Man United don’t need more upheaval, they must trust their players
Memphis Depay scored twice for Lyon on Sunday night: his 12th and 13th goals in 43 games this season, with a further 10 assists. The Dutchman is doing well enough at Lyon, certainly better than in his season-and-a-half at Manchester United. Was it right to sell him? Probably. Depay showed too little during his season in England, he was considered too cocksure by some teammates and he left as a flop. Maybe he’ll learn from the experience and improve as a player and a person.
What about his teammate Rafael da Silva, the versatile Brazilian full-back who was happy at Old Trafford until Sir Alex Ferguson stepped down? There are several current United players — and the manager — who think it was a mistake to shift a player in his prime for peanuts, especially as he could provide cover in several positions. It’s not only about his technical ability, Rafael was good in the dressing room. He’d been part of a winning team and felt like a Manchester United player.
You’ll find the same opinion about Javier Hernandez or Jonny Evans. Were the players who replaced them any better? Players who cost tens of millions and were on significantly higher wages. Matteo Darmian over Rafael? Victor Lindelof over Evans, a United fan, since courted by Arsenal and Manchester City?
Was Morgan Schneiderlin really better than Darren Fletcher, a massively respected figure in the dressing room? And wasn’t there a case for resuscitating the career of Nani, a talented player who just needed to feel the love of his manager? He didn’t look shot when he was winning Euro 2016 with Portugal. Or what about Robin van Persie, a cracking footballer?
You could argue the case for selling all of the above players with some conviction. None were in-form when they left, but then unhappy players don’t tend to be at the top of their game. That doesn’t mean they’re finished any more than Kevin De Bruyne, Romelu Lukaku or Mohamed Salah were finished when Jose Mourinho let them leave Chelsea.
Did the clear out of so called dead-wood by Louis van Gaal really improve United? The Dutchman got rid of Daniel Welbeck, Fabio da Silva (Rafael’s twin), Hernandez, Van Persie and Adnan Januzaj — all within a year. He erred on a new contract for Patrice Evra (who went on to have two superb years at Juventus) and fans nodded in agreement as players departed, but did they really know what was going on?
In the rush to sign players that would give social media clicks and back page buzz, United let a batch of winners go too easily.
United selling the wrong player is not a new thing, either. Letting Carlos Tevez leave was a huge error; Cristiano Ronaldo wanted to go, Paul Pogba wanted to go, Tevez didn’t. He wanted respect and more money. Which player doesn’t?
Tevez was a hugely respected figure among his teammates. He may have been lazy in training, but he performed where and when it mattered — in games. Not only that, he left and helped Manchester City do something they’d not done for 35 years: win trophies. That was a double blow.
And what did United fans do? They bought the line that he was greedy, because United thought they were top dogs in a changing transfer market and wouldn’t be drawn into paying stupid money where they thought there was no value. Such attitudes brought United Michael Owen and cost the club Karim Benzema, consistently one of the best No. 9s of the last decade.
Former United defender Gordon McQueen claimed that there was only one way for a player after United: down. It’s simply no longer true as Diego Forlan, Ruud van Nistelrooy, Ronaldo et al would attest.
So remember that as you draw up your list of dream summer signings, or get too excited about talk of five or six new additions. Remember that massive upheaval does little to build team spirit and that star names don’t arrive and perform immediately, as we’ve seen with Alexis Sanchez and Angel Di Maria.
Players take time; teams take time to develop. United’s best two players in recent years, David De Gea and Antonio Valencia, have been at the club for years. Though Valencia could have done with more competition and cover at right-back; Rafael could have been that man. Luke Shaw could have done with mentoring; which could have come from Evra, who did just that for Alex Sandro in Turin.
United have made so many mistakes in recent years, with too many changes, too much short-termism and too little of an overall plan. Just because everyone is still annoyed by the games against Sevilla and the fact Manchester City will win the league by a massive margin doesn’t mean that United, who’ve won eight of their 10 league games in 2018 — against four of the first 10 league games of 2017; five out of 10 in 2016 — are failing. They’re not.
There are some very good players at the club who haven’t played to their potential on a consistent enough basis and need to build a team ethic. But stick with them. We’ve seen enough this season to show that there doesn’t need to be more upheaval.