Manchester United, as a club, has by nature rallied around one player who usually tends to be the guy with the armband. At Old Trafford, there has always been a definitive representation on the pitch – in the mold of the manager and in some cases, even the supporters – who could identify with a particular individual, more than any other.
Oftentimes, the teams are shaped in the image of these said players – The teams in the 80’s – that are still very fondly remembered by fans of a certain age gathered around midfielder and one of the current brand ambassadors at the club – Bryan Robson, who, in addition to possessing a magic wand of a left foot, was gifted with indomitable will that enabled United to punch above its weight on several occasions.
Fast forward to the more successful 90’s – United had Eric Cantona, probably the most iconic footballer to have put the red shirt on, who served as one of the leaders even without the armband, inspiring the youngsters and later went on to captain the side himself, in the double winning 1995/96 season.
Later in the same decade, the famous 1998/1999 side that won an unprecedented treble developed a habit of popping up with late goals – with a never-say-die attitude thoroughly ingrained in them. And nobody epitomized that spirit more than Roy Keane, who dragged his side through a journey that ended, in Barcelona – otherwise the promised land.
Since then, Manchester United have had captains with varied backgrounds – from Gary Neville who was no stranger to over-the-top-celebrations at Anfield to Nemanja Vidic – who loved to stick his head where it hurt. However, in the last four years, club record goal-scorer Wayne Rooney has led Manchester United with the armband – probably more off the pitch than on it, but his experience and the fact that he commands so much respect within the dressing room, has contributed in some way to United winning three major trophies.
One could recall the speech he made before a crucial league encounter against Spurs in 2014/15 – which they ended up winning on their way to finishing in the top four.
With Rooney’s future at Manchester United in serious doubt, it will not only hand Mourinho the responsibility of replacing one of the club’s all-time great players but also a senior figure – whose voice stretches above and beyond the constraints of the football pitch.
For United to restore their seemingly lost identity back, one proven method understood by retracing the past, is to find that player who they could identify with – the most, someone who understands the expectations of the fans and is comfortable enough to embrace and not shy away from it and give him the armband.
With that in mind, I have drawn up my list of three potential names who I think, should lead Manchester United to a more successful period under Jose Mourinho, in the coming years. Drop yours in the comments below.
3. Antonio Valencia
Valencia has been one of United’s most consistent players in the last two seasons. The right-back was recently crowned Player’s Player of the Year by teammates and colleagues – which goes on to show how highly the 31-year old is valued in the dressing room.
Although, not one of the most vocal players on the pitch, the Ecuadorian captain, who has already spent eight years in Manchester, has won multiple league titles and cups with United and knows what it takes to be a part of a successful team, with pressure to deliver week-in, week-out.
2. Ander Herrera
Ander Herrera, is probably the most popular option to replace Wayne Rooney as United’s captain, under Mourinho. Besides being the archetypal Mourinho central midfielder – tenacious, intelligent on the ball with enough snide to be hated by the opposition fans, Herrera has endeared himself with the Stretford End ever since he signed for the club.
And the Spaniard is certainly not unaware of the subject of being given the armband to lead United out from 17/18 – and on being touted as the future leader – he said in an interview to ESPN, that he was completely overwhelmed and felt the necessity to ‘earn’ it by winning even more silverware, which is perhaps why, he would end up receiving the honour. He understands Manchester United as well as any match-going fan.
1. David De Gea
As for my personal choice, David De Gea is as good an option for United’s captaincy, as anyone in the squad. From arriving as a skinny and unsure 21-year old, De Gea has risen to becoming one of the very best goalkeepers in the modern era.
The 26-year old has seen the tail-end of a successful period under Sir Alex Ferguson, the transition with three managers coming and going, signed a four-year contract in the summer of 2015 – and now looks likely to stay beyond this summer to help Manchester United compete on two fronts.
The thought of De Gea becoming the next captain is not as far-fetched as it would seem initially. In fact, it was a suggestion that was put forward by former captain Gary Neville. When asked who he would want to see replace Wayne Rooney as captain, Neville, without hesitation, name-checked De Gea. The goalkeeper himself, warmed to the idea of him wearing the armband, during United’s 3-0 win over Ipswich in the League cup, a couple of years ago.
Handing him such a huge responsibility relatively early in his career, at 26, will not only shift his already unwavering focus solely on winning things for United but also confirm his stature among fans as one of United’s greatest-ever players and that is no mean feat.
But it will also mean that Manchester United have, in their leader, one of the best players in the world in his position who would strengthen/not weaken any side in Europe, once again.