For many growing up in Ireland in the 1990s or early 2000s, countless hours were spent on the weekends following two of the most popular foreign institutions to ever grace our television screens.
Manchester United and, of course, World Wrestling Entertainment.
There are more similarities between the two than you may think. For example, both became global juggernauts in the 1990s while experiencing their peak just before the turn of the century, with Manchester United's historic treble coming in the same year that Monday Night Raw enjoyed their highest ever TV ratings. It could also be argued that according to most fans of a certain vintage, both organizations have left their glory days behind, as management now focuses more on commercial success at the expense of the quality of the creative in-ring or on-field product.
This got us thinking, if WWE and Man United are each following a similar narratives in a parallel universe, then who are the defining characters that have told their story over the years.
Roy Keane & Bret 'Hitman' Hart
If Roy and Bret ever had the chance sit down and have a conversation, they might find a kindred spirit looking across from one another. Both men were the heart & soul of their companies' success during the 90s, leading by example as star performers in their field, while seemingly taking themselves far too seriously for some of their colleagues to get along with. Despite having enjoyed glittering success throughout their careers, there is a certain tragedy in that arguably both careers are defined by controversial incidents that are still talked about far too much almost 20 years later; Saipan for Keane and the 'Montreal Screwjob' for Hart.
Roy & Bret both felt betrayed by their respective mentors, Alex Ferguson and Vince McMahon, when moving on to pastures new towards the end of their careers, and have held onto an unhealthy amount of bitterness which was laid out in post-career autobiographies. And perhaps most tragically of all, Roy and Bret have somewhat sullied their own legacies as masters of their crafts by usually talking absolute waffle dripping with their own bitterness when offering their 'insights' on the modern game. Despite all of this, they remain two of the most compelling characters in the history of MUFC & WWE, and very few that have followed in their footsteps can even come close.
Eric Cantona & 'Stone Cold' Steve Austin
Both of these men were the catalyst for a period of success that defined a generation. Cantona was the trigger for United's first few league titles under Ferguson, while Austin's rise in 1997 & 98 led to the 'Attitude Era' which became the golden age of WWE TV. Yet despite their seismic influence, neither man hung around as long as you might think. Cantona suddenly retired after five years at United, while Austin's in-ring WWE career only lasted a total of six years, which is far less than the likes of Hulk Hogan, John Cena and other top dogs that have carried WWE over the years.
Both men had a magnetic charisma that fans were drawn to, and were alpha males in their respective fields. They also shared a love for taking care of business with their feet, Austin liked to stomp mudholes and walk them dry, while Cantona had a penchant for Kung-Fu. The Marseilles-Texas dynamic would be an interesting one if they were ever to cross paths, but perhaps a few bottles of Broken Skull IPA or maybe even some Kronenbourg get them off on the right foot.
Ryan Giggs & The Undertaker
In terms of longevity, no United or WWE stars can measure up to Giggseh and the Deadman who were cornerstones for more than two decades, through the good times and the bad. While both were highly decorated and respected as locker room leaders throughout their careers, neither was the absolute number one star at any given point in their career, usually playing support to your Cantonas, your Hogans, your Rooneys, your Austins, your Ronaldos, your Cenas etc.
However longevity and loyalty were key to their popularity with supporters, and both were essential in the success that United and WWE enjoyed. In terms of personality and appearance, there aren't many other comparisons to make between Giggs and the Undertaker. Although both have been known to fall out with their brother.
David Beckham & The Rock
In the mid-90s, Beckham and the Rock emerged as the rising stars of their respective fields. Both enjoyed their sporting peaks around the turn of the century, and then moved on to pastures new and became more famous than any of their peers.
While Beckham and The Rock have established their legacies as major stars in the history of MUFC / WWE, neither were quite the number one performer in their careers. Having said that, they are both easily the most famous.
Cristiano Ronaldo & Brock Lesnar
In the early 2000s both Manchester United and WWE underwent something of a transitional period as some of the stars who led them through the previous decade began to fade, and moves were made to introduce the stars of the future. In these years Ronaldo and Lesnar emerged and began to dominate all before them.
Both had phenomenal athleticism and physical attributes that set them apart from their peers, and both left on their own terms when United and WWE were desperate to keep them. Their peak years took place after they moved on to Real Madrid and UFC, with the key difference being that Brock eventually came back to WWE years later, while Ronaldo has never made the triumphant return to Old Trafford he has often been linked with.
Wayne Rooney & John Cena
Its hard to draw many similarities between John Cena and Wayne Rooney in terms of personality, charisma, or any kind of physical attributes. For the purposes of this research study, it has come to light that parallels can be drawn between the timing of their respective tenures in the top spot. Cena and Rooney both became top dogs around 2005 and led the companies through choppy waters over the following decade, as other top stars came and left.
It could also be argued that both men while valued by their employers, were often underappreciated by fans who didn't rate them as highly as their prominence suggested. Although admittedly, there are no reports of any 'Let's go Rooney / Rooney Sucks!' duelling chants having been heard from the terraces at Old Trafford. John Cena is also a much better actor than Rooney, as was confirmed by Rooney's scarcely believable performance in the Manchester United promo for X-Men Apocalypse. However, Rooney and Cena do share partial responsibility for destroying Wade Barrett's WWE career.