It’s hard to gauge when exactly is the right time to start a squad overhaul. It’s a frightening risk that could take much longer than anticipated, costing many front office members their jobs. However, in the case of Manchester United, it’s been clear for several years now that major investment is needed to overhaul a squad that has yet to truly challenge for titles consistently since Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement. Four managers have now taken on the task of restoring the great club, but the players who have survived every one of them indicate that Ed Woodward hasn’t aided them as much as he probably should have.
Ashley Young, a servant of the club since 2011, who has won the Premier League, FA Cup, League Cup, and Europa League, has been confirmed as club captain for the 2019/20 season. Young is no longer a regular starter, having been pushed down the depth chart by the arrival of Aaron Wan-Bissaka, but neither was his predecessor, Antonio Valencia. Young was Valencia’s vice-captain, but Valencia rarely played for most of last season which meant Young wore the armband for much of the year. And the year before, Valencia was vice-captain to the soon to be retired Michael Carrick, and wore the armband much more as vice-captain than he did as actual captain. And Carrick was vice-captain for Wayne Rooney the year before that, a year in which Rooney was being ushered out by José Mourinho.
I hope you see the trend I’m trying to point out, but if not I will spell it out: Manchester United’s captains, and most experienced players, are no longer leaders on the pitch, but rather survivors of a squad that is being slowly, and rightfully, dismantled.
The role of vice-captain is now almost more important than captain, as it will be given to whichever starter is best suited to lead on the pitch. Current candidates are David De Gea and Paul Pogba. De Gea is the smarter choice with Pogba’s will he/won’t he transfer saga currently ongoing, but Solskjaer remains adamant he will be at the club this season. De Gea might be the only worthy survivor of Ferguson’s last team that is still at the club, but why not just name him captain then? He will start just about every game AND remain on the pitch for the full 90 minutes. United haven’t had that from their captain since Wayne Rooney in 2015/16.
Young has the same length of experience as De Gea, but he doesn’t lead by example on the pitch. He is no longer capable of producing for a full 90, his defending is a liability, and now even his once reliable passing and crossing has gone. United need leadership, and for the manager to be able to fully trust that leader to perform and lead the team each and every week.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has been trusted with the manager’s position, and has also been given 3 new signings in his first transfer window, but the club haven’t delivered on his promise to move on from multiple players who weren’t delivering near the end of last season. Fans expected an overhaul, but so far most of the “dead weight,” as fans call them, are still around. The past 4 captains just show that the club still aren’t moving on from players who don’t contribute effectively anymore. Solskjaer needs more than a few more arrivals, he needs the departures to clear the space as well.