Manchester United does not just have a captain; there are plenty of leaders within the current squad


Manchester United are back for the 2018/19 season and with this brings the usual questions about signings and outgoings but one question might linger long after the first ball is kicked in August for the new season. Does this current team have any leaders?

To be honest, it is a question that most of us think is very simple and the answer might trip a few fans up. Rewind to Sir Alex Ferguson’s tenure and the names do roll off the tongue in terms of leaders but also captains. Bryan Robson, Steve Bruce, Roy Keane, Gary Neville, and Eric Cantona are just the more memorable and iconic captains United has had in recent years.

With Michael Carrick sadly retired and moved onto the coaching staff joining newly Promoted Kieran McKenna from the youth set-up to form Jose Mourinho’s new-look coaching set-up following the departure of long-term assistant and good cop to Mourinho’s bad cop, Rui Faria. Carrick leaves a void not only in central midfield but in leadership on the field as Mourinho now looks to the next most experienced player in Antonio Valencia to take up the mantle as captain.

Every United fan has a specific memory or player they immediately think of when the words ‘captain’ or ‘leader’ are thrown about. Personally, I hear leader and think of Roy Keane in Turin in 1999 against Juventus and that superhuman effort to drag the team back into a tie that was slipping away. Of Course, older fans will have their moment too with Noel Cantwell for some fans or Martin Buchan or Captain Fantastic himself Bryan Robson.

Needless to say, Mourinho has tried to put his stamp on this group of players, bringing in Paul Pogba, Nemanja Matic and ego in human form Zlatan Ibrahimovic to bring character to a team that had none. In doing this he now has a team of tough players, mostly over 6ft tall, adding to the players I have mentioned; Romelu Lukaku, Marouane Fellaini, Marcos Rojo, Eric Bailly and Antonio Valencia. One thing is for sure with this group and that is if you were in a bar brawl, this is the group you would want on your side. 

For the last few years at least we have seen a loss of standout leaders for the top teams, not just United. John Terry at Chelsea might have been the last traditional leader in terms of what we think of when we think captain/leader. Now in today’s game, it seems the role of the captain is to wear the armband and do the pre-match rituals with his opposite number and referees before the game.

Leadership does take its shape in many forms and maybe the ways that we view them are changing as the game does. Keane and Robson were both tough-tackling ‘hard men’ who inspired by example. These players had personality and in being themselves commanded the respect of those around them and drummed fear into their opposition.

Alas, the game has changed with those tough-tackling players going the way of the Dodo, but the new breed of footballer seems to express themselves in various new ways; social media, handshakes, dances and in some cases haircuts.

Pogba matured during the summer in the latter rounds of the FIFA World Cup, impressing with his disciplined performances and a stunning performance in the final saw all his doubters and detractors slowly crawl back under their rocks. The moment Mourinho and all United fans were waiting for to see the boy become the man we had seen fleeting glimpses of.

Diamonds are forged by pressure and time and if given enough time I believe many leaders will emerge in this current squad, there are numerous candidates to choose from; Valencia to Pogba to Lukaku. Even Ashley Young is a player whose attitude and determination in fighting for his place and forcing his way into not only the United team but into the starting XI for England in the World Cup.

Pogba is a potential candidate for the long-term as he has all the attributes to be a great captain, a great player but he proved in the World Cup by delivering not just massive performances at key times but delivered big team talks before games. Lukaku is another candidate whose passion, when he scores and also when others score, suggests he was a life-long Stretford Ender. Both players are popular in the dressing room and command respect amongst their peers.

After the debacle of the David Moyes and Louis van Gaal reigns, the majority of the big characters and egos left with Rio Ferdinand, Patrice Evra and Wayne Rooney to name but a few. Mourinho brought in Ibrahimovic to be a leader in terms of a strong presence to drag players up to the level they should be aspiring to. He did fill the void temporarily which was his job, the short-term symbol and focal point of the team until the team was made in Mourinho’s image.

The way the new generation of players conducts themselves off the pitch may not be to everyone’s taste but when on the field they show the same passion we have seen in a red shirt over the years. United does not have one or two dominating players like they used to but the kind of players might be a throwback to a different era of the game.

We have seen glimpses of the level of toughness of this team last season in certain games where players rolled up their sleeves and ground out massive results and, in some cases, fought back from losing position to win big games.

A few people have floated the idea of sharing out the captaincy to different players depending on who is on the pitch. This might upset traditionalists who think it should be one player but this is modern football. Just because a player doesn’t wear the armband it does not mean you don’t possess the qualities to be the captain, far from it. Playing at the top-level and for a club as big as United doesn’t build character it reveals it.

Written by James Gorse

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