Is Wayne Rooney past it? The question that evoked mixed responses a few months ago brings out a largely unanimous opinions now a days. An unstoppable force at one point seems to be only making things difficult for him and his team these days. There is no doubt that the current club captain, who hardly start any games these days, has been a prolific striker at Manchester United and also a great servant of the sport but it doesn’t take a lot to figure out that he is losing a lot of his abilities, fairly rapidly. Does this mean it is time for him to hang the boots, probably not. He might still have a couple more years of football in him but may be not at the highest level, certainly not the Premier League or the United level. Irrespective of how it goes about, there doesn’t seem to be a lot left in Rooney’s United career. This doesn’t only open up a huge vacuum at the club in terms of the player but also in terms of the captain. With Rooney gone, who can and should be given the honors of representing and leading the mammoth club that United is. Considering Michael Carrick too is towards the near end of his career, here are a few other options that come to mind.
The former Chelsea player, has endured a rather tough time at Manchester United since his arrival, not particularly in his individual performances but the overall team achievements. A forgetful few months under David Moyes, where the team reached the absolute rock bottom, to the couple of years under Louis van Gaal, where he individually faced a lot of issues, Mata has seen it all in the past few years. However, in spite of this, he has always been clear of his admiration and his ambitions for the club and himself at this club. His “Nice guy” image and the chord that he struck with the fans makes him an ideal candidate for this next challenge. Seniority wise, too, he checks all the boxes and can be a clear front-runner for the position. However, if one sees through out the United history, the captains which have been revered and influential are the ones who have been aggressive and extremely vocal on the pitch, rarely the “nice guy” types. This is where Mata might not be the best around. No one can doubt his passion and desire that he shows during the games but if that would be enough to inspire the team while fighting against the odds, is something that only time could tell.
David De Gea
Spain’s number one has had a journey full of ups and downs at Old Trafford. Brought in by Sir Alex Ferguson, the Spaniard faced a lot of flak for his first couple of years at the club. The poor performances were largely attributed to the fact that he was not communicating with his defense well. Things however have been vastly different in the past three years. De Gea has been United’s best performer, by far, and has been a crowd favorite too. One thing that could have gone against him was the Real Madrid transfer saga that happened last summer. Rooney, in spite of having done so much for the club, still upset a lot of the supporters when he allegedly put in the transfer request. These sort of things stick with the fans and can go a long way in making one a legend or just another good player at the club. However, the way De Gea handled it and how things panned out ultimately, meant, that there was no damage to the Spaniard’s following. Even though Mata takes the crown of seniority, De Gea is one of the senior-most guys, after Rooney and Carrick, when it comes to number of years spent at the club. This is his sixth year at the club and there are no regular members of the squad, apart from Rooney and Carrick, who have been at the club longer. Another thing that works in De Gea’s favor is his performances. It has always been said that the captain should lead by example and from the front and De Gea is an ideal example of that. One thing that can make his job as a captain difficult is the fact that he will usually be away from his teammates for most part of the game and communication and leadership can then get difficult. However, it is not a showstopper and there have been examples of great influential keeper-captains. Can De Gea be one of those?
In spite of being less experienced and having spent lesser year at the club, one name which everyone, these days, think could be a great United captain is Ander Herrera. Herrera, like Mata, had a difficult start to his United career. With Van Gaal preferring to leave the Spaniard out for most of the games, Herrera mostly was used as an off the bench substitute. But whenever he went out on the pitch, he made sure he gave it his all. However, it was this season under Mourinho that Herrera has found his real footing. Just as under Van Gaal, Mourinho too preferred to have other midfielders over Herrera at the start of the season. However, he impressed Mourinho since his second half substitute performance against Manchester City, so much that he has been his main guy ever since. The manager has always had positive words for Herrera and he has reciprocated that with his performances. Herrera has been, in a lot of games, single-handedly leading the midfield and the team around him in difficult situations. He has always been vocal but as he settled in the squad, got comfortable with the language, things have improved even further. He is usually the most energetic player on the pitch, who tries and tries for the whole 90 minutes to make things happen. Some one who comes to the mind is Roy Keane. Now, mellow down, there will be very few candidates in any footballing team, that can come close to what Keane was at United as a captain. But when you talk about efforts and attitude, Herrera shows various similar traits. Of course, the evidence on basis of which these statements are made have been demonstrated over a short period of time. But with consistency, he can be looked at as a serious candidate for this position.
Chris ‘Mike’ Smalling was Van Gaal’s third captain, behind Rooney and Carrick. Mourinho too used him as one whenever the other two did not play. But the problem has been Smalling’s performances. He was outstanding for United in the last season but has not been able to put in performances anywhere near to that this season. When you have a captain whose been making most mistakes, who should the team look up to. Take the instance of the Chelsea game. Smalling’s first minute error gave the opposition a scoring opportunity which they took and he could not compose himself for the entire game, letting himself and his team down.
This is a far shout but Blind has in his stint at United, demonstrated the necessary leadership characteristics. Being a left back earlier in his career and then a defensive midfielder, it could have been tough to move to the center half role. But the Dutchman used his positive attributes to the fullest, compensating for his lack of speed and physicality. Although he had Smalling to partner him, he was seen a lot of time organizing and guiding the defenders around him. With him being the one to build a play from the back he also looked at helping his midfielders to position accordingly. The passion and the attitude is there too so it will be interesting to see if it can actually happen.
Some of you might disagree with a few of these names but no one can disagree with the fact that no one really comes to the mind apart from these names, when you think of the future United captain. It might be a worrying thing that there aren’t many candidates who can take up the mantle to guide and take the team forward. Because in this difficult stage of transition, what United needs is a strong presence of a manager and an inspirational leader on the pitch to guide the team through ups and downs. United have a strong manager but the captain part is right now a little dicey.