Ranking the 25 Best Defenders in Manchester United History

Manchester United have had some of the finest defenders in English football history over the years, covering all the club’s major periods of success and others in between.

Including full-backs, traditional centre-halves and modern centre-backs, here are the 25 best Manchester United defenders – ranked…

25. Kevin Moran

Kevin Moran Manchester United 1985

Kevin Moran was infamously the first player ever sent off in an FA Cup final when he was shown a red card in 1985 as United prevailed over Everton.

That was his second FA Cup triumph with United during a 10-year spell. Moran was a relatively late bloomer in professional soccer as he had earlier been a county-level Gaelic footballer.

24. Mikael Silvestre

Mikael Silvestre Manchester United

Mikael Silvestre is often overlooked for his role in United’s Premier League domination in the early 2000s. But consider that he was an automatic starter as either a left-back or centre-back in three title winning seasons, before also picking up FA Cup and Champions League medals.

Bought for £4m and played over 350 games.

23. Mark Jones

Mark Jones Manchester United

Aged 22, centre-half Mark Jones played all 42 games as part of a young side in 1955/56 as United won a first league title of the Busby Babes era.

The Yorkshireman went on to lose his place to Jackie Blanchflower midway through 1956/57 as United retained the title, but had won it back just prior to his death in the Munich air disaster.

22. Gordon McQueen

Gordon McQueen Scotland

Gordon McQueen was already a top player in English football prior to joining United in 1978, having previously won a league title with Leeds and played in a European Cup final.

His £495,000 price tag was a sizeable transfer fee at the time and the Scot made no secret about the lure of joining a club with the history and reputation of Manchester United.

21. Paul McGrath

Paul McGrath Manchester United

Paul McGrath was known as an intelligent ball-playing centre-back. And while he generally struggled with injuries, the Irishman won the FA Cup in 1985 and was in the 1985/86 PFA Team of the Year.

He was ultimately one of a number of players shipped out in the late 1980s as Sir Alex Ferguson tried to quell Old Trafford’s notorious drinking culture.

20. Jaap Stam

Jaap Stam Manchester United

At United for just three years, Jaap Stam made a significant impact during his time at Old Trafford and was among the final pieces of the jigsaw in the 1998/99 treble season.

The Dutchman played 51 times across all competitions in each of his first two seasons, but that dropped in 2000/01 because of injury and the club saw a chance to sell him for profit.

19. Phil Neville

Phil Neville of Manchester United

Say what you want about Phil Neville, but passengers famously never lasted in Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United teams and he played 386 games over a 10-year period.

Neville followed older brother Gary and the ‘Class of ‘92’ to make the first-team breakthrough as a teenager and was capped for England before David Beckham and Paul Scholes.

18. John O’Shea

Chelsea v Manchester United - Premier League

John O’Shea isn’t revered like some of the other United players he shared a pitch with throughout the 2000s, but here is a dependable figure who still played nearly 400 games for the club.

Capable of playing anywhere in defence or even in central midfield, O’Shea was a five-time Premier League winner, as well having FA Cup, League Cup and Champions League medals.

17. Wes Brown

Manchester United v Reading

But for injury problems, Wes Brown could have achieved even more than he did.

After emerging as a right-back during the treble season, Brown moved into the middle and was in the 2000/01 PFA Team of the Year. He later reverted to full-back again and played in more games than anyone else at the club during the 2007/08 Champions League winning season.

16. Allenby Chilton

Allenby Chilton was among a whole generation of players across Europe who lost a big chunk of their football career as a result of the Second World War. The centre-half had joined United from Liverpool in 1938 and eventually went on to win the FA Cup in 1948 and league in 1951/52.

Chilton was also later United captain immediately prior to the Busby Babes era.

15. Charlie Roberts

Charlie Roberts Manchester United

Perhaps not a name modern fans are familiar with, Charlie Roberts was United’s defensive foundation and captain in the club’s first ever title winning sides in 1907/08 and 1910/11.

Roberts, who joined United from Grimsby in 1904, also won the FA Cup in 1909, played for England on several occasions, and was a key figure in setting up the first Players’ Union.

14. Arthur Albiston

Arthur Albiston Manchester United 1986

Only 10 players in the entire 142-year history of Manchester United have played more games for the club than Scottish full-back Arthur Albiston, who made 485 appearances over 14 seasons and won the FA Cup three times between 1977 and 1985.

His tally of three FA Cup medals was a club record at the time.

13. Shay Brennan

Shay Brennan Manchester United

Playing as a left winger, Shay Brennan scored twice for United on his debut against Sheffield Wednesday in 1958, which was the club’s first game after the Munich air disaster.

He later established himself as a starting full-back from 1960 onwards and was part of two league title winnings seasons that decade, as well as the European Cup triumph in 1968.

12. Tony Dunne

Much like Brennan, Tony Dunne was a mainstay of the United XI for much of the 1960s, often playing in the number three shirt or even occasionally in place of his fellow countryman.

Dunne enjoyed all the success the decade brought, winning the FA Cup, two league titles and the European Cup. His 535 appearances is also a record for an Irishman at United.

11. Patrice Evra

Manchester United v Charlton Athletic

Patrice Eva rose to prominence during Monaco’s run to the 2004 Champions League, but it was with United that he later became one of the best left-backs in the world.

The Frenchman cost United little more than £5m in January 2006, going on to win five Premier League titles, three League Cups and the Champions League before his departure in 2014.

10. Martin Buchan

Martin Buchan Manchester United 1980

Club captain for most of his 11 years at Old Trafford, Martin Buchan was noted for his intelligent and cultured play at the centre of defence and remains a very popular figure among older fans.

He arrived from Aberdeen as a club record signing in 1972 and helped steer United back to relevance in the latter half of the decade and into the 1980s. That included lifting the FA Cup in 1977.

9. Johnny Carey

Johnny Carey FA Cup trophy 1948

Irish full-back Johnny Carey was the United captain who lifted the club’s first trophy in 39 years at the end of the 1948 FA Cup final – and a first trophy under new manager Matt Busby.

Carey, who was the second ever FWA Footballer of the Year in 1949, spent his entire senior career at Old Trafford after being spotted by United in his native Dublin and won a league title in 1951/52.

8. Steve Bruce


Steve Bruce joined United in 1987 at a time when the club had gone 20 years without a league title and left nine years later as a three-time Premier League champion.

Bruce jointly lifted the 1992/93 trophy with veteran club captain Bryan Robson and chipped in with an impressive number of goals throughout his time at Old Trafford.

7. Gary Pallister

Gary Pallister Manchester United

Gary Pallister was arguably the best defender in the Premier League in the early 1990s.

His £2.3m move from Middlesbrough in 1989 broke the British transfer record, but he proved to be worth it, winning four Premier League titles, three FA Cups, getting into five PFA Teams of the Year and even winning PFA Players’ Player of the Year.

6. Denis Irwin

Denis Irwin Manchester United

If ever there was a player who personified ‘dependable’, it is Denis Irwin. The full-back was consistently reliable throughout his 12 years at United and seemed incapable of having a bad game.

Irwin was among very few players who were part of both of Sir Alex Ferguson’s first two great United sides, playing well over 530 games in total.

5. Gary Neville

Gary Neville Manchester United

Gary Neville is one of only five players in United history to have played more than 600 games for the club. It could even have been more had injuries not piled up in his thirties.

Neville was an automatic starter from 1995 to 2005. He was an eight-time Premier League champion, a five-time selection in PFA Team of the Year and also eventually club captain.

4. Bill Foulkes

Bill Foulkes Manchester United

At the time of retirement in 1970, Bill Foulkes held United’s all-time appearance record at 688. By then, he had been with the club since 1950 after being spotted as an 18-year-old.

Foulkes, a survivor of the Munich air disaster, was initially a full-back and later became the team’s primary centre-half. He won league titles in both the 1950s and 1960s, plus the European Cup.

3. Nemanja Vidic

Nemanja Vidic Manchester United

Few, if any, football fans in England were aware of Nemanja Vidic when he joined United.

Yet in seven-and-a-half years at Old Trafford, the imposing Serbian won five Premier League titles.
With rotating partners in 2008/09 due to injuries, he was also the constant on which United’s remarkable record run of 14 consecutive league clean sheets was built.

2. Rio Ferdinand

Manchester United v Liverpool

Like Bruce and Pallister before, Rio Ferdinand and Vidic go together. Ferdinand was a more technically polished player and his composed style, which focused on reading the game and playing on the cover, complemented his partner’s more aggressive traits.

He cost United a world record £30m and proved to be worth every penny over 455 games.

1. Roger Byrne

Roger Byrne Manchester United

Roger Byrne was perhaps the original ‘Busby Babe', establishing himself in the United first-team during the 1951/52 title winning season. He soon took over as captain and led the club to back-to-back First Division titles later in the decade.

Also England’s best left-back, Byrne was a mentor to many younger talents at Old Trafford and was cruelly cut down in his prime aged just 28 when he was killed in the Munich air disaster.

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Source : 90min