As he did with Michael Owen, every so often Sir Alex Ferguson will shock many in the footballing world by signing a striker, no one ever expected. Whether it’s a rivals leading scorer, a costly teenager, an experienced loan signing, or an unheard of Norwegian, Fergie can be full of surprises. Here’s a top five of the united manager’s surprise striker signings.
5. Henrik Larsson
Signing a 35 year-old, striker, with no Premier League experience, on loan from Swedish Club Helsingborgs, must have sounded like one of the worst ideas Fergie had come up with since the Massimo Taibi fiasco. However when said striker is Henrik Larsson, its not as daft as it sounds. Larsson’s time at Old Trafford may have been brief but his impact was enormous. Any doubts that he was fit enough for the English game were quickly dispelled on his debut an FA cup tie against Villa. Larsson ran around like a 17 year-old, creating chances and bagging a goal. Fergie was so impressed with the diminutive stars efforts that he asked the Premier League for special dispensation so Larsson could receive a winners medal- he’d only played 7 games. The Premier league said yes, obviously recognising his contribution as United stopped Chelsea winning a third successive title.
4. Andy Cole
Just as Fergie had relieved one of his main rivals of their prized asset in 1992, he did the same again in 1994, when he managed to convince Kevin Keegan to sell goal king Andy Cole. Amazingly United bit-part player Keith Gillespie-along with 6 million quid- was the carrot that convinced the emotional manager to part with his record-breaking striker. The transfer shocked everyone in the football world not least of all the Newcastle faithful, some of whom went to see Keegan at his office to ask how he could do such a thing. King Kev said he had a long-term plan, unfortunately for him so did Fergie, who’s United side would go on to win the double the following year. Both United’s and Cole’s greatest triumph came in 1999 when they won the treble in the Nou Camp. Although it was Sheringham and Solksjaer who scored the goals few could forget Cole’s influence. His goal in the semi-final against Juventus was one of his finest moments. “Yorke’s been brought down…penalty surely…..Cole!! Full speed ahead Barcelona!”
3. Wayne Rooney
Right now, Wayne Rooney looks like something of a bargain at £27 million, having already won every trophy there is and currently spearheading United’s campaign. However back in 2004 Fergie forking out a huge sum for an 18 year-old whose goal-scoring record was one in four was something of a surprise. Rooney though, has already paid back his fee and then some. He’s well on his way to becoming a legend of Cantona-esque proportions, after being in the shadow of Van Nistelrooy and then Ronaldo, the ‘white Pele’ seems to have raised his game a level to become United’s talisman. The fact that he seems happy at Old Trafford must sound like music to United fan’s ears after the departures, injuries and ageing of some of the class of ‘08.
2. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer
Practically no-one outside of Norway had heard of the baby-faced assassin prior to his move to Old Trafford. It didn’t take long for him to make his mark though, coming off the bench to score on his debut against Blackburn back in 1996. Coming off the bench to score would become something of a Solskjaer trait as he was often used as a sub while making over 200 appearances for United. Three games seem to sum up his career more than any during the 1999 treble winning season. In the FA cup at Old Trafford he scored a last minute winner to knock out Liverpool and send Old Trafford into delirium. Later that season coming off the bench away at Nottingham Forest he grabbed four goals in just 11 minutes as United romped to an 8-1 win. A few months later he scored one of the most important goals in United’s history -an injury time winner against Bayern Munich in the Champions league final- after coming off the bench-again. Now coaching United’s reserves, you’d have to go a long way to find a more popular man amongst the Old Trafford faithful.
1. Eric Cantona
The story of how the impossible became possible and King Eric made the trip across the pennines is now part of United folklore. Howard Wilkinson called Manchester United chairman Martin Edwards to enquire about Denis Irwin. Fergie sat on Edwards’ desk said: “No chance” and then almost as an afterthought “Ask him about Eric Cantona.” Amazingly, of course Sergeant Wilko had fallen out with his mercurial striker and was willing to let him leave. There can be little doubt that, this one conversation changed the course of premier league history and a Cantona-led United brought the title to Old Trafford for the first time in 26 years kicking off United’s dominance of the nineties and noughties in the process. The £1.2 million price only seemed to add insult to injury. Many a Yorkshire man must still shake his head at just how foolish Wilkinson could have been.
Read more of Justin Mottershead writings at his blog ‘Name on the Trophy’