The curse of the Manchester United number seven; 37 goals scored in a decade!

This summer will mark ten years since Cristiano Ronaldo left Manchester United, something that was devastating at the time but also something most came to terms with. Ronaldo was just another top player to wear the famous number seven shirt at the Old Trafford club. Players such as George Best, Steve Coppell, Bryan Robson, Eric Cantona, and David Beckham all wore this magical shirt number.

Just mentioning six names brings a total of 633 goals with these players, although not all the time (for some), wearing the famous number seven shirt. Best scored 179 goals in 470 appearances. Coppell scored 70 goals in 396 appearances. Robson scored 99 goals in 461 appearances. Cantona scored 82 goals in 185 appearances. Beckham scored 85 goals in 394 appearances. Ronaldo scored 118 goals in 292 appearances.

In the last ten years since Ronaldo left, United has had five different players wearing the famous shirt but the magic seems to have worn off. Michael Owen wore the shirt from the 2009/10 season until the 2011/12 season. Antonio Valencia, switching from the number 25 shirt, wore it from the 2012/13 season until the 2013/14 season. Angel Di Maria wore it for the 2014/15 season, then Memphis Depay for the 2015/16 season, until he left in January 2017. It was vacant for a year before Alexis Sanchez arrived at the club.

Post-Ronaldo, just 15 Premier League goals have been scored by players wearing the famous number seven shirt. That is just 1.5 goals per year. It is also not good enough, considering the players who have worn the shirt, at least more recently. Owen actually scored a total of 17 goals in the shirt, just five of them in the Premier League.

Valencia scored four goals, two of them in the Premier League. Di Maria scored four goals in total. Memphis scored seven goals in total, two of them in the Premier League. Sanchez has scored five goals so far, just three in the Premier League.

After Ronaldo, it was always going to be hard to fill that shirt. Ronaldo was not so keen on wearing the shirt in 2003 when he replaced Beckham in the squad but Sir Alex Ferguson suggested he was ready to wear it. Two years into his career at the club, he was right. Ronaldo was born to wear that shirt. When you add up the figures, players to wear this shirt have actually scored a total of 37 goals in a decade.

Ronaldo, however, has scored 332 league goals (La Liga and Serie A) in the same period, a total of 478 goals in all competitions. That just shows the player he was and the size of the hole he left in the Unted squad when he left for Real Madrid. Could this be a period in time where United lost their ability to replace and develop talent? Or is it just because of the owners of the club, the Glazers, not wanting to spend and only cashing in and servicing a debt they placed on the club?

The thing is though, none of the players to wear that number seven shirt after Ronaldo has been worth anything. Of course, Valencia changed his number from 25 to seven, then changed it back after it became a burden on him. Di Maria came to the club with supporters having high hopes but he became a snake and used United to get to Paris Saint-Germain. Memphis was a prospect who has shone in the Netherlands but failed to do much at United, or beyond for that matter.

Then came Sanchez, a player who had been one of Arsenal’s best since signing for them in the summer of 2014, scoring a goal on average every two matches (166 appearances, 80 goals), spending three and a half years at the club. 18 months into his United career, having scored just five goals, thill three adrift of the total he scored for Arsenal in his last six months at the club. It would suggest that the number seven shirt at Manchester United has become more of a curse than a magical number.

How can the club turn this around? Stop signing players who could become marketing tools for the club. Di Maria, Memphis to a point and definitely Sanchez have all been signed with marketing being a major factor in them coming to the Theatre of Dreams. Sanchez’s arrival saw a simple video of him mime playing the piano, which executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward still brags about today.

Imagine a football club bragging about a social media post as many other clubs would brag about winning a major competition. Social Media has little to do with Manchester United and should not play a major factor. What should be prevalent is football being the priority. If it has been done well, as has been done in the past, the marketing will run itself. If you have to market the club, the way Woodward and the Glazers have shows the flaws at the club and the difficulty of overturning that.

Until Manchester United is run like a football club again, the curse of the number seven will grow, it will spread to other things and before you know it, the club will have fallen into depths it has never been at before. How long is this going to be accepted?

copyright: JW