Eric Cantona shocked the world 20 years ago when he decided to hang up his boots at the age of 30.
The Manchester United captain had just lifted his fifth league title in six years having previously been at Leeds.
It was at Old Trafford where Cantona truly became a Premier League icon as he graced the number seven shirt so closely associated with United’s greatest stars.
In 2013, another United great, David Beckham called time on his career. The Englishman bid farewell to football as a Paris Saint-Germain player after spells at Real Madrid, LA Galaxy and AC Milan.
Here, we look at five of the best to ever wear the fabled number for the Red Devils.
United appearances: 470
United goals: 179
Joining United as a shy, retiring teenager from Northern Ireland, few could predict the impact Best would have on the football world – and beyond.
The first footballer to truly cross over into the world of celebrity Best was also a superb master of his craft – his weaving runs and marvellous goals were a staple at Old Trafford.
Best won two First Division titles and the European Cup and was on the score-sheet as United beat Benfica to lift the European Cup in 1968 – just a decade on from when manager Matt Busby’s team was decimated following the Munich air disaster.
The man dubbed ‘El Beatle’ would see his career head into decline after leaving United in 1973 and his long-standing battle with alcoholism ended when he died in 2005 aged 59.
Cantona himself paid tribute to Best, saying after his death: “I would love him to save me a place in his team – George Best that is, not God.”
United appearances: 461
United goals: 99
Signed by United in 1981 for a then-British record transfer fee, Robson would have to wait over a decade to claim the league title he had craved.
But United and England’s captain still played a key role in delivering trophies in the interim, winning a trio of FA Cups as well as a League Cup and the European Cup Winners’ Cup.
A mainstay in Ron Atkinson’s side before the arrival of Sir Alex Ferguson, Robson became a true United favourite.
It was fitting that he would lift the inaugural Premier League title in 1993 along with Steve Bruce before repeating the feat a year later as United’s period of dominance began with him only a bit-part player.
United appearances: 394
United goals: 85
Born in Leytonstone, Beckham was always a United fan and would come through the ranks with plenty of his friends to achieve great things at United and beyond.
The former England captain could hit a free-kick as good as anyone and was also a superb crosser of the ball.
In his 11-year senior United career, Beckham won six Premier League titles, two FA Cups and the Champions League in 1999 as part of an historic Treble.
His rising status as a celebrity, helped by his marriage to Spice Girl Victoria Adams, never sat well with Ferguson and the pair often clashed – leading in part to Beckham’s departure to Real Madrid in 2003.
United appearances: 185
United goals: 82
Arguably one of the most inspired signings in the history of the Premier League, Cantona had already helped deliver a title at Leeds before Ferguson made his move and took him across the Pennines.
He cost the Red Devils just £1.2 million and would establish himself as a player who would forever go down in the history of the club.
His arrival coincided with the first back-to-back Premier League title wins before he was banned from football for eight months as his fierce temper got the better of him and he kicked a Crystal Palace fan after being sent off.
He returned in time to nurture United’s blossoming youth talent, a father figure to the Class of ’92 such as Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes, David Beckham and the Neville brothers, Gary and Phil, back to the title in 1996.
United would retain the crown again the next season with Cantona as captain but his star was on the wane and he shocked the sport by announcing his retirement at the age of 30.
United appearances: 292
United goals: 118
Now breaking goalscoring records at Real Madrid, Ronaldo came of age during a spell at United in which he truly shone.
Signed as a relatively unknown teenager, Ronaldo was initially only recognised for his skill as he adapted to a new league and continued to develop physically and mentally under Ferguson.
It was following Euro 2006, where Ronaldo was vilified in England for his apparent part in a red card for United team-mate Wayne Rooney, when the Portugal international began to flourish.
He had already starred in the FA Cup final of 2004 but he went on to be the talisman as United won a trio of league titles between 2007 and 2009, with Champions League success in 2008.
His goalscoring became a regular occurrence and in 2007/08 he surpassed Best’s previous record tally of goals in a season for a United winger.
Best himself had previously spoken about Ronaldo. “There have been a few players described as ‘the new George Best ‘ over the years, but this is the first time it’s been a compliment to me,” he said.
Provided by Press Association
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