Top 5 Manchester United signings since Sir Alex retired

Manchester United under Sir Alex Ferguson dominated England like no other team has ever before. In his 26 years in charge, Fergie won an incredible 13 Premier League titles. Since his retirement after the 2012/13 season, success in its entirety has eluded the Red Devils, winning only 4 major trophies and one community shield.

Managers have come and gone at Manchester United, with none of them coming close to achieving even a modicum of what Sir Alex achieved. It is nigh on impossible to live up to the reputation of the greatest manager who ever lived, to be fair. Part of the reason prolonged success has been hard to come by has been sub-par recruitment. We have seen plenty of promising big-money moves to Manchester United that have all failed to work out, from Memphis Depay to Romelu Lukaku, from Alexis Sanchez to Ángel Di María. Only a handful of signings since Fergie retired have been able to justify their signings 100%. Here are 5 of them:

Top 5 Manchester United Signings since Sir Alex Ferguson retired:

5. Luke Shaw

Luke Shaw is one of the longest serving United players, only bested by the ever-present imposing figure of David de Gea and Phil Jones. He may not have been as ever-present and consistent as Dave, but he is certainly one of the few signings that have survived overhauls and manager changes.

On 27th June 2014, United signed a scrawny, pacy, teenage left back who had been likened to Gareth Bale for what was then a record signing for a teenager. He had impressed all and sundry the year before, winning the PFA young player of the year award and being included in the PFA team of the season – all before his 19th birthday, which is very impressive.

A tricky start

He did not really live up to his price tag and hype, struggling to impress until a solid display in a 1-0 defeat to then league leaders Chelsea. Shaw would then become a regular in the team sheets until that fateful night against PSV when he suffered that double leg fracture after a horrible tackle from Hector Moreno. He had to be administered oxygen as nine medical staff attended to him before being whisked away to hospital. He was out of action for six months before he miraculously returned to training. Shaw has been quoted saying the doctors thought he was going to have his leg amputated, and his comeback was nothing short of a miracle.

Since then, he struggled to be his old attacking, direct self and understandably so, suffering from a lack of confidence and perhaps some trauma from the injury. Then United manager José Mourinho did his confidence no favours as they were often on opposing sides. Mourinho constantly questioned the defender’s focus and ambition in training, even once saying the young defender ‘cannot continue to play with my brain’ in reference to a game he needed a lot of coaching.

Luke Shaw’s rise

He picked himself up, put his head down and worked his socks off in the summer of 2018.
The results were evident as he won 3 player of the month awards in the 2018/19 season and
scored his first senior goal in the opening game of the season. He capped the season off winning Manchester United’s player’s player of the year award as well as Sir Matt Busby Player of the year award.
Shaw has not looked back since and has been at the top of his game bar a few lapses in concentration, some being in compensation of an error-prone LCB Harry Maguire, to be fair. Ten Hag has described him as the best LB in England, and United fans will wholeheartedly agree. He has formed a fantastic relationship with fellow England international Marcus Rashford on that left wing and the pair have produced some quality moments.

Crucial both in attack and defense in a number of postions!

Shaw combines his decent defending with perfectly timed attacking inputs, at the end of which he produces sumptuous crosses with his sweet, sweet left foot. He does not cross as often as other fullbacks like Robertson do, but whenever he does whip one in, it’s more often than accurate. Additionally, he is one of our most technically gifted players and has no trouble dribbling or passing himself out of sticky situations. On the defensive end, his stocky body allows him to bounce attackers off the ball, benefitting from his excellent reading of the game. His technical prowess has been put on show this season, with Ten Hag playing him in that LCB in Licha’s absence. He was nothing short of mercurial, picking up a couple of clean sheets and, most notably, managing to quiet down Erling Haaland in that wild 2-1 derby win.

Excelling in two positions, flawlessly so I might add, is no mean feat, and it goes to further prove how talented the 27-year-old is. He has amassed 250 appearances in his 9 years at the club. He may not have had an impact as big as Bruno, but his service to the club cannot go unnoticed. Under Ten Hag, he has certainly been one of the best LBs in all of Europe.

4. Zlatan Ibrahimovic

Big Zlatan certainly needs no introduction and is still in Europe’s top 5 leagues even at the ripe age of 41. The young old man was brought to Old Trafford by Mourinho in 2016. He went on to score an impressive 28 goals in 46 games in his first season. He also got 10 assists to go with and was instrumental all season, most notably scoring a brace in the League Cup Final as we beat Southampton 3-2, rather dramatically I might add, to lift our 5th league cup.

The big Swede announced his arrival in England with a trademark towering header in a 2-1 community shield win against Leicester at Wembley. Just a week later, he well and truly announced his Premier League arrival with a brilliant long range strike away to Bournemouth in a 3-1 win. The goals kept coming, and he became the oldest player to reach 15 goals in the Premier League. His season was however cut short by some serious ligament damage in his knee suffered in a Europa League Quater Final against Anderlecht. He had only signed a one-year contract set to expire at the end of the season, although United did extend it for another year.

His second season was one to forget as he only scored a single goal and on 22nd of March 2018, United announced Ibra had agreed to the termination of his contract. The former Sweden captain basically had one decent season at the club, albeit a successful one, which is why he made the list. His 28 goals and 10 assists helped United to a double of the EFL cup and Europa League – all on a free transfer.

3. Lisandro Martinez

Pundits, most notably Jamie Carragher and Graeme Souness, made a meal of the first two Premier League games against Brentford and Brighton, where Licha struggled to keep up with the Premier League’s physicality. The 5’9″ centre back has since silenced his critics and then some. He has become a United cult hero, and his absence will be more than felt for the rest of the season. He broke the fifth metatarsal in his right foot in that torrid, torrid night at Old Trafford. The same night saw United score two own goals in the last 10 minutes to give Sevilla a lifeline in the Europa League quarterfinals first leg. United fans will want to quickly forget this night that saw Licha’s defensive partner Varane also go down with a foot injury,
and he will be out for a few weeks.

There is so much to admire about the Argentine World Cup winner. He is rather short for a Premier League centre back, and what he lacks in size, he makes up for with heart and tenacity. He is aggressive by nature and doesn’t give attackers a second to breathe. Licha alongside Rashford and Bruno have been our most consistent players this season. His trademark play style can be summed into 3 defining qualities. No nonsense hard tackling, brave challenges and last-ditch tackles. As a matter of fact, he reminds me of a certain left-footed, crazy centre back in Marcos Rojo. Licha puts his head where other players are afraid to put their feet, quite reminiscent of our legendary captain Nemanja Vidic.

What Licha offers us

On the ball, he is one of the most technically gifted CBs in the world. He is scarily comfortable in possession, and his small stature and low centre of gravity allows him to turn like a 10 and pirouette away from opposition. For context, he has completed 87.5% of his dribbles, the best completion rate in the Premier League. That, from CB, is absolutely nuts. His technical security has been very instrumental in United’s build up play, and he has formed an excellent relationship with an equally technically-secure Luke Shaw on that left flank. He combines his exquisite on-ball qualities with eagle eye vision and perfect striking ball-technique, which allows him to ping line-breaking passes without breaking a sweat.

Even when the tempo slows down, he is still brave and decisive enough to get us up the field, picking the right passes with freakish accuracy for a CB. What makes the pocket dynamo so special is how he is the perfect blend of a modern ball playing CB and the no-nonsense, all-grit, CBs of old. He has completely revolutionised our defense, and it is evident as United rank first in clean sheets in Europe’s top 5 leagues with The Old Trafford faithful absolutely love Licha and the little Argentine has deserved every ounce of it. Rings of Argentiiina!! Argentinaaa!!! are a common occurrence at the theatre of dreams and for only 48 million pounds, he was absolutely worth it. United fans can only hope he and Varane can both stay fit enough to form a Rio and Vidic-esque partnership for the near future.

2. Casemiro

Casemiro’s signing came with some criticism. With the same pundits criticising Martinez describing the move as money-motivated. He said he came to win trophies and has already added the Carabao Cup to his glistering CV of trophies and a goal in the final as a bonus. The 5-time no-nonsense Champions League winner texted his agent after that battering at Brentford saying he’d fix it, and boy did he fix it! Ten Hag described the Brazilian as the cement to his side, and his absences through suspension have further reiterated his point. Casemiro’s presence at the heart of midfield gives Bruno and whoever is playing in that 8 the security to play their football with freedom. The serial winner has made his reputation in Europe as a destroyer but combines that with an eye for a pass, often playing out wicked one-time line breaking passes on either foot to runners.

At the top of his CV is his excellent ball recovery ability as well as duel winning and to that end, he has 116 ball recoveries and 118 duels won in the Premier League. On the business side of the pitch, he has made his contribution with 5 goals and 6 assists, which is respectable for a CDM. He has made a habit of getting on the end of set pieces, benefitting from the quality United have on deliveries, be it Eriksen or Bruno’s right foot or Luke Shaw’s wand of a left foot.

Some issues early on, especially disciplinary ones…

The only thing United fans don’t want to think about is his proneness to cards. Casemiro received two red cards this season already as well as a booking suspension. Both of which were shocking decisions in my opinion, and United have suffered for it. As a result, Casemiro missed eight domestic games through suspension. What to make of it is dealer’s choice, really but I stand by Erik ten Hag. He’s been playing the same way all his career and had never been sent off until a series of shocking Premier League officiating.

The cards all come tumbling down when Casemiro doesn’t play with an astonishing win rate of 33%. With Casemiro in the team, United have a win rate of 74% which iterates how important he is for the side. His solidity is not the only reason behind these eye-opening numbers. A 5-time Champion’s League winner, he has seen it all, won it all and most importantly, knows what it takes to win. His mentality and aura in the dressing room has been nothing short of inspirational, coupled with fellow 5-time Champion’s League winner Mr Rolls-Royce, Rapha Varane. Champions League Varane has been a colossus in the United defense, a few niggles and injuries notwithstanding, forming a formidable defensive partnership with Licha.

1. Bruno Fernandes

The Portuguese midfielder has been an absolute revelation to the club since he signed for us in 2020. Ole Gunnar Solskjær finally managed to acquire his signature in January 2020, well notably after United fans attacked the former United board’s CEO Ed Woodward’s house with flares. Manchester United became interested in the Portuguese Magnifico well before he was signed. It took fans attacking the executive’s house with flares just showing how abysmal our recruitment is.

Bruno’s best quality aside from his footballing ability is his availability. The 28-year-old has played an incredible 48 games already this season. Playing the most minutes across Europe’s top 5 leagues, including goalkeepers, which is just insane availability. He is an unbelievable footballer and since his signing, only one other player in Europe’s big leagues has registered 50+ goals and 50+ assists. Who, you ask? The only other player to hit these crazy numbers since the magnifico’s signing is the one and only Lionel Messi.

How he spearheaded United’s surge under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer…

United are one of the best, if not the best, transition side in the world, especially under Ole. One of the reasons why we are this good on transition is Bruno. Who, in my opinion, is the best 10 on the planet in transition. There is no better illustration of this than lockdown football when United played some fantastic transition football with Bruno at the heart of it. With Rashford, Martial and Greenwood or James playing in front of him, he always had willing runners on the counter and that’s when he shines brightest. To my point, he racked up an astonishing 15 G/A in only 14 Premier League games. He soon became undroppable and Ole rewarded his efforts appropriately as he captained United for the first time in that famous win in Paris barely 9 months into his United career in Maguire’s absence – and rightly so.

And it is no different under Erik ten Hag!

Fast-forward 3+ years later, and Bruno is the heartbeat of this and any Manchester United side. He has been criticised severally for his evident petulance, to be fair. But that doesn’t take away from what an incredible footballer and leader he is for Manchester United.

His absence, although rare, always emphasises just how important he is. The team always seems to lose their way when he is not conducting the orchestra. Erik ten Hag has brought a clear possession-based playing style, and he has been lucky to have Bruno as the focal point. Bruno is one of those players who you can stick anywhere on the pitch and he will do the job for you. Erik has played him on the right wing, on the left wing, as his traditional 10, as a deep lying playmaker and even as a defensive mid, and he has been nothing short of exceptional in all.

His goals and assist numbers haven’t dropped but he is yet to return to his peak

He has rewarded Erik’s trust in him, amassing 10 goals and 13 assists in all competitions from midfield. A fantastic output for a midfielder. He has created 21 big chances in the Premier League, but only has 6 assists. Something that only further emphasises how much we need a proper 9.

Bruno wears his heart on his sleeve and runs himself to the ground for 90 minutes every game and amazingly, he never gets injured. Words cannot possibly explain how much the United faithful love him. Rings of Bruuunoo!! Bruunoo!! always echo through Old Trafford whenever he walks over to take a corner or set piece near the fans. It is only a matter of time before he is handed the armband permanently in my opinion. This, judging solely on his impact on the team, his relationship with the rest of the squad and his connection with the fans who absolutely adore him.

Honorable Mentions for Best Signings post-Sir Alex Ferguson

Sergio Romero

As far as back up goalkeepers go, he certainly was one of the best in the business. Louis van Gaal, who had previously managed him at AZ Alkmaar, brought in the Argentine on a free transfer in 2015. Romero made his first start in the opening day of the season amid speculations of De Gea leaving for Madrid. He kept a cleansheet in a 1-0 win against Tottenham and didn’t concede in his first three league games. After De Gea failed to leave the club, he became United’s second choice keeper. An excellent second choice keeper I may add. He may not have gotten league starts, but he was first choice in cup competitions.

His second season in Manchester was one to remember, as he was instrumental in winning the Europa League under Mourinho. He kept 8 cleansheets on his way to lifting the trophy at Friends Arena. After an exceptional season for United, Boca Juniors were interested in his services. However, the Argentine rejected the move back to his homeland. Romero, who famously starred for Argentina in their 2014 World Cup Finals run, may not have grabbed the headlights as much as De Gea did, but he did manage to keep 31 shut-outs in his first 50 games in red. He was always available and always performed when called upon, albeit rare. United fans absolutely loved him and would argue he was better than some first choice Premier League goalkeepers.

His stint in the club ended in June 2021 when his contract expired. He boasts of 39 cleansheets in 61 matches for Manchester United – a cleansheet rate of 61% which is an incredible return.

Ander Herrera

The little Spaniard signed for the club in June 2014. Herrera himself activated his buyout clause from Athletic Bilbao after the Spanish club had rejected United’s advances. That is how much he wanted to play for the Red Devils. He penned a four-year deal and began a love story that in all honesty should have had a better ending.

He made is debut in the first league game, a disappointing home 2-1 loss to Fulham. Herrera sadly picked up an injury in training and missed the next two games. He starred in his return, scoring and assisting against QPR on September 14 in a 4-0. With time, Herrera became one of the first names on the team sheets, always giving his all 90 minutes a game. He was crucial for the club’s first few games resurgence under Ole. Forming a formidable midfield trio with Matic and Pogba.

The moment he became a cult hero

Best remembered for that Man of the Match performance against Chelsea in a 2-0 win. The midfield engine absolutely pocketed Eden Hazard, one of the best wingers to ever grace the Premier League. What’s more is he got himself a goal and an assist. The Basque midfielder was tasked by Mourinho to man-mark the Chelsea dangerman as the Blues sought to go seven point clear at the top of the table. Herrera followed him everywhere and did not give Hazard a second to breathe. The Belgian, who was one of the best players in the league at the time, barely had a sniff.

He recieved all-round praise, especially from Jose Mourinho, who had relegated Herrera to a bench role. Herrera later joked that he had promised Mourinho he would even follow Hazard to the bathroom if he had to. His performance that day reminded United fans of Park Ji-Sung’s man marking of the maestro Andrea Pirlo in 2010.

The midfielder was well-loved around Old Trafford for covering just about every blade of grass every game. Additionally, he plied his trade with tough tackling and could occasionally pick a pass. He made 189 appearances for the club, winning 4 titles before departing for PSG in 2019. Coming off of winning a Player of the Year award, United failed to table him a contract and only did so when he was in the final year of his contract. Ander Herrera is one player who all United fans miss for his love and dedication to the badge. He admittedly deserved better and shouldn’t have left how he did.

Author: Macharia Mariga

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