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The Bests : Attacking Midfield

eric cantona

“The Bests” is our latest series where we, as the name suggests, analyze the best players, matches, goals, you name it, that we’ve had over the years and list them down for you.

For our latest post, we’re taking a look at Manchester United’s best attacking midfielders and giving our opinions on why they deserve to be here.

Attacking Midfield –

An attacking midfielder is a midfield player who is plays in an advanced midfield position. Usually they are in between central midfield and the team’s forwards, and has a primarily offensive role. A good attacking midfielder needs good passing abilities, vision, the ability to make long shots, and solid dribbling skills.

Throughout history, there were several attacking midfielders in United who made a great name for them. Several world-class, as well as famous players, played in this position.

Amongst them, we have listed down the top 5 based on the following criteria – the impact they had over the club, their individual performances, their achievements, and our expert analysis.

5. Lou Macari

The Scottish international was a young and upcoming talent at Celtic. He had a successful period playing for them and caught the eyes of many European giants. He then came to United in 1973 and went on to make 326 appearances for them.

Although he came into a team which failed to achieve anything, he still was the sole shining player. He found himself trying to lead an attack which was completely baseless. The relegation to the second division in 1974 shows just that.

Lou Macari
Lou Macari

But he really blossomed as an attacking midfielder in the next season. They played an all attacking football under Tommy Docherty which favored his talents.

He perhaps played the most vital role for United in their second division-winning campaign. Macari virtually put United back into the first division in the next season as they came 3rd in the league.

He wasn’t the type of attacking midfielder we see in today’s world. Moreover, he created numerous goal-scoring opportunities although not scoring them themselves. Not only that, he was also a leader in the midst of the players and was a true inspiration.

His attacking skills, leadership, as well as the contributions throughout his career, is one of the reasons United is where they are today. And for this reason, he’s our 5th best-attacking midfielder of all time.

4. Park Ji-Sung

Park first started to catch people’s attention at the 2002 World Cup where he helped South Korea reach the semi-finals. His talents were noticed but never appreciated by the media.

That’s why, when he came to United back in 2005, the media termed it as a publicity stunt to improve their popularity in the far East. However, those assumptions were soon replaced by thoughts of amazement and admiration when Park stepped on to the field.

Park Ji Sung
Park Ji-Sung

Park’s performances completely altered his media perception. People were quickly won over by his endless energy, brilliant attitude and strong determination to win the ball back. The fans finally got a player who was willing to sacrifice his own game for the team.

But he wasn’t only a player with an incredible work rate only, he was perhaps the most reliable big-game player. When many players wilted under pressure, it was Park who gave his all out in the game.

Some of his finest performances were in the 2008 Champions League knockout stages where he played every minute. He also made a name for himself as the guy who scored goals when it mattered the most.

Park received much acclaim at Manchester United for his speed, off-the-ball movement, work rate and energy. He fed off goals to the greats like Ronaldo and Rooney.

Although criminally underrated, he was one of the best midfielders in the league. And as a result, he’s our 4th pick for the best-attacking midfielders.

Also Read: Rio Ferdinand reveals he almost joined Barcelona

3. Paddy Crerand

The lovable rogue of United, Paddy came to United in the post-Munich squad. He joined back in 1963 and played a huge role in the revival of United under Sir Matt Busby.

He went on to feature 304 games for United and played a great part in the team’s attacking part. With a team full of players like Bobby Charlton, George Best – it was very difficult for him to book a place for him.

Paddy Crerand
Paddy Crerand

But he made it clear that he was not to be excluded from the squad with his performance on the pitch. He was a hard-tackling midfielder who, was also known for his tenacity and tackling ability.

Moreover he was also an accurate passer, creating chances for attacking players such as Bobby Charlton and George Best. He denied his self-interests for the greater good of the team.

Crerand starred in the 1963 FA Cup Final in his first season in Manchester – the club’s first trophy since Munich and the first indication that things were picking up. Crerand went on to win First Division Titles with United in 1965 and 1967 before famously winning the European Cup in 1968.

He was the type of player capable of bringing the ball from his own box and deftly turning defense into attack. His courage, moral and physicality, were never in doubt; traits clearly evident for a lifetime.

For the type of player he was and his overall impact, he’s our 3rd pick for the best-attacking midfielders.

2. Eric Cantona

The news of Cantona’s impending transfer from Leeds to fierce rivals Manchester United saw hostility from Leeds fans. The transfer was, however, seen as a good piece of business by most football pundits, removing a turbulent player from the team. And the rest is history.

The people understood that they were wrong in the following seasons.

Eric Cantona
Eric Cantona

A large, physically strong, hard-working, and tenacious forward who combined technical skill and creativity with power and goalscoring ability, Cantona is often regarded as having played a key role in the revival of Manchester United as a footballing force in the 1990s. Although widely known as a forward, he actually played the role of a second striker or an attacking mid.

Cantona wore the iconic number 7 shirt with his collars up – completely fearless. No matter how loud the fans were, it wasn’t enough to back Cantona. His kung fu kick to a Crystal Palace fan went forever down in history as ‘that night in Selhurst Park’.

He made 162 goals in a little more than 400 appearances throughout his club career with the majority being for United. Cantona won four Premier League titles in five years and two League and FA Cup Doubles. He won the league championship in seven of his last eight full seasons as a professional.

Although he retired at the early age of 30, he’s still regarded as one of the greatest player of both United and worldwide football. We perhaps will never know how much it hurt the world football with him retiring at 30, but football surely lost one of their brightest stars that day.

Due to his overall impact as well as playing style, contributions and achievements – without any doubt, he’s our second best.

Also Read: Pogba is eyeing on his return from injury to football

Honorable mentions

Before revealing our top pick, here are some of the players who deserve to be on the list. But they just missed it for the uniqueness and overall contributions of the selected players.

Paul Pogba

A bit controversial, but fully deserving. Pogba has basically been the best player of United after De Gea for a long time. And he’s still in his prime, so if he actually stays – he might even make it in the top 5 someday.

Juan Mata

A lot of expectations were on Mata when he arrived to United from Chelsea. Although perhaps he couldn’t fulfill it fully, he sure has been a truly dependable option for United throughout the years.

The best attacking midfielder of United – Sir Bobby Charlton

Perhaps not a single person could have a different opinion when it comes to this. Sir Bobby is perhaps the best-attacking midfielder the game of football has ever seen.

In the 1956/57 season, United won the first title and in January 1958, a perfect hat-trick secured Charlton a regular first-team place. A month later, the Busby Babes sealed a spot in the European Cup semi-finals, but tragedy struck on their return to home soil in the name of the Munich disaster.

Sir Bobby Charlton
Sir Bobby Charlton

Bobby Charlton, aged 20 survived and recovered from his injuries and traumatic experience to write history for both Manchester United and England.

With his instantly recognizable thunderbolt shot that inspired fear to the opponents even 30 yards from goal and his signature agility, body swerve and powerful tackling, Charlton was the epitome of speed and grace. His unmatched modesty, sense of fair play and gentlemanliness made him the ultimate sporting hero, admired and respected by both his team and his rivals.

Initially playing in the inside forward position, he then switched to a rewarding attacking midfielder role that made the difference for his team, as Manchester United won the First Division league championships in 1965 and 1967.

The best at club-level was yet to come. As captain of the United, he scored twice in a 4-1 triumph over SL Benfica Lisbon at Wembley stadium, leading his team to win the European Cup (now the Champions League). Manchester United became the first English club to win this title. He made 758 appearances for United and scored 249 goals.

Due to the overwhelming stats, achievements, impact, contributions as well as personal style, leadership – he’s our top pick for the best-attacking midfielder.

Do you agree with our list? If not, whom would you add or remove? Let us know about your thoughts.

Like the series? Check out other posts from the series:

Goalkeepers || Left-backs || Centre-backs || Central Midfielders

Checkout other ongoing series here :

Youth Watchout – A look into the promising young players in our academy.

Tactical Masterclass – Tactical analysis of our first-team players.

MUWomen – A look into Manchester United’s Women team players.

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