Going to Old Trafford isn’t like going to any other stadium in the world. You can feel the history almost oozing out of the walls, and as you walk down Matt Busby Way, eventually getting to the statue of the man himself, you know you’re somewhere special, especially when looking to the right, to see another statue standing, of an additional three United greats – George Best, Dennis Law and Sir Bobby Charlton.
I’ve travelled across the nation with United, from Glasgow’s Ibrox, down to London’s White Hart Lane, but none of them feel like Old Trafford. I take my seat in the North Stand, and I know – this is home.
The excitement is felt throughout the game, the sound of the plastic chairs folding in as fans stand up in anticipation of our attacking force is almost like a heartbeat, the passion the players have for United, and the pride they have is seen in every game. Our players are here for the shirt, the history, the club, and the legendary manager – Sir Alex Ferguson.
The transfer window often opens up a lot of speculation, and also, a lot of expectation, but as United fans, we know, that a player that signs for United, is signing to play for United, to be part of United, to be one of the greatest – to be a Red Devil.
There is a lot of talk of players signing for other teams for money, rather than to be part of that team, but it is widely known that a player who signs for us, is a player who has dreamt of pulling on that red shirt for years, and one that is going to give 100% in every minute he plays under Sir Alex.
In 2001, United signed a player, who was ready to become a legend, and came to Old Trafford for the shirt, making 150 appearances and scoring 95 goals in 5 great years for the club. The player was Ruud van Nistlerooy. In December 2003, while at the club, van Nistlerooy said:
“I will never, ever play for another English club. Once you have played for United, the rest don’t count anymore. To be a legend, to be part of history, you must know about the past and to achieve success you must love the club.”
Whilst at United, van Nistlerooy won a Premier League title, an FA Cup and a League Cup, as well as personal awards, including UEFA Champions League’s Most Valuable Striker 2001-2002, Barclaycard Player of the Year: 2002, Sir Matt Busby Player of the Year: 2001–02, 2002–03, PFA Player of the Year: 2001–02, and UEFA Champions League’s Topscorer: 2001–02, 2002–03, 2004–05 among others.
Ruud’s triumphs both personally, and with the club, reflect how important of a club we are to players. When you play for us, you’re known around the world. Just recently United have been named the most popular club across the world, with an estimated 659 million followers globally (although these figures are estimates from around 54,000 respondents) it shows just what kind of platform these players are playing on, and why they strive to play for us.
Another United legend that has spoken of his drive to play for Manchester United is Brian Greenhoff, who gave nine years to the club as a senior player, between 1970-1979. While at United, Greenhoff made 221 appearances, and was awarded with a Second Division title, and an FA Cup winners’ medal.
Greenhoff, who is currently writing a book about his time with Manchester United, said to me:
“If money would have been my goal, I would have signed for Rotherham or Barnsley, who offered me more. United offered me £7 per week, Rotherham and Barnsley offered me £11 per week. I took £7”
“Many years ago, I left United for what I thought was the right reasons, now I know I left for the wrong ones. You only get once chance at United, and you have to take it, believe me, it’s the best club by a country mile. I can’t believe any player could turn down the world’s greatest football club.”
Greenhoff added to our chat, by explaining to me exactly how it felt when he signed for United, and how it felt to be part of the club;
“Signing for United gave me the best chance to reach my goals, the day I signed, and the day I made my first team debut were the two best days of my life”
He continued by talking about our fanbase,
“The fans never forget you, that’s what makes the club special. Whenever I go back I always get a good welcome, from the gateman to the staff”
Players past and present speak very highly of our club, and the majority also speak very highly of the way they were treated while here.
If signing and playing for United is how Brian Greenhoff describes it to me, then why wouldn’t United sign all of the players we set out to? Don’t get me wrong, I’m aware there are other clubs out there, certainly clubs in the English Premier League that players thrive to play for, such as Arsenal, Chelsea, and now Manchester City (they are champions after all, as much as it pains us to admit it). But it has to be said – United have been at the top of the game for all of the years I’ve supported them, so at least the last 21 years, but being born into a United family told me that they had been one of the best clubs in the world for a long while before that too.
This summer, United are set to be very active in the transfer window, with Fergie and other staff admitting so. Shinji Kagawa – a Japanese starlet who shone during his last season at Borussia Dortmund in the Bundesliga is the first to be welcomed to The Theatre of Dreams, and if he lives up to expectation, he could be about to take the Premier League by storm.
An exciting season is ahead for United, and if we’re as active in the transfer market as we’ve been told, we’ll be back bigger and better, and we’ll be back to win our trophy – Mancini, watch out!