How good was Duncan Edwards?

harms

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It always baffled me that the only game that was left of him was the infamous 1957 FA Cup final against Aston Villa. As many of you probably know, it wasn't the best game to evaluate Duncan's talent on — after Villa forward Peter McParland injured United goalkeeper Ray Wood at the 6th minute, we were left with 10 players on the pitch and Duncan was moved further back.

A few days ago I stumbled on a different game from 1955 — Duncan Edwards' international debut. England faced Scotland at Wembley and the 18-years old United midfielder got his first cap for his country. Match reports paint a very accurate picture of what happened next — "Duncan Edwards, the human powerhouse from Manchester United, making an immediate and impressive impact, was at the heart of England's early play". Sadly, the first half footage haven't been recovered (yet?) but those 45 minutes were enough to amaze me, so I've decided to make an all-touch compilation of his performance. I'm sure many posters here are interested in Edwards as he's one of the most intriguing and fascinating parts of our club's history — we've all read the quotes but it's always better to watch a player with your own eyes.

England dominated that game by the way, beating Scotland 7 goals to 2. Stanley Matthews set up 4 goals, Dennis Wilshaw scored 4 and yet Duncan Edwards, who played at left half-back (~ defensive midfielder), got most of the individual praise after the game (certainly more than Wilshaw & maybe on par with the nation's sweetheart Matthews).

Anyway, here's the video — it's a relatively short one as, like I've said, only the 2nd half footage have survived to our days.

 
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Relevated

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As time goes by it is obvious that, due to advancement in understanding and medicine, and through a process of being able to learn from our predecessor, that we become physically more efficient.

It seems as if Duncan Edwards was one of the best during his time, but in todays generation he may not have been the best in the world.
 

Fortitude

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Pretty sure I joined this forum asking this. The one player we’ve had who l’d love to see his entire catalogue of games and make up my own mind on.

True gold dust stuff here @harms
 

Joga Bonito

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It always baffled me that the only game that was left of him was the infamous 1957 FA Cup final against Aston Villa. As many of you probably know, it wasn't the best game to evaluate Duncan's talent on — after Villa forward Peter McParland injured United goalkeeper Ray Wood at the 6th minute, we were left with 10 players on the pitch and Duncan was moved further back.

A few days ago I stumbled on a different game from 1955 — Duncan Edwards' international debut. England faced Scotland at Wembley and the 18-years old United midfielder got his first cap for his country. Match reports paint a very accurate picture of what happened next — "Duncan Edwards, the human powerhouse from Manchester United, making an immediate and impressive impact, was at the heart of England's early play". Sadly, the first half footage haven't been recovered (yet?) but those 45 minutes were enough to amaze me, so I've decided to make an all-touch compilation of his performance. I'm sure many posters here are interested in Edwards as he's one of the most intriguing and fascinating parts of our club's history — we've all read the quotes but it's always better to watch a player with your own eyes.

England dominated that game by the way, beating Scotland 7 goals to 2. Stanley Matthews set up 4 goals, Dennis Wilshaw scored 4 and yet Duncan Edwards, who played at left half-back (~ defensive midfielder), got most of the individual praise after the game (certainly more than Wilshaw & maybe on par with the nation's sweetheart Matthews).

Anyway, here's the video — it's a relatively short one as, like I've said, only the 2nd half footage have survived to our days.

Great stuff! Amazing how two footed he is and how he pings the ball around with relative ease on either peg. The composure that he has on the ball and how he moves it around quickly with first time passes do stand out too, esp for that era.
 

OverratedOpinion

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There used to be a chap on here who posted incredible insights about the Busby Babes and Edwards in particular. I believe he even met him cycling to Old Trafford at times (might be remembering that incorrectly.)

I will try and find a link to his threads.
 

lex talionis

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Misty-eyed home runs run amok perhaps, but an old chap I met in Manchester I met about a decade ago who claimed to have attended every United match at Old Trafford since 1948 (no typo) and watched Pele, Cruyff, and Maradona insisted that Edwards was better than any of them.
 

Spoony

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Duncan and the Babes. Imagine watching them live from the terraces at Old Trafford.
 

Chesterlestreet

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It's very hard to assess exactly how good he was based on the very scarce evidence we have that is not anecdotal, as it were.

But we do have some evidence - and if you combine that with the anecdotal stuff, it's clear that he was an exceptional talent (and player).

One thing that stands out about Duncan Edwards is that he wasn't an obvious type for a player his peers would rave about in a way that would go down in history: he was a midfielder (in modern terms) - not a striker or a winger. And he wasn't praised for any trait in particular - but rather for his completeness as a player (at a very young age, at that).

The vibe I get from his peers (players, coaches - and also regular fans who watched him play) is that he was just something else, he was someone you just marveled at, a force of nature.

(The two-footed thing mentioned by @Joga Bonito: he apparently spent countless hours kicking the ball with both feet against a wall as a kid - I remember reading that as a kid (myself) in some kind of "history of Manchester United" publication or other.)
 

Chesterlestreet

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There are loads of quotes (pretty much a whole book from Bobby Charlton alone) about Duncan - but my personal favourites are the ones from Jimmy Murphy:

Before an important youth match against Chelsea, at that time when Edwards dominated all around him, Murphy was worried that teamwork might be suffering in the shadow of one player’s talent. So he said: “I want you to develop your own games; when you get the ball, don’t automatically give it to Duncan. Look for a few options.”


At half-time, United were trailing and Murphy was contemplating a rare and unthinkable defeat. His team talk was brief: “Remember, boys, I said not to give Duncan the ball at every opportunity. Well, forget it. Give him the fecking ball whenever you can.”


They did and United won, comfortably.

From a match against England (Murphy managed Wales in addition to being Busby's assistant at United):


Before the game Murphy stood in the centre of the Welsh dressing room, going through the strengths and weaknesses of each member of the England side in great detail.


He talked about ten players, but not Edwards, prompting Reg Davies, the Newcastle inside-forward, to put up his hand.


“What about Edwards?”


“Just keep out of his way son, there’s nothing I could say that could ever help us.”
 

Chesterlestreet

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I mean - of course much of this is bound to be hyperbolic in nature.

But the idea that he had no (or very few, at least) obvious weaknesses to his game is something that pervades the "peer reviews" of Duncan - including comments from non-United greats like Tom Finney, Billy Wright, Stan Matthews and Santiago Bernabeu. They all emphasize his completeness - and his almost shocking presence on the pitch (given how young he was).

As for Bobby Charlton - what he says about Duncan is, from a cynical point of view, not 100% objective: Duncan was a player he admired greatly, who was (just slightly) older than him, and who died in circumstances that involved Charlton himself.

But that doesn't mean we should take it lightly when he states plainly enough that to him, who played alongside George Best, and whose favourite player is Alfredo di Stefano, Duncan was the greatest. There's something about the way he talks about Duncan - for me, at least - that's just very special, very compelling: it's this sense - again - that he's talking about something he can't really explain, something that just defied all expectations.

And - yeah - of course this is super, super dubious if you consider it as actual evidence. That goes without saying. But what is evident is that Duncan made one hell of an impression on a lot of people who can't be dismissed in the context of football history.
 
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Moriarty

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Duncan and the Babes. Imagine watching them live from the terraces at Old Trafford.
My dad and grandad went week-in, week-out. Funnily enough, when United were away, they'd go to Maine Road to watch City. They both told me that Duncan Edwards was by far and away, the most complete footballer England had produced. When United needed a goal, Busby would send him upfield to get one. We got a new Ole Ole Ole I love you in my second year at grammar, who was a Scot. We asked him who the greatest English player was and without hesitation he said Duncan Edwards.
 

Chesterlestreet

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He was Roy Keane and Bryan Robson combined, but in a bigger body. He could play as an attacker, creator or defender and be the best player on the pitch… He was world class when United had the ball, and when the opposition has the ball he was our best defender.

Wilf McGuinness
Despite his massive muscular stature, he could bring off the most delicate of manoeuvres. When he wanted to he was all flicks and swivels, almost like a conjuror.

Bill Foulkes
There is no doubt in my mind that Duncan would have become the greatest player ever. Not just in British football, with United and England, but the best in the world. George Best was something special, as was Pele and Maradona, but in my mind Duncan was much better in terms of all-round ability and skill.

Tommy Docherty
What is beyond dispute is that Duncan Edwards, at the age of 21 was the finest young player in this country at that time and surely would have gone on to be one of the greatest players the world has ever seen.

Bobby Robson
If I had to play for my life and could take one man with me, it would be Duncan Edwards.

Bobby Charlton
 

Chesterlestreet

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Funnily enough, when United were away, they'd go to Maine Road to watch City.
Yeah - when exactly did that change?

You're an old-timer (relatively speaking - what I mean is that you're a fine, young specimen but somewhat older than me), right?

When you first started going to Old Trafford - did you also go to Maine Road? Or was that something you simply didn't do?
 

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There aren’t really any film real of him to make a proper judgement, but going on the evidence of people like Bobby Charlton he was even better than Georgie Best.
 

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I used to go to Maine Rd back in the 80’s when when United weren’t playing at home, then again I’d stick up for the opposition.
 

trevor newnham

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My Dad saw him live on many occasions and reckons he was the best footballer he'd ever seen. If he had lived, he would have been the one lifting the WC in 1966
In fact, my old man reckons if it hadn't been for Munich England would have won it in 62 as well.tommy Taylor was the best centre forward in England in 58, would have been at his peak in 62
 

.Phil1968

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My dad often told me about The Babes and Duncan in particular. He said he was the best hed ever seen or ever would see. Absolute colossus who could do it all. He also said if God would have spared those lads that European cup would never have left these shores.
He used to go to Maine Road too when United were away through the 40s and 50s.
 

Moriarty

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Yeah - when exactly did that change?

You're an old-timer (relatively speaking - what I mean is that you're a fine, young specimen but somewhat older than me), right?

When you first started going to Old Trafford - did you also go to Maine Road? Or was that something you simply didn't do?
I would usually go to United away games. My dad was talking about the 1940s and 50s when fans didn't really travel away, unless they had money. It certainly wasn't a thing for young fans in my day but some of the old timers may have carried on the tradition. The only time I'd go to Maine Road was for a derby game.
 

Red the Bear

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It's so hard to pass judgment on a player without any footage but I suppose the results they achieved do not lie, and while we have tendency to eulogies those who leave us young there has to be at least some merit to the universal praise he has received.

I always wondered how different football history would have been had he lived , what would the butterfly effect be.
would Madrid still win the Champion league had it not happened?
would England win the 1962 world cup?
How would the legacy of players like garrnicha , pele and di estefano be affected?

Fun to think about, but they all left us so young, always hurts when people go out young.
 

redmanx

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Yeah - when exactly did that change?

You're an old-timer (relatively speaking - what I mean is that you're a fine, young specimen but somewhat older than me), right?

When you first started going to Old Trafford - did you also go to Maine Road? Or was that something you simply didn't do?
Where is the harm, if you love football, of watching other teams play? Bill Shankley was probably the most obsessive, biased Liverpool supporter ever. In his eyes no team could match them, no other player could match any Liverpool player, but such was his love of the game, if his beloved Liverpool were not playing he would often be at Old Trafford watching United, and it was the same with Matt Busby and no doubt other managers too. In the past I went to see other teams when United were not playing, particularly Chelsea with some friends who were Chelsea supporters and they did the same. Football is a tribal game but that doesnt mean the tribes should be at war or not appreciate each other.
 

redmanx

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It's so hard to pass judgment on a player without any footage but I suppose the results they achieved do not lie, and while we have tendency to eulogies those who leave us young there has to be at least some merit to the universal praise he has received.

I always wondered how different football history would have been had he lived , what would the butterfly effect be.
would Madrid still win the Champion league had it not happened?
would England win the 1962 world cup?
How would the legacy of players like garrnicha , pele and di estefano be affected?

Fun to think about, but they all left us so young, always hurts when people go out young.
I read many years ago that Di Stefano had stated that if not for Munich Manchester United would have dominated European football and that England might well have won the inaugral European Championships in 1960 and the World Cup in 1962. He went on to say Duncan Edwards would have become the greatest player of all time. Real Madrid tried to buy Duncan Edwards, Liam Whelan and Tommy Taylor, as well as Harry Gregg I think.
 

Mr. MUJAC

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It always baffled me that the only game that was left of him was the infamous 1957 FA Cup final against Aston Villa. As many of you probably know, it wasn't the best game to evaluate Duncan's talent on — after Villa forward Peter McParland injured United goalkeeper Ray Wood at the 6th minute, we were left with 10 players on the pitch and Duncan was moved further back.

A few days ago I stumbled on a different game from 1955 — Duncan Edwards' international debut. England faced Scotland at Wembley and the 18-years old United midfielder got his first cap for his country. Match reports paint a very accurate picture of what happened next — "Duncan Edwards, the human powerhouse from Manchester United, making an immediate and impressive impact, was at the heart of England's early play". Sadly, the first half footage haven't been recovered (yet?) but those 45 minutes were enough to amaze me, so I've decided to make an all-touch compilation of his performance. I'm sure many posters here are interested in Edwards as he's one of the most intriguing and fascinating parts of our club's history — we've all read the quotes but it's always better to watch a player with your own eyes.

England dominated that game by the way, beating Scotland 7 goals to 2. Stanley Matthews set up 4 goals, Dennis Wilshaw scored 4 and yet Duncan Edwards, who played at left half-back (~ defensive midfielder), got most of the individual praise after the game (certainly more than Wilshaw & maybe on par with the nation's sweetheart Matthews).

Anyway, here's the video — it's a relatively short one as, like I've said, only the 2nd half footage have survived to our days.

A really good short video which epitomises Duncan’s style of play. Clearly on his international debut at 18 he was probably being a little conservative in attack…as shown by his passing to Revie, Blunstone and Matthews so often.

Also very little need to bomb forward given England’s dominance. He had that in his locker in abundance.

During my research I’ve never seen so many contemporary journalists, managers, coaches, opponents and team mates extol his virtues to such an extent that they did.

I don’t agree with the belief that ‘I need to see the video to make my own mind up’…with such a litany of references from when he was 15 to when he died at 21…he must have been some player.

He would definitely be in all time United X1 (alongside Bryan Robson) and is the ONE player I wish I could have watched live.

Thanks for the video.
 

Spoony

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I used to go to Maine Rd back in the 80’s when when United weren’t playing at home, then again I’d stick up for the opposition.
My City supporting mate used to go to Old Trafford because the atmosphere was amazing, far better than at his beloved Maine Road. He hated United and all.
 

Physiocrat

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Looking at the footage and the quotes, I think Edwards could well have become an earlier version of Matthaus. Complete CM competent deep and also attacking.
 

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I got the impression that John Charles would be the nearest equivalent, although as none of us saw him either, it doesn’t advance the discussion much. My Dad, who watched that team, always seems to go on about Tommy Taylor more than the other lost players.
 

Red the Bear

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I read many years ago that Di Stefano had stated that if not for Munich Manchester United would have dominated European football and that England might well have won the inaugral European Championships in 1960 and the World Cup in 1962. He went on to say Duncan Edwards would have become the greatest player of all time. Real Madrid tried to buy Duncan Edwards, Liam Whelan and Tommy Taylor, as well as Harry Gregg I think.
Sad to think about ، European cup is one area where we're so much behind the other big clubs, how different it would have been had we won a few during that period.
 

dave1956

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I was fortunate to have watched him play ( Although very young at the time ) He was on reflection a complete footballer, fast, two footed, strong in the tackle, he played in every position for Utd., including goal keeper, one of his nicknames was, " Boom Boom ", because of his surging runs and the strength of his shot at the end. During his National Service ( Also served alongside Bobby Charlton at Nesscliffe Camp in Shropshire ) he was at times playing four games a week. Army, Utd., youth and senior sides plus England games.
Had he survived his injuries he most certainly would not have played again, he had fractures to both legs, smashed pelvis, damaged spleen and kidneys, it was the damage to his kidneys that finally caused his death.
I can just remember one of the games where David Pegg was getting kick from pillar to post by the oppositions full back, Duncan changed places with him, in came the full back and he bounced off Duncan, that is how strong he was even at a young age.
Walter Winterbottom the then England manager is on record as saying that had Duncan lived England would have won the World Cup in 1958, I believe that he would have lifted the World Cup in 1966 not Bobby Moore as Moore would not have got into the England side.
How good was he, well I am biased, of all the great players that have graced Old Trafford he was the most complete and gifted player of them all.
 
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wangyu

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Back Then probably good but that video is not any better than todays women’s game, not impressed.
 

Moriarty

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I got the impression that John Charles would be the nearest equivalent, although as none of us saw him either, it doesn’t advance the discussion much. My Dad, who watched that team, always seems to go on about Tommy Taylor more than the other lost players.
My dad used to sing a song about Tommy Taylor. Wish I could remember the words.
 

wangyu

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How come there is so little footage of the Busby Babes? They were one of the worlds most celebrated and eventually tragic teams, why aren’t news and tv archives full of footage of these guys?
 

Loon

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He would have got the de Jong transfer sewn up. He was THAT good.

(My Ma saw him play and still talked about him during Ferguson's period)
 

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How come there is so little footage of the Busby Babes? They were one of the worlds most celebrated and eventually tragic teams, why aren’t news and tv archives full of footage of these guys?
Back in the 1950's the FA Cup Final was the biggest domestic match and the only club match covered live and in full.
There was no weekly TV Football show in UK (Match of the Day started in 1964).
Sadly so much of our football heritage is lost so it's anybody's guess as to how good Edwards, Matthews, Finney etc were but those who attended United matches through the generations held him in the highest esteem.
 

Edwards6

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There's a great book called Duncan Edwards: The greatest.
It contains a lot of news and match reports from when he was playing so you can really understand how good he was and what people were saying about him at the time
 

Moriarty

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Back in the 1950's the FA Cup Final was the biggest domestic match and the only club match covered live and in full.
There was no weekly TV Football show in UK (Match of the Day started in 1964).
Sadly so much of our football heritage is lost so it's anybody's guess as to how good Edwards, Matthews, Finney etc were but those who attended United matches through the generations held him in the highest esteem.
Pathe filmed quite a number of games but you have to search for them.
 

wolvored

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You can only go on what Charlton and others said about him. They all said he was the best Utd player and the fact he played for England so young as well.
I very much doubt anyone on here has seen him live as they would be in their very late 70s/80s by now.
If you could go back in time the football would look very slow compared to nowadays and the kids wouldnt see what all the fuss was about.
 

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Pathe filmed quite a number of games but you have to search for them.
Just had a look.
Very little in their archive featuring United in that era. A couple of minutes of a couple of games, some footage about the Munich Disaster and that's it.
Such a shame that we can't see those matches for ourselves.
 

trevor newnham

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Can you imagine the likes of those old players ( not just United's) playing on today's carpet like pitches and probably today's scientific approach to diet, and today's balls (I can remember heading the old leather balls in the rain and feeling dazed )? Sadly, an impossible exercise. Even in the 80s the pitches were shit
 
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