Manchester United’s number seven shirt is one of the most iconic in football and it will continue to be worn by Edinson Cavani following the extension to his contract. Some of United’s greatest ever players have worn the number, with George Best, Nobby Stiles, Ray Wilkins and Bryan Robson among its wearers – stars who have helped to give it such a legendary status over the decades. But what about those who’ve been given the responsibility of wearing the number since the arrival of the Premier League era?
1. Cristiano Ronaldo
Probably one of the greatest footballers of all time and an easy choice for the number one on this list. Cristiano Ronaldo was handed the famous shirt as a teenager, and while some doubted whether he was worthy of such an honour at the time, the shirt will now be forever associated with the Portuguese star. Ronaldo took things to the next level at United, winning the PFA Young Player Award, the main prize and the also Football Writers’ Award – the first and only player to do so. A Ballon d’Or came next, following in the footsteps of another famous United number seven – George Best. Ronaldo won three league titles with United, an FA Cup and a Champions League. He’s since won four more Champions League titles, four more Ballon d’Ors, plus titles in Spain and Italy, and a European Championship crown with Portugal. One of the four players under his management who Sir Alex Ferguson considered ‘world-class’.
2. Eric Cantona
Up next just happens to be another one of Fergie’s ‘world-class’ players. Eric Cantona was a mirror for his manager’s arrogance and single-minded will to win. He was, in many ways, the catalyst for 20 years of dominance by United, instilling a belief and culture in the club that eliminated complacency. Enigmatic, unpredictable and yet a supremely gifted forward, handing the Frenchman the number seven made sense because he had an ego to match the shirt. His time with the club felt all too short in retrospect, but the memories he gave fans were many – not least the two league and cup doubles. We’ve not seen a player quite like him since.
3. David Beckham
You know it’s a competitive field when this man is number three. David Beckham went on to become the most famous footballer of his generation and changed the face of the game as we know it. A treble winner with United, England captain, and future Galactico, Beckham was a global star. United are yet to find a player with his ability in dead-ball situations, nor a player capable of planting a football so perfectly on the head of a striker. And Beckham didn’t just provide, he also scored a serious number of sublime goals for the club during his time at Old Trafford. Took the shirt from Cantona and did it justice.
4. Andrei Kanchelskis
Ferguson wanted a fast and skilful right-winger as part of his early Manchester United teams, and finally found one in Andrei Kanchelskis. Not quite as glamorous as the top three on this list, but Kanchelskis dazzled the Premier League in his early days when his role as a winger was a throwback at a time when most English clubs still played a more traditional right midfielder in a 4-4-2 system. Kanchelskis was a vital part of the United side that helped secure the club’s first title in 26 years. The shirt was taken from him by Cantona, but the Ukrainian did the number seven justice whenever called upon. From Kanchelskis onwards, United entered two decades of fielding gloriously talented men on the right.
5. Antonio Valencia
Antonio Valencia arrived with the world’s largest boots to fill as he replaced the departing Ronaldo on the right wing. And while the Ecuadorian never hit the stellar heights of his predecessor, he proved himself an invaluable servant to the club. With 339 appearances across 10 seasons, Valencia was versatile, adapting to a full-back role when required, taking up the role of captain when needed, and sharing the shirt when asked. He combined raw pace with brute strength. This week, the experienced former United man announced his retirement to bring an end to a stellar career.
6. Edinson Cavani
One year on from his arrival at Manchester United on a free transfer from Paris Saint-Germain, Edinson Cavani has starred at the club. Scoring important goals, including a brace in both ties of the Europa League semi-final against Roma, and proving to be a great mentor for Mason Greenwood and other young players within the squad. His impressive performances may have changed Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s transfer plans heading into the summer, with his shining displays reducing the immediate need for a new forward and he has shown he has plenty to offer despite being in the twilight years of his career. Glory in the Europa League would cap off what has been a great debut season for the Uruguayan.
7. Michael Owen
Michael Owen arrived at Old Trafford during the twilight of his career, and while his time there – like his career – was plagued by injury and false starts, he still gave fans a fair few memories to celebrate. A Champions League hat-trick against Wolfsburg and a 96th-minute winner against Manchester City were among the highlights. But perhaps the thing that endeared him most to fans was his declaration that the Premier League winners medal he won with United was the “pinnacle” of his career – the Liverpool faithful were not best pleased. “If you can’t beat them, join them,” he said.
8. Angel Di Maria
Angel Di Maria was the first big signing of the post-Fergie era, a club-record transfer, and arrived with all the hype and fanfare one might expect. But his career at Old Trafford never really took off, and the talent of the Argentine who had lit up Europe with Real Madrid was rarely seen at United. Given the number seven shirt as the man to lead United’s attack for a generation, he barely made it a year with the club. After a fine start and a truly wonderful chip against Leicester, fans were rightfully excited, but it was all downhill from there on as he failed to show up in the second half of the season. Oh what could have been!
9. Memphis Depay
Another to arrive with a big price tag and big expectations, but who failed to live up to the shirt. The Dutchman was supposed to lead the post-Di Maria attacking revolution at Old Trafford, but it was another false start for the club. Tipped for big things, United gave him two seasons to prove himself, but unable to make any real impact, Depay faded from view. Now a vital member of Lyon’s squad and his national side, leaving fans wondering where all that talent was during his Premier League years.
10. Alexis Sanchez
The list trickles to a close with a run of number sevens in recent years who have failed to match the heights the shirt demands. Nobody embodies the recent disappointments in the United number seven more than Alexis Sanchez. A superstar for Arsenal, United fans celebrated taking another top player from a rival and from under the noses of Manchester City. But Pep Guardiola’s side dodged a bullet as Sanchez – on an eye-watering wage – looked unrecognisable from the world-class player he once was. A truly expensive flop, Sanchez managed five goals in 45 appearances for the club before he was sent on loan to Inter Milan for a season, before he eventually joined them on a permanent basis in August, finally getting that salary off United’s account sheet.
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