I grew up in the 1980’s where Football coverage was completely different to how it is now. For those of you old enough to remember the times before Sky and the Premier League, you will recall there was no Soccer Sunday, no expert analysis, no all seater stadiums and very few players from abroad (ignoring Jesper Olsen & Joel Sivebaek, anyway!).
Yes Football in the 80’s was on the up, but it was nothing like the financial monster it has morphed into today. We had Saint & Greavsie and Jimmy Hill, we had to check teletext for transfer news and if we were lucky we would get a live game on a Sunday once a month. Football in England in the 80’s was regarded as unfashionable and bar a few standout players like the classy Whiteside and the lion hearted Mark Hughes it lacked the pull of the modern game.
In those days there was no squad numbers like today, we had none of this 17 man match day squad lark & squad numbers were reserved for major international tournaments like the World Cup. Every Saturday it was numbers 1 to 11 with only one sub allowed wearing a number 12 sitting on the bench. If your keeper got injured you were in major trouble. This is how the iconic numbers that have adorned the backs of legends past went on to earn their status. In his career George Best wore the numbers 8,9 & 11 but is regarded as one of our best No7’s. That famous Utd No7 shirt was traditionally worn by our best flair player, a true leader, an inspiration to his teammates. Our No5 & 6 were our tough, solid, defensive rocks popping up from the back to score with a header from a late corner at the Stretford End. 2 & 3 were our overlapping fullbacks, marauding down the flanks. 4 & 8 our midfield generals solidifying the spine of the team. 7 & 11 were pacey wingers with flair to spare, running at defenders and our 9 & 10 were our goal scoring focal point scaring centre halves with aggression and guile.
With this thought in mind I decided to look at the players that are currently occupying the No1-11 shirts. Now bare in mind that with most clubs the 1-11 are what would traditionally be their first eleven and I was curious if ours reflected this. I’m shocked at my findings.
This article is pure fantasy and purely what I would do if I was given the chance to be in the managers hot seat. I accept that not everyone will agree with me, but I would love to hear your thoughts and comments.
Let’s take a look………
No 1 – DAVID DE GEA
Without a doubt United’s best player for the past three years. He has earned the right to keep his place and is now regarded as one of the best keepers in the world. World class is an underestimate. His relationship with LVG has been questioned and with Mendes as his agent, his future could be in doubt now that we have failed to secure a Champions League spot. With Jose joining i am confident we will see “Spanish Dave” in the nets for us next season.
No 2 – CURRENTLY AVAILABLE
The shirt that the mighty Gary Neville wore successfully for so long, it has been vacant since Rafael left for Lyon. Looking within the current squad I feel the only contender for the shirt is Timothy Fosu Mensah. This kid will be a Utd legend in years to come. The “Dutch Duncan Edwards” Timbo deserves a shirt that reflects his importance to the team for the next 15 years. Has the potential to go down in Old Trafford folklore and has a cult following already at only 18.
No – 3 CURRENTLY AVAILABLE
Vacant since Patrice Evra turned down a contract extension and packed his bags for Juventus. Just like Dennis Irwin before him, the left back role has been important to Utd’s style of play over the past 30yrs. Overlapping runs used to be the norm as Utd punished teams with a flurry of attacking football. My first choice for the shirt would have been Luke Shaw who perfectly fits the identity of a traditional Utd No3, however Shaw prefers the 23 shirt and sees it as a lucky shirt. Unfortunately it wasn’t so lucky for him that night he got hurt in Endivoven.
With players due to both come and go this summer, I would probably opt to sign Ricardo Rodrigues from Wolfsburg. At £15m the Swiss is deadly at set pieces and his left leg can deliver deadly crosses on the overlap. Similar to ourselves Wolfsburg have failed to get Champions League football next season so will be under pressure to move on players to balance the books.
No 4 – PHIL JONES
Things haven’t really gone well for the injury prone Jones. A player who pulls a muscle and funny face just standing up, he has never fulfilled his early potential. I think of Steve Bruce scoring against Sheffield Wednesday when I see the No4 shirt and Jones is definitely no Steve Bruce! I can see his career at Utd coming to an abrupt end this summer. With his contract due to expire at the end of next season we should be able to claw back at least £15m from a mid table team.
An ideal replacement would be Leicester midfielder N’Golo Kante. The French midfielder has been a revelation in the Premier League this season. Put it this way, if a Tsunami was on a collision course with Britain I would send Kante to intercept it!!! The man is a beast, he may be small but never stops running and does the work of two players. Or five Tom Cleverleys!!!
No 5 – MARCOS ROJO
The Argentine international is a puzzle as he is a defender who can’t defend. Be it at left back or centre back he has had a woeful first half of 2016. Skinned time and time again by average players he has become a liability. I love the effort he applies, but I need my defenders to be able to mark and defend, more importantly I need a player who can actually pass the ball to a team mate who is 5 yards away.
Give the shirt to one of the anticipated new signings. Give it to Raphael Varane, the young Frenchman is looking for a move away from Real Madrid. He is a perfect partner for Smalling and would compliment him perfectly. £25m would be a bargain for a player we failed to sign 4yrs ago.
No 6 – CURRENTLY AVAILABLE
Chris (Mike) Smalling has probably been the only player to show any signs of improvement under LVG. His game has come on in leaps and bounds. With Varane next to him we could have a partnership to rival the mighty Vidic and Ferdinand.
He totally deserves the No6 shirt and it would confirm to him how important we value him.
No 7 – MEMPHIS DEPAY
The players who have adorned this most sort after jersey in United’s prestigious history are well known. Law, Coppell, Robson, Cantona, Beckham, CR7, err Owen, Valencia and now Memphis. Bar the last three everyone went on to be a United legend. When we signed the young Dutchman Depay from PSV he demanded the No7. We all thought we were getting a mixture of Robben & Bergkamp, what has transpired over the course of this season has been more Obertan & Bebe. Disappointing & frustrating doesn’t cover it, and although I’m not saying he should be shipped out, I am suggesting that like Valencia before him, the shirt might be too big for him to carry. Depay can go on to be an important player for us in the next 10yrs, but not in that shirt!
Bringing in James Rodrigues the World Cup 2014 Golden Boot winner from Real Madrid would be an ideal solution for both player and club. The player himself is unhappy in Spain and would jump at the chance to move to Old Trafford. At 24 he is at an ideal age, has amazing talent and couple this with his ability to shift shed loads of shirts and his £60m transfer fee would soon be recouped.
No 8 – JUAN MATA
I absolutely adore Juan Mata, adore him!!For me he has been outstanding since he joined us. Yes he has no pace and occasionally is overrun by more physical midfielders, but, on his day his passing is second to none. As a player he would do amazing in Spain and would comfortably fit into any top team. Let me repeat I absolutely adore Juan Mata!!! Now after that last paragraph it will shock you to read that Mata will not be wearing our colours for much longer. If as anticipated Mourinho takes over from LVG, Mata will be sweating on his future. Jose has sold him once and it’s likely that he will do it again. Unlike most players who will leave this summer, Mata will always have a special place in most United fans hearts. If not for his goals against the “bin dippers”, but also for his modesty..
I admit it is hard to pick a replacement for such an important player as Mata, I have opted to give the No8 shirt to yet another unsettled Real Madrid player. Step forward Toni Kroos, an amazing player with an incredible passing range. Another mid 20’s superstar costing £40m, an ideal replacement for an ageing Carrick, the World Cup winner would jump at the chance to slip on the United No8.
No 9 – ANTHONY MARTIAL
“Tony Martial came from France, the English press said he had no chance, 50m down the drain, Tony Martial scores again!!!” This kid is going be something special you mark my words. Since his megabucks deadline day move and his stunning debut goal against the scousers, the boys talent has shone through. He never seems to wallop a ball. Every goal is calm, side footed to precision. He is developing a great understanding with our other young striking sensation Rashford, and the United forward line looks mint for the next decade. Any player will find it very hard to get the No9 shirt of our Tony and I fully expect him to challenge Sir Bobby’s goal scoring record.
No 10 – WAYNE ROONEY
In 50yrs time people will look at his goal scoring feats and think what a player he was. In reality, us long standing fans know he peaked at 25. When he announced his arrival at Old Trafford with that hat-trick on his debut against Fernabache, we all thought we had a star player who would see out his career with us. Fast forward a decade and what we have now is a player who’s first touch and control are sometimes woeful. He has twice threatened us with transfer requests and been rewarded by landing himself new improved contract terms. As his abilities have declined he has been forced to drop deeper into midfield, in the hope he can prolong his Utd career playing a Scholes type of role. I honestly feel it is time to part ways with our captain. He was meant to be our leader in the post Fergie era, a player the youngsters could look up to for inspiration, but I feel he can go missing when needed most. I thank him for the memories and the goals but we don’t need a 300k a week converted midfielder!!! With the Chinese throwing stupid money around we have the chance to recoup at least £30m. It would give Rooney the chance of being the star of a new emerging league as well as freeing up space for a new star signing to wear the No10 shirt.
Now you will think I have gone mental after citing Rooney’s age and lack of pace as a reason to move him on, but hold on to your hats when I suggest we replace him with a 34yr old. In Zlatan Ibrahimovic we are getting a player that could be our new Cantona. Yes he is the wrong side of 30 and yes he probably only has a couple of seasons left in his legs, but what a impact player he could be for us. He has been there, done that, achieving so much across European Football. We are the ideal club to provide him with his footballing swan song. Would certainly prove inspirational to our young forwards Martial & Rashford. Let Ibra display his abilities for the last two years of his career and then replace him with Neymar. I did say earlier in this article that this was all fantasy and maybe my meds are kicking in and my imagination is running wild!!
No 11 – ADNAN JANUZAJ
Giggsy lit up Old Trafford with his fast attacking flair, wearing that shirt with pride for nearly 25yrs. Some say the shirt should have been retired with Giggs, but our club is bigger than any one player and the club looked at one of our brightest youth prospects to continue the tradition. When Januzaj was chosen to take over Giggsys 11 shirt after one mildly impressive season it made total sense. Promoting from within however has not quite worked out as the young Belgian has severely struggled. Lacks any real pace which is a requisite for a winger now days Januzaj has found it harder and harder to feature for the first team. Struggled on loan at Dortmund and even at under 21 level, his time at United is surely coming to an end. Regardless of who the manager is next season he will surely be looking to move to reinvigorate his stagnating career. Would probably do well in the Dutch or French leagues where the game can be less physical.
It is without hesitation that I have chosen the Algerian Riyad Mahrez as our new No11. Some will point to the fact that he has only had one season in the Premier League, but what a season. Led unfancied Leicester to the title with goals and assists aplenty. Runs at defenders at pace ala Giggs and his crossing is inch perfect. A player in his mid 20’s and available at £25m I feel he is an ideal candidate. Other possible candidates are the young Germans Reus of Dortmund, Draxler of Wolfsburg or Sane of Schalke. Basically get that shirt of Januzaj back.
So in summary the only players I would keep who currently wear No’s 1-11 are Spanish Dave in net and Super Tony Martial. The rest are either currently available or taken by players who are not United quality. Players who should be walking away from the Theatre Of Dreams down Sir Matt Busby Way.
This just highlights how much of a rebuilding process United have on their hands in the next few years. Luckily we have a core of exciting young players breaking through with more to come at under 18’s level in the shape of Angel Gomes and Indy Boonen. Regardless of who is and who isn’t in charge serious investment in the squad is required. We currently have an imbalanced squad with far to many sub par players not good enough to pull on the shirt.
The blame for this predicament lies at the feet of LVG but more importantly Ed Woodward for fawning to a manager so clearly out of touch with modern football. I find it baffling that a manager given unlimited resources and with his experience has allowed this to happen. As a club we have regressed and in my opinion we need a good clean out. The club needs a total overhaul from top to bottom. From a footballing point we risk falling behind our rivals who will undoubtedly strengthen in the summer and unless drastic action is taken the team and therefore the brand will slowly die a horrible death.
My new 1 – 11 for 2016 onwards…..
- De Gea
- Fosu Mensah