Manchester United are proud of their famous Carrington academy and for good reason. The club have produced some of the best and most successful footballers in the history of English football.
An academy graduate has been named in United’s squad for the past 85 years. Some graduates have proven better that others – but which have been the absolute cream of the crop?
We’ve put together a full XI of United’s greatest academy graduates. You’d be hard-pressed to find another club that have produced a full team of this quality.
GK: Tom Heaton
Surprisingly enough, United haven’t actually produced that many goalkeepers over the years. Due to their lack of academy graduates in this position, they have often searched Europe for their shot-stopping stars.
The story of Heaton is a heartwarming one though. He came through the ranks at Old Trafford as a youngster, but never made a first-team appearance. After building up his reputation at Burnley and Aston Villa he then re-joined United in 2021 as a backup, 11 years after leaving.
In December 2021, he finally made his first appearance for the club in a Champions League match against Young Boys.
Dean Henderson and Sam Johnstone both have the potential to one day claim this spot, though. Johnstone isn’t
RB: Gary Neville
“No-one wants to grow up and be a Gary Neville,” is what Jamie Carragher once famously said. Despite all the jokes, there’s no denying the player Neville actually was.
Having played over 600 matches for United, Neville ranks fifth on the all-time appearances list and was a consistent pro for the Red Devils.
CB: Duncan Edwards
There aren’t too many left around that got to see the famously towering centre-back in the flesh, but everybody who did testifies that Edwards was a seriously special footballer.
“There is no doubt in my mind that Duncan would have become the greatest player ever. Not just in British football, with United and England, but the best in the world,” Tommy Docherty later recalled.
“George Best was something special, as was Pele and Maradona, but in my mind Duncan was much better in terms of all-round ability and skill.”
CB: John O’Shea
O’Shea wasn’t the flashiest of names, but his role for United shouldn’t go unnoticed. The Irish defender spent 12 years at Old Trafford and won 14 trophies in the process.
Since hanging up his boots in 2019, O’Shea has been building up his coaching CV and is now the assistant manager of the Republic of Ireland national side.
LB: Phil Neville
These days he is working alongside David Beckham at Inter Miami, but Neville was a dependable full-back in his prime. He racked up over 380 appearances and won 14 trophies before leaving the club in 2005.
Phil Neville scored the only goal at Stamford Bridge in 1998, as #MUFC came away with a 1-0 win…
And what a goal it was! 💥 pic.twitter.com/oyrxRX6IAc
— Manchester United (@ManUtd) October 19, 2018
DM: Nobby Stiles
Known for his tough-tackling nature, Stiles remains an icon in the eyes of both United and England fans. The midfielder spent 11 years at Old Trafford and made just shy of 400 appearances.
Stiles was also a hero of England’s 1966 World Cup-winning side. He effectively nullified Portugal’s Eusebio in the semi-final and the rest is history.
CM: Sir Bobby Charlton
His legacy still impacts the club to this day. Charlton enjoyed a 17-year playing career with United and previously held the records as their top scorer and appearance maker until they were each broken in the modern era.
CM: Paul Scholes
“I have no hesitation in putting a name to the embodiment of all that I think is best about football. It’s Paul Scholes,” Charlton once said about the midfielder.
From an English perspective, Scholes truly was one of a kind. The diminutive midfielder had a technical ability and range of passing that had rarely been seen in England.
After hanging up his boots in 2011, he even came out of retirement just a year later to win the Premier League again. There’s no doubt that he sits at the table alongside the best midfielders of his generation.
RW: George Best
Arguably the greatest player United have ever produced, Best was a genius in every sense of the word. Those who were lucky enough to see him live in the flesh hold him in the highest esteem.
“George was the best footballer I’ve ever seen,” Harry Redknapp once said. “He was just a special talent. I’ve never seen anyone with the ability to beat people, to dribble, an amazing footballer.
“George Best was just the best. The greatest. He knew players went out onto the pitch to hurt him. They couldn’t get near him.”
ST: Marcus Rashford
United’s academy continues to produce gems to this day. Rashford is a gem.
#ONTHISDAY: In 2016, An 18-year old Marcus Rashford announced himself to Old Trafford, scoring twice on his debut vs FC Midtjylland in the Europa League 🔥
Celebrating with Dean Henderson in the stands! 🧤#MUFC
— United Zone (@ManUnitedZone_) February 25, 2020
LW: Ryan Giggs
The Welsh winger has played more games for United than any other player with 963 games under his belt. Having had a career which spanned over 22 years, Giggs was the epitome of consistency.
“It’s almost impossible to replace a player like Ryan Giggs – you do not find many players like him,” Sir Alex Ferguson once said. “He is a rarity. He has world-class attributes and has achieved so much at one club. You can only look up to him.”