When you’re as big and dynamic of a club as Manchester United, you boast some of football’s most remarkable talent. If you’re a young footballer, donning a Manchester United kit at any point in your career is the end goal. You strive to one day hear your name being introduced on the very same pitch that made Sir Bobby Charlton, Eric Cantona and Ryan Giggs household names.
Unfortunately, there have been some individuals who left Manchester way before their time at the club was over. Blame it on finances or disagreements with the manager, the five following players premature departure will forever be associated with the Manchester United that could have been.
Sold to: Arsenal (2014)
There are many things I will never forgive Louis van Gaal for, but selling Danny Welbeck to Arsenal on transfer deadline day in 2014 nears the top of the list. A Manchester native, Welbeck was an essential part of Sir Alex Ferguson’s success in his final years as manager. In his six years at United, Welbeck netted 20 goals in 92 appearances, and would have easily transitioned well into José Mourinho’s disciplined game plan.
Unfortunately, two serious knee problems and a never-ending groin complaint have plagued Welbeck from making a worthwhile impression in North London. Nevertheless, he’s a skillful source that when healthy, is necessary for any manager’s squad.
Sold to: Borussia Dortmund (2014)
Shinji Kagawa made an instant impression to fans when he scored on his United home debut, and delivered some other memorable performances including a hat-trick at Norwich, becoming the first Japanese player in the Premier League with this feat.
However, it became soon apparent that Kagawa never really felt comfortable in his new home. Perhaps his short stint at United is attributed to the fact that Kagawa was robbed of the chance to play in his natural position, attacking midfielder. Sir Alex routinely played him as a winger, and the trend continued under David Moyes. Many fans hoped that when Moyes was fired, Kagawa would finally shine in the number 10 role, but van Gaal sent him back to Germany, thus ending the tenure of the Japanese international at Old Trafford.
Ángel Di María
Sold to: PSG (2015)
Most United fans probably want to forget that the 2013-2014 season ever happened. Still weeping fresh tears over Sir Alex’s retirement, United embarrassingly finished 7th place, and suffered some of the worst league results since the 1980s. In need of a face-lift, United sacked manager David Moyes after nine months on the job. Shortly after that, the Red Devils signed attacking midfielder Ángel Di María from Real Madrid for an English transfer record of £59.7m. Di Maria was named Man of the Match in the Champions League finals months before, so he was the perfect element to revive a struggling club eager to return to winning ways.
Somewhere along the way, Di María and new manager Louis van Gaal failed to see eye-to-eye, and Di María was immediately sold to Paris Saint-Germain the following year. In his first year with PSG, Di María won the domestic treble. I’m happy to see he has a found a home in Paris, but I relish to think the amount of success Di María would have had playing under José Mourinho again.
Javier “Chicharito” Hernández
Sold to: Bayer Leverkusen (2014)
When Chicharito still donned a United shirt, the Red Devils lacked a creative finisher like him who netted goals youth academy graduates dreamed of scoring. Furthermore, his agile pace made him a serious threat on the counter-attack. Sure, he had his missteps, but for United to sell him without finding a viable replacement was shocking.
Chicharito’s tenure at United is the classic tale of a dynamic player who was badly coached. Louis van Gaal failed to play to his strengths, and the lack of playing time for such an impressive force surely took a blow to his confidence. In his two years at Bayer Leverkusen, Chicharito scored 28 goals in 54 appearances, a sharp contrast to the 37 goals in five years and 103 showings at United.
Sold to: Barcelona (2008)
When Gerard Piqué arrived in Manchester in 2004, he was competing for a place in the team with the likes of Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidić and Gary Neville. With an impressive set of experienced defenders, Piqué would naturally act as their understudy. He made his first team debut almost immediately in October 2004, but it would be another 18 months before his full match debut in March 2006. Before returning to his boyhood club Barcelona, Piqué made 12 appearances in four years.
In a way, I can’t blame Piqué for leaving. Homesick for Spain and uncertain of a future where you’re the substitute for two of the league’s best centre-backs, the choice to go back to Barcelona was an easy one. In a stroke of classic United luck, subsequent seasons would find both Vidić and Ferdinand injured and United without a reliable option in the back. Piqué was looking to cement his legacy at a club, and Barcelona seems to be the place where he will do just that.
These aforementioned players have gone on to make a household name for themselves since leaving Manchester, but their short-lived stint in a red kit will always be remembered as the could be to something storied.
Was there a glaring omission? Should we have removed someone? Sound off in the comments.