Before a past-it Gary Neville was appointed club captain in 2005, Manchester United had had quite a ludicrous run. Bryan Robson was followed by Steve Bruce, who handed the armband over to Eric Cantona, who bequeathed it to Roy Keane. That period alone contains three players who can claim to be the greatest ever United captain, and it was less than ten years before Robson that Bobby Charlton had worn the armband, and before him Denis Law, most of the period in between filled by the more than able Martin Buchan.
So, we've been spoiled. It's now coming up to a decade since we last had a captain of that sort, a genuine leader on the pitch who we can turn to for inspiration and who can oversee a wider ethos at the club. Nemanja Vidic was a great player for us, but he is hardly a great leader - as captain has overseen some shocking meekness, a lot of laziness from first-teamers, and he is hardly someone we look towards for inspiration when chasing a game. None of that is necessarily his fault, but it's impossible to consider him a great leader while also imagining Tom Cleverley or Michael Carrick having to play next to Roy Keane for 90 minutes.
So, let's have a look at the candidates. We warn you, it's not exactly a brilliant selection.
Pros: A Belfast red, who has been at the club since he was a boy, Evans is also our best centre-back and excels at distributing the ball out from the back, while he is also vocal on the pitch. He's also one of the few players we have now who would definitely beat you in a fight, and he has a nice little nasty streak to him when he needs it. In our opinion, the outstanding candidate.
Cons: Is not exactly a world-class player, and is not really someone who the team can look to for a moment of inspiration, not exactly being prolific in terms of goalscoring in the manner of a John *spit* Terry or Steve Bruce.
Robin van Persie
Pros: Is our best player, someone who can produce real moments of magic, someone who the rest of the team looks up to, and someone who can produce real moments of inspiration. Also comes with nasty streak.
Cons: Not exactly a red through and through, and rumours of discontent, if true, would surely make him unsuitable. Also perhaps too injury-prone.
Pros: Scores important goals, can inspire the team, is a scrapper, is vocal on the pitch.
Cons: Where to start? Too greedy, too disloyal, too inconsistent, too unfit, too Scouse, too unattractive, too unreliable. Unfortunately, we fear he may well be the favourite.
Pros: Impervious to pain, runs around a lot.
Cons: Hardly seems like someone who commands the respect of the dressing room. A poor footballer. Wears white jeans. Looks silly. No thanks.
David de Gea
Pros: One of our more consistently good players, who regularly bails us out of tight spots.
Cons: Is not the most vocal of keepers, and anyway, giving the captaincy to a goalie seems like a bit of a cop-out. Does not exactly scream 'leader of men.'
Pros: The only legit, born-and-bred pure Mancunian lad in the side, and a die-hard United fan. Scores goals, runs his blood to water in every game.
Cons: Not a guaranteed starter, only really consistently a great player when playing up front, where he has too much competition. Still young. Looks a bit naive, hardly the sort of player to give another player a dressing-down. Regrettably unsuitable.
Pros: Erm, well, he's English. Some days he plays the ball forwards, too. Has the experience.
Cons: Carrick is essentially everything a Manchester United captain should not be - instead of upping himself for big games, he disappears. Instead of being aggressive, he's soft in the tackle. Instead of dominating the opposition with his athletic prowess, he's lethargic. Nay, nay, and thrice nay.
Pros: A link to the past, been at United all his career, a tough tackler, aggressive, and a big-game player. Surely perfect?
Cons: Fitness problems, and a doubt whether he can ever get back to anything like his previous level. There's also the thought that a link to the past may not be what we need right now, but a clean break.
The midfielder we buy in January
Pros: He has all the capabilities we need - strong in the tackle, aggressive, a leader, someone who can either turn a game with one move or grab it by the scruff of the neck and carry the team on to victory.
Cons: Well, there's not many about, are there? Arturo Vidal could be that player on the pitch, although whether he'd instantly command the dressing room is doubtful, if he even speaks English. Ditto Ilkay Gundogan and pretty much everybody else we've been linked to. Football-wise, there are some perfect players for this role, but if there's another Roy Keane out there, we're certainly not aware of him.