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Duncan Edwards 1952-1958 177 games 21 goals

November 15, 2009

Written by: Robi Prosser

It is generally agreed that the best United player of all time was Duncan Edwards. Matt Busby said of the 15-year-old giant that he looked and played like a man, he was the Ryan Giggs of his day.

At 16 years and 185 days old, Edwards became the youngest-ever player in the First Division. On making his England debut in the 7-2 win over Scotland in April 1955, aged 18 years and 183 days, he became the youngest ever England international, which was only broken by current United player Michael Owen during his Liverpool playing days in 1998.

Edwards went on to score five goals in the 18 internationals he played for England, a healthy total for a left-half. The fact that he helped United to win the FA Youth Cup the same month as he made his international debut underlines his “ManBoy” nickname.

Edwards’ talent was first noticed when he was the star of Dudley Boys team. He went on to captain England schoolboys, and several top clubs scrambled for his signature, but in June 1952 he joined United. Coach Jimmy Murphy did the groundwork in persuading Duncan’s parents that he should come to Old Trafford, but Matt Busby clinched the deal. Busby didn’t have to sell United to Edwards. In his autobiography, Busby recalls, Duncan said: “I think Manchester United is the greatest team in the world. I’d give anything to play for you.”

Within a year Edwards made his League debut, the youngest ever to play in the First Division. Frank Taylor, the only survivor among the nine British journalist’s on the Munich plane, went to Edwards’ first League game. United had a woeful 1-4 defeat at home to Cardiff City that day, and Taylor reported that Edwards was heavily built and might have trouble with his weight.

Despite his imposing appearance, Edwards was a gentle unassuming man. He was well-liked by his team mates, who accepted that he was naturally capable of achieving more than them. The team would warm up by jogging along the sides of the pitch and walking across the ends. Most of them did 4 circuits, but Duncan did 10.

At left-half , Edwards usually wore the number 6 shirt, but he had the ability to play in virtually any position on the field. Wilf McGuinness credits Duncan Edwards’ incredible versatility for most of his early chances in the first team: I never dreamt I could overtake him in the team but if Dennis Viollet got injured up-front or Roger Byrne got injured at left-back, Duncan could be slotted in these positions and I would get a game. He could play as an attacker, creator or defender and still be the best player on the pitch … Once he was playing for the English League XI against the Scottish League. 2-0 down, Duncan was moved from left-half to center-forward. He scored a hat-trick to win the game.”

The only contemporary player who bore comparison with Edwards was the great Welsh star John Charles. But in a private conversation with Frank Taylor in 1957, Sir Matt Busby told Taylor why he rated Edwards as the best player in the world: “He agreed that John Charles was a fantastic player , taller (6ft 2in compared to 5ft 11 in), better in the air and perhaps better on the ball. But the difference was Duncan was always involved. Charles would drift in and out of games.”

Sir Matt Busby’s right hand man Jimmy Murphy was perhaps Edwards’ greatest admirer. Once in Murphy’s other role as the Welsh national team coach, he was delivering his team talk before a game against England. He spoke about each English player in turn, highlighting their strengths and weaknesses. As he closed in tactical sermon, a Welsh player piped up “You haven’t mentioned Duncan Edwards, boss.” Murphy replied: “There’s nothing to say that could help us.”

Of the many talented Busby Babes, Edwards was the natural kingpin. Wilf McGuiness recalls one game that illustrates the point: “Pre-match, Jimmy Murphy was saying to the likes of David Pegg, Bobby Charlton and myself, ‘I don’t want you to have a Duncan Edwards complex and always give him the ball. You are good enough players yourselves.’ At half time it was 0-0 and Jimmy changed his tune. He said, ‘right, this half, as soon as you get the ball, give it to Duncan!'”

Of the 8 Busby babes that died in the Munich air disaster, Edwards ‘ innate strength and unconquerable spirit kept him alive for longest. For 15 days in the Rechts Der Isar hospital, he defied chronic kidney damage, broken ribs, a collapsed lung, a broken pelvis and a smashed right thigh, before his death at 2:16am. On 21st of February, 1958.

Sir Bobby Charlton describes Duncan Edwards as “The best player I have ever seen, the best footballer I’ve ever played with for United or England, the only player who ever made me feel inferior.”
This was extraordinary praise for someone who died years before average footballers reach their peaks.
In 1957, United had reached the European Cup semi-final and were favourites to win it in 1958. If Edwards had come through Munich unscathed, United would almost certainly have won the European Cup before 1968.

At international level Edwards was expected to take over the captaincy when Billy Wright retired. Edwards would have been 29 by the time of the 1966 World Cup, and some believe that it would have been him and not Bobby Moore who lifted the Jules Rimet trophy. Bobby Charlton certainly believed that Edwards would have held back Bobby Moore for some time, and Frank Taylor once said that if Duncan Edwards had lived, Bobby Moore wouldn’t have won a cap, because there was no way that Edwards would not have been chosen.

As Bill Foulkes said: “Duncan had everything, he was powerful, technically as good as anyone, and he could read the game as if he’d been in the game for 30 years even when he was 17. He was a freak to be honest, mature beyond his years. He always behaved in the correct way – everything he did was correct. He’d obviously been well-tutored when he was young. He was one of the boys, but he was also a gentleman, the model professional.” Will McGuiness explains succinctly why Edwards was the greatest-ever United Player: “Best, Law and Charlton were world class when they had the ball. Duncan was world class when United had the ball, and when the opposition had the ball he was our best defender. He was complete.”

Wilf McGuiness also went on to say many moons later, “He had legs like tree trunks, like Mark Hughes but bigger. But he wasn’t all power. If the ball was hit like a bullet at him, he would let it hit his chest and kill it. He could dribble, give short one-twos and then unleash an accurate 50-yard pass.”

Jimmy Murphy once said, “when I hear Muhammad Ali proclaim to the world that he was the greatest, I used to smile. You see, the greatest of them all was an English football named Duncan Edwards.”

During one international game against West Germany in 1955 Duncan Edwards scored a 25 yarder, he struck the ball with so much power that the goal keeper ended up in the back of the goal with the ball, this earned him the nickname of ‘BOOM BOOM from the Germans

Edwards was but still a child in footballing terms when he lost his life but he was also the man of the team, he was only 21 years and 143 days old, during this time he had already played a total of 175 games and scored 21 goals for United. He also had won 3 Youth FA Cup winners medals, 2 League Championship winners medals and a runners up medal from the FA Cup.

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