With Manchester United’s dismal form under Louis Van Gaal continuing with a 1-0 loss to Southampton, many of their fans will be left scratching their heads as to where it all went wrong. Plenty has been written about United’s struggles and the potential solutions, some arguing it’s as simple as a change of management. However, in truth, the decline can be traced back to Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement in 2013. United’s struggles in positions all over the park become all the more baffling when you consider the players they have let go in recent times, many of whom are thriving at their new clubs. Here we take a look at an 11 that could have lessened the crisis at Old Trafford.
The line-up is a 3-5-2 by the way (yes I know that experiment didn’t work too well for Louis) just for the purpose of this piece.
Victor Valdes- Standard Liege
This is the one position where you would struggle to find an ex-United player who you could genuinely argue is a better option than what they have at the moment. That is of course due to the superb form of David De Gea, his stunning shot stopping has saved United time and time again. Having said this, Valdes has some credentials of his own. He was once thought of just as highly as De Gea in world football, and is still a quality goalkeeper. Indeed signing him on a free transfer in January 2015 appeared to be a masterstroke by Van Gaal, United had a top class alternative to De Gea. However, a bizzare vendetta against the Spaniard over a row about Valdes playing for the reserve team led to Van Gaal publically humiliating and alienating Valdes from the team. He Joined Liege on loan in the current transfer window and his contract at Old Trafford expires in the summer.
Rafael’s fiery nature and willingness to attack made him a firm fan’s favourite at Old Trafford. The supporters even forgave his sometimes suspect defending which was often brought on by rash challenges. He gradually improved this side of his game though, making him a more well-rounded full back comfortable in both attack and defence. In 2012, Alex Ferguson showed how highly he thought of the little Brazilian by awarding him the coveted number 2 shirt which had been vacant since Gary Neville’s retirement the previous season. He played a key role in the 2012-2013 title winning season, the highlight of this was a stunning left footed shot which flew into the top corner in a 2-1 win at Anfield. He never enjoyed the same success under David Moyes or Van Gaal, neither of whom seemed to fully trust him. Rafael’s marauding style did not fit into the Dutchman’s rigid system and he was sold to Lyon in the summer of 2015, the Old Trafford faithful would love to see him back especially given United’s current issues at full back.
Johnny Evans- West Bromwich Albion
The Northern Ireland international came up through the academy at United and went on to make 131 appearances. He may never have reached the heights of a Ferdinand or Vidic, but he was a solid performer for United. When Van Gaal sold him as expected in the summer of 2015 it was thought this was to make room for the arrival of either Mats Hummels or Sergio Ramos. Neither of these moves materialised and Evans joined West Brom. He has enjoyed a consistent debut season at the Hawthorns, and would have provided some much needed experience to United’s injury hit defence if he had of stayed.
Patrice Evra- Juventus
Evra is nothing short of a club legend. During seven years at United the attacking left back won five Premier League titles, three League Cups and most notably was a key member of the side that won the 2008 Champions League. In his first year with Juventus, Evra added a Serie A and Coppa Italia to his impressive trophy haul as well as appearing in the Champions League final loss to Barcelona. At 34 Evra is coming to the end of his career and has lost some of his explosive pace, however his form has continued and he should have at least two more good seasons. And how United could do with him now given their struggles at left- back, with Luke Shaw and Marcos Rojo out with long term injuries and Daley Blind playing as a centre back.
Darren Fletcher- West Bromwich Albion
Fletcher was an outstanding servant to United in his twelve years the club. Alex Ferguson referred to him as a big game player, even if he wasn’t in the team every week you could count on the Scot starting against the likes of Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool. Fletcher’s career was nearly ended due to the severe bowel disease ulcerative colitis , however he courageously came back to reignite his career. In February 2015 he left for West Brom where he has shown the class which made him a United regular. Van Gaal may have thought he had plenty of central midfield options this season however with injuries to Schweinsteiger and Carrick and with the inconsistent form of Fellaini and Scheniderlin, he could do with Fletcher back.
Danny Drinkwater- Leicester City
Drinkwater is the odd one out here having never really broken into the first team. However, United fans could be forgiven for wondering what might have been given that a man from their academy has been a fixture in the Leicester side that are the deserved leaders of the Premier League. Drinkwater often goes unnoticed as the glory goes to the flair players like Vardy and Mahrez, however his contribution as a defensive midfielder has been vital in breaking up opposition play and feeding the ball to his attacking colleagues. He has a fierce shot as well as we saw with his first goal of the season in the 3-0 win over Stoke at the weekend. What is ironic is Drinkwater is exactly the kind of player Van Gaal loves. His departure is one which most definitely cannot be blamed on the Dutchman however, Drinkwater was sold when Ferguson was still in charge in 2012
Nani was billed to be the next Cristiano Ronaldo and in his early days at United this looked like it could well prove to be true. However inconsistency has always been the winger’s problem. You never knew quite which Nani would show up, the one scoring stunning goals followed up with joyous backflips in celebration, or the one who looked like he didn’t want to be there. United have struggled with wingers though and Van Gaal may well regret not giving the Portuguese a chance, he was loaned to former club Sporting Lisbon in Van Gaal’s first season and then sold to Fenerbache in the summer. He has looked his former self with the Turkish giants this season with six goals in fifteen games.
Shinji Kagawa- Borussia Dortmund
The attacking midfielder played an important role in Ferguson’s title winning side despite a two month injury lay-off. The highlight of that season was his hatrick against Norwich City on the way to becoming the first Japanese player to win a Premier League title. Kagawa never fit into David Moyes side as he was deployed as a winger, many felt he would flourish under Van Gaal but it was not to be as he was sold back to Dortmund in August 2014. He has scored nine goals in 45 appearances since his return.
Wilfried Zaha- Crystal Palace
There were high hopes for Zaha who was Ferguson’s last United signing for £15 million. He struggled under Moyes despite his obvious talent. Like Nani, the tricky winger was not given much of a chance under Van Gaal. He was loaned back to Palace for the 2014-2015 season and that January the move was made permanent. United may well regret letting this young talent go however there is rumoured to be a buy back clause in his contract.
Robin Van Persie- Fenerbache
Van Persie was the difference for United in the 2013 title win with 26 goals. United fans will forever remember Van Persie’s third goal in the hatrick against Aston Villa which sealed the title with four games to spare. He struggled in the next two seasons with twelve goals in 2013-2014 and ten in Van Gaal’s first season. He wasn’t alone in struggling during this period of transition however, and his sale to Fenerbache may have been a tad premature, especially when you consider United’s struggle for goals this season. Rooney and Martial are the only out and out strikers left at the club, while Van Persie has scored 6 goals in 16 appearances this season.
Javier Hernandez- Bayer Leverkusen
Out of this 11 Hernandez will be the biggest regret for United fans. Like some of the others, the Mexican never seemed to be given a fair chance under Van Gaal. He was loaned to Real Madrid last season and after a brief return at the beginning of this term left permanently for the Bundesliga. He revealed Van Gaal told him he had a 1% chance of playing up front. He has already scored 19 goals this season, what might have been eh?