-joined Tottenham.
Ruud van Nistelrooy
Manchester United originally had a deal in place to sign the Dutchman in the summer of 2000. The deal was scrapped when he failed a medical, amid fears over a previous knee injury. Within a week, van Nistelrooy ruptured his anterior cruciate ligaments and was out of action for a year. Alex Ferguson was not put off, and kept in regular contract with the striker throughout his recuperation. In 2001, satisfied that he had made a full recovery, United completed the deal to bring him to Old Trafford.
The big Dutch striker hit the ground running, scoring 36 goals in his first season and 44 in his second. It spelled the end for Yorke, Cole and Sheringham who had all departed by the summer of 2002. Despite not being the hardest worker, van Nistelrooy was hugely popular with United fans. He was the ultimate goal poacher, and scored 150 goals in his five years at the club.
In spite of his goals, van Nistelrooy’s time at the club was not exactly trophy-laden. He won one Premier League title in 2003 and the F.A. Cup a year later, scoring twice in the Final. He was also an unused substitute in the 2006 League Cup Final victory over Wigan. By this time, a rift with Cristiano Ronaldo and the deterioration of his relation with Ferguson contributed to his exit later that year. He was transferred to Real Madrid, but remains a legend in the eyes of the Stretford End.
The number ten remained vacant for a year until Wayne Rooney inherited it at the start of the 2007 – 08 season, having worn the number eight shirt since joining United in 2004. He remains a popular topic of conversation for football fans worldwide.
There can be no doubt that he has achieved enough in his career to be classed as a United legend. At the time of writing, he has scored 245 goals, just four behind the club’s all-time top goalscorer, Sir Bobby Charlton. He has also won five Premier League titles, one Champions League, three League Cups and one F.A. Cup.
Despite these achievements, it is generally accepted that he has never totally fulfilled his huge potential, especially for England. This may be one of the reasons he is often jeered during away games, despite being his country’s captain and record goalscorer.
Rooney has been deployed in a variety of positions in recent seasons, but new manager José Mourinho has stated that he sees Rooney as a forward, rather than a midfielder. It remains to be seen how long he will wear the number 10 shirt.
The Manchester United Number 10 shirt
The number ten has been worn by some fantastic players at Old Trafford. It is fair to say that you have to be a pretty special player to wear it. All of the above have their own unique place in United’s history.
The number seven will always be the most iconic shirt number among the Stretford End faithful. This is no surprise, given the calibre of players such as Best, Cantona and Ronaldo who have worn it. But spare a thought for those that have donned the Manchester United number 10 shirt. For anyone who wishes to wear it, history shows that legends only need apply.