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A brief history of Post-Sir Alex Ferguson South American players at Manchester United

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In recent history, the signing of Veteran Uruguayan striker Edinson Cavani has been a sensation for Manchester United. However, the club’s history with signing South American talent has been a mixed one at best, many arriving with great expectations and failing to deliver, notably during Sir Alex Ferguson’s reign at the club with signings such as Diego Forlan and Juan Sebastian Veron failing to live up to expectations.  

So, how many South American players have been a true success at United since the retirement of Ferguson? This piece will evaluate United’s Post-Ferguson South American signings and see how they compare. 

Edinson Cavani

Normally it is hard to determine if a player has been a nailed-on success at a club when he has only been playing for said club for just over one season, however, in the case of Cavani, every United fan would agree than the striker has been a breath of fresh air. 

Not only has his 18 goals and six assists since he has joined the club been vital for United, but the passion and drive the now 34-year-old shows every time he pulls on the jersey has solidified him as a cult hero. 

Even this season, with minutes being much harder to come by due to the signing of Cristiano Ronaldo, Cavani has been a model professional, and has given everything for the team when called upon, most notably in Manchester United’s 3-0 victory against Tottenham Hotspurs, in which he scored a crucial goal.

All of this and more means that United fans will always remember Edinson Cavani as nothing other than a success. 8/10. 

Alex Telles

Again, Telles has only been a United player for just over a season, besides this, he also appears to have signed at just the wrong time, with Luke Shaw, United’s other senior Left-back arguably having the best season of his career during Telles first season at the club. 

It could be argued that the introduction of another top level left back to United made Shaw play at a higher level more consistently due to the very real threat of Telles taking his spot in the first team, so in regards to providing competition for places, Telles has been a success. 

However, on an individual level, the Brazilian has not played nearly enough games for United to be deemed a success, or perhaps even a failure. Since signing for United in the summer of 2020, Telles has only made 27 appearances across all competitions, scoring one goal and getting four assists.

However, it should be noted that due to being second choice in his position, most of Telles’ minutes in the 2020/21 season came In the Europa League, and out of seven appearances in this competition, he was part of a defence that kept four clean sheets, which played a vital part in United reaching the final of the competition that season.  

Due to his form in Europe, it feels unfair to deem Telles a failure, he also has time to push to be United’s first choice at left back. 5/10. 

Fred

Fred was one of the last Jose Mourinho signings for the club, before his sacking in December of 2018, the Brazilian arrived with huge expectations after being signed for an amount in the region of £52 million as reported by Sky Sports

However, it seems as though this was a singing done out of panic instead of strategy as there were reports that Manchester City were in for the player as well. This perhaps explains why, for his first season at the club at least, it felt as though neither Mourinho or Ole Gunnar Solskjaer knew what to do with the Brazilian, as he has all the energy in the world, but is not an attacking minded midfielder and is too rash to be left on his own in the defensive midfield position. 

However, now that Fred is in his fourth season as a red, it feels as though his most effective position is in a defensive midfield pivot, with his energy often being utilised to break up attacks from the opposing team. Fred has amassed 133 appearances for the club since his arrival and has managed five goals and seven assists during this time. For a player used in defensive midfield these numbers are not terrible. 

Unfortunately, Fred is a player who divides opinion amongst the fan base, mostly due to the fact that he seems to lack in technical ability; as a midfielder, he does not have a good range of passing, and as a defensive midfielder he often gives away needless fouls, as can be seen by the fact he has received 27 yellow cards and one sending off during his time as a United player

While he no doubt runs himself into the ground most games and never stops, he is most certainly not one of the best in the league in his position, and the £52 million price tag, over three years later, looks like a mass overpayment. 

A player who gives his all each game but lacks the ability to be deemed a success at this level and at this club. 5/10. 

Andreas Pereira

Pereira is an interesting addition to the list due to the fact that he is classed an academy player, instead of a singing, unlike the vast majority of South Americans who have played for the club. As a youth prospect, the Brazilian looked like a world beater, often putting in dazzling performances at the under-23 level, making United fans everywhere desperate to see him break into the first team. 

After two loan spells in La Liga at Granada and Valencia respectively, Pereira’s chance to prove his ability in the Premier League arrived in the 2018/19 season where the youngster made 23 appearances across all competitions for the first team, scoring one goal and getting one assist from midfield

Even after a disappointing first season, the youngster was given another chance to prove himself in the 2019/20 season, with the midfielder making 40 appearances across all competitions, scoring two goals and getting four assists. His failure to make a lasting impact on the first team during this season seems to have been the beginning of the end for the Brazilian at Manchester United, with the player being sent on loan every season since.  

Once a bright prospect, now a forgotten player. 3/10. 

Alexis Sanchez

Probably one of the more disappointing names on this list, Alexis Sanchez arrived from Arsenal in January of 2018 in a swap deal with Henrich Mkhitaryan, as reported by BBC Sport. The winger arrived with immense expectations due to him being one of the best wingers in the league during his time at Arsenal, he played 166 times for the Gunners across all competitions, scoring 80 goals and getting 45 assists, a fantastic attacking return for a player who was often the best player on the pitch during his time at the London club. 

However, once again, it seems in hindsight that this was a signing made due to panic and not long-term strategy. There were rumours that the winger was near to joining Manchester City, and the owners of United wanted a big name signing as much for marketing reasons as for results on the pitch. 

This all made for a frankly disastrous signing for all parties involved, with Sanchez playing 45 times for United, only managing five goals and nine assists during this time. Not only were his attacking returns not good enough, but his wages were astronomical, with Sky Sports reporting that the Chilean was on a £560,000 per week contract. 

The wages simply did not match the performances and United were glad to be rid of the winger when he left to join Inter Milan in the summer of 2019. 

A great player who was signed for the wrong reasons at the wrong point in his career. 2/10. 

Sergio Romero

Usually, it would be hard to deem a backup goalkeeper as a success or a failure due to lack of playing time, however, Romero was as impressive a backup goalkeeper as anyone, often putting in big performances in cup competitions. 

The Argentinian’s clean sheet record at United is immense, with the goalkeeper keeping a huge 39 clean sheets in just 61 appearances for the club. Most notably, Romero was United’s Europa League Keeper in the 2016/17 campaign, which resulted in United lifting the trophy. During this campaign, Romero kept eight clean sheets out of 12 games in total, including a clean sheet in the final against Ajax.

A certain success in an extremely difficult position. 9/10. 

Marcos Rojo

United signed defender Marcos Rojo for £16 million in the summer of 2014 after an impressive display for Argentina in the 2014 world cup, as reported by BBC Sport. However, the defender arrived to very little fanfare, most likely due to the very reasonable amount United paid for him. 

This perhaps worked in Rojo’s favour as he was not subject to scrutinizing on the same level as other big money signings at the club. In total Rojo made 122 appearances for United, also scoring two goals and getting four assists in that time, which should not be worried over too much due to the fact that he was mostly utilised as a centre back during his time at United. 

Notably, Rojo played in many centre back pairings during his time at the club, with the defender struggling to put a run of games together in a settled defence, something that was out of his control. He was also injury prone, missing a huge 82 Premier League games during his time at United due to various injuries.

This meant that by the time Solskjaer took the helm, the defender had faded into the background, being sent out on loan and then eventually sold to Boca Juniors in the winter transfer window of 2021.  

At his best, an impressive defender who gave his all for the club, but too injury prone to be deemed a great success. 6/10. 

Angel Di Maria

Perhaps the most disappointing signing made in the post-Ferguson era, Angel Di Maria was signed for a then British record transfer fee of £59.7 million in the summer of 2014, as reported by BBC Sport.

On paper, the deal looked like great business for United, they had signed a world class player in a position that needed reinforcement and new manager Louis van Gaal was looking like he was getting the transfers he desired to be a success at the club.

After a fantastic first couple of months at United, things started to break down for the Argentinian, he was frustrated with the playing style of the manager and was sometimes being played out of position. This led to a break down in communications between the club and the player, and after only one season at United, Di Maria was sold to Paris Saint-Germain.

It was reported that the player felt unsettled after a break in at his Cheshire home in the January, as reported by BBC Sports, this seems to have been a big factor in the players exit. However, while his numbers were still impressive in his single campaign, getting four goals and 12 assists in 32 appearances for United, fans were left with a bitter taste in their mouth at his exit.

He seemed to disrespect the club by not reporting for pre – season duty before being sold and certainly did not reward the huge transfer fee United had paid for him. These factors led to Di Maria being labelled as one of the biggest ‘flops’ in United’s history.

Paying a record transfer fee for a player who leaves under a cloud after one season can not be labelled anything other than a massive failure. 1/10.

In conclusion, United’s record with signing players from South America has become no less shaky since the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson, it is still all over the place in terms of successes and failures. However, with the more recent signings of Alex Telles and Cavani, perhaps United are getting better at deciding which South American players will fit Manchester United’s playing style and rise to the challenge most effectively.

It must be noted that Columbian Radamel Falcao was not included in this list due to being a loan signing and Uruguayan Guillermo Varela was mostly used in the Under 23’s during his time at United, and therefore could not be evaluated properly. 

Written by Jennifer McCord

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