Debate: Who is the greatest finisher in Man Utd history?

Joe Ganley, Club Reporter

I lived through the rapacious van Nistelrooy era, and never saw Tommy Taylor play, so I’m hesitant to dispute that the Dutchman is the greatest finisher this club has ever seen. But Taylor’s numbers – and the testimonies of many I’ve known that did actually see him play – compel me to rep for the Yorkshireman. 

Before his premature, tragic death at the age of just 26, Tommy – nicknamed ‘The Smiling Executioner’ – had plundered 131 goals in 191 games for United, which just edges out Ruud’s goal-per-game ratio. This was in an age of boggy pitches, ambivalent refereeing, shattering tackles and footballs heavy enough to anchor the Titanic. United fan and author Tom Clare writes: 

“He was a big lad – some six feet, two inches tall – but he had some great skills. So comfortable on the ball with either foot, probably the best header of a football that I have ever seen – and I have never, ever seen anybody head a ball so powerfully. He was exceptionally quick, and had terrific temperament. He took some fearful stick but just got up and got on with it. He had a smile as big as a barn door – hence his nickname. If he was playing today, he would be bigger in marketing terms than anything that we have ever seen.”

Taylor scored 34 in the season before the Munich Air Disaster, leading United to a second consecutive title and the brink of a first European Cup final (he scored twice in the two-legged semi-final defeat to reigning champions Real Madrid). Who knows what he could have gone on to achieve? Agonisingly, we never got to find out. But nobody, not even Ruud or Ballon d’Or winner Denis Law, managed to put up the numbers Tommy Taylor did in his brilliant spell leading the Reds’ attack.


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