An alarming stat emerged on Tuesday. Since Cristiano Ronaldo‘s departure 10 years ago, Manchester United‘s No7s have scored just 15 Premier League goals. For perspective, the Portuguese has scored 332 league goals over the same period.
It brings to light the extravagant expenditure – reportedly upwards of £700 million – on new signings in the post-Ferguson era with so many players passing through Old Trafford.
With the club in disarray though, the genuine talent some of those players possessed was never fully realised. However, a few have kicked on and proved themselves away from United’s crippling scrutiny and toxic environment.
Here’s a look at five players who have flourished since leaving Old Trafford in the last six years.
Sir Alex Ferguson’s last signing should’ve been a nod to the philosophy he instilled at United and Wilfried Zaha’s acquisition certainly had the makings of that. Backed by searing pace, mesmeric skills, youthful exuberance and the potential for greatness, the winger fit the bill.
However, following a £10m move to Old Trafford plus £5m in add-ons, Zaha failed to earn regular playing time under new manager David Moyes. There were whispers of his poor attitude in training but the fact that United were in turmoil didn’t make for a nurturing environment either.
Crystal Palace re-signed him for £4m the following season and he’s since developed into a formidable and lethal attacker. His 10 goals in the Premier League last season was his best return while his 3.4 dribbles per game was topped only by Eden Hazard (3.7).
His impressive performances have attracted interest from the likes of Tottenham, Arsenal and Liverpool this summer.
ANGEL DI MARIA
A British transfer record fee of £59.7m brought Angel Di Maria to Manchester in 2014 in the midst of much fanfare. In the former Real Madrid winger, United had acquired a proven star fresh from his Champions League-winning exploits and deserving of the fabled No7 shirt.
Initially, Di Maria looked like a good fit, oozing quality and producing a few moments of pure genius including an audacious chipped goal against Leicester City. But the honeymoon period was short-lived and he ended up with just four goals in 32 appearances.
Various factors like United’s continued struggles, his house being burgled and Louis van Gaal deploying him as a wingback made him determined to leave Old Trafford after just one season. Paris Saint-Germain snapped him up for £44m and he returned to his outstanding best in the French capital, scoring 69 goals in 179 appearances and winning 10 trophies along the way.
Like Zaha, Memphis Depay arrived with bags of potential and like Di Maria, the No7 shirt weighed heavy on him. After a phenomenal season with PSV Eindhoven during which he bagged 28 goals in 40 games, the Dutchman struggled with the pace and intensity of the Premier League in a team that had lost its identity.
There was no doubting his skill or talent but it just wasn’t a good fit at the time for the £25m-signing and after seven goals in 53 appearances, he left for Lyon midway through his second season.
The move sparked an impressive resurgence with the forward starring for the Ligue 1 outfit, turning heads with some spectacular goals. At 25, Depay has begun to come of age and has developed into a leader at Lyon as well as with a young Dutch national team also enjoying a revival.
After being one of the outstanding performers in Van Gaal’s Netherlands team that beat the odds to finish third at the 2014 World Cup, the incoming United boss ensured Daley Blind joined him at Old Trafford that summer.
The defender was far from a spectacular player and his lack of pace was exposed at times but he did prove to be a consistent performer with an excellent passing range that was key when playing out from the back. His versatility meant he could be deployed either in the centre or on the left side of defence while he never looked out of place in midfield either.
However, after winning the FA Cup in his second season, he dropped out of favour once Jose Mourinho was appointed and returned to Ajax last summer.
In Amsterdam, the 29-year-old has been a rock at the back, lending his wealth of experience to a young outfit that’s dominated Eredivisie and taken Europe by storm this season while fulfilling a similar role in the national team’s success.
Having won league titles in Italy, Spain and France, Zlatan Ibrahimovic arrived in England with the singular aim of winning the Premier League crown. Unfortunately, United weren’t in a place to match his ambition but his ego and natural charisma fit the club like a glove.
Putting Mourinho’s plans into action on the pitch, the aging striker scored 28 goals across all competitions and led the Red Devils to success in the League Cup and Europa League.
However, his season was cut short in April after sustaining serious ligament damage to his right knee, an injury that threatened to end his career. He decided not to accept wages while he recuperated and United released him at the end of the season, only to re-sign him in August on a one-year deal.
He made seven more appearances for United and added another goal to his tally before leaving to join MLS outfit LA Galaxy in March 2018.
A dramatic debut saw him score twice, including a 45-yard half-volley and a header in stoppage-time to secure a thrilling 4–3 victory. He finished second in the goal-scoring charts with 22 strikes in 27 games last year and already has 11 goals in 12 appearances this campaign.
Former Manchester United captain Rio Ferdinand has refused to rule out the prospect of returning to the club in a technical role.
Reports over recent weeks have suggested the 40-year-old is on a list of former Old Trafford stars being lined up to come in as part of a shake-up of the club’s hierarchy.
Manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer faces a major restructuring job this summer after the club finished sixth in the Premier League last season.
The introduction of a technical director to work alongside executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward has been mooted for some time, but an appointment has yet to be made.
Ferdinand, who joined United in 2002 to become what was then the most expensive defender in world football, won six Premier League titles and the Champions League during his 12 years at the club.
And he revealed a return in a senior off-field role could be of interest.
“It all depends on the shape of the job,” he said when asked if he fancied returning to the club.
“I don’t think it’s all been outlined at Man United in terms of – that’s the job and this is the description. I think there’s a lot to talk about within that.
“To be fair to Man United in that kind of role, the responsibility that comes with that, you can’t lie and say that that’s not a turn-on.
“Because you are helping to shape the fortunes of a club of that stature. That’s a huge job.
“All the boxes would have to be ticked that you’re got in in your head before considering something like that.
“I think decisions made at a football club – not all, (but) some of them should come with a football thought process in the background somewhere, (someone) that understands that side of it and can make that kind of decision.”
Ferdinand, like many other former United players, believes the club is struggling for a philosophy in the post-Sir Alex Ferguson era and that signing star players is now more difficult than when the club were routinely winning silverware.
“Man United are looking for their ideology still, he said.
“They went away from it after Sir Alex Ferguson, they tried to take it on under different managers and it didn’t work, so they are still searching.
“They need to lock down a philosophy, an ideology, but it’s not just the first team – it needs to be across the club, with younger players and the foundations, all the way through.
“There needs to be some sort of story at a football club for the stars and the staff to believe in.
“Liverpool have got that, Jurgen Klopp has created that. Man City have got that – Pep (Guardiola) has created that. But they have been allowed to create it. They have had time.
“Do I think Man United can do that? I think time will tell – Ole has a window to work in and then he has to put that jigsaw in place.
“It is a big gap between Man City, Liverpool and Spurs. They will build again, they will recruit again.
“Man United always used to compete from the front – from a financial position and from a trophy position, winning. So if you approach a player you didn’t have to talk about money – we were winning the league every year.
“I could have gone for bigger money, easy. I could have left for bigger money, but I was addicted to wining, so why leave?
“There are people around Man United who can pay the same or more and now they haven’t got the added pull of winning trophies and being in the mix to win the big trophies.
“And you have Bayern Munich, Real Madrid, Barcelona, all massive clubs in transition, so Man United are not top of the queue when it comes to the big players.”
Provided by Press Association Sport
Paul Pogba has opened up about his conversion to Islam in recent years.
The Manchester United midfielder recently made a pilgrimage to Mecca during the holy month of Ramadan and claims becoming a Muslim has made him ‘more peaceful inside’.
Asked what being a Muslim meant to him in The Times’ new Life Times podcast, Pogba said: “It’s everything. That’s what makes me thankful for everything.
“It made me change, realise things in life. I guess, maybe, it makes me more peaceful inside.
“It was a good change in my life because I wasn’t born a Muslim, even if my mum was. I just grew up like that, respect for everyone.
“Islam is not the image that everyone sees – terrorism… What we hear in the media is really something else, it’s something beautiful.
“You get to know it. Anybody can find that he feels connected with Islam.”
The World Cup winner with France also admitted that turning to Islam has helped him be more focused.
Pogba continued: “It came because I have a lot of friends who are Muslim. We always talk.
“I was questioning myself in a lot of things, then I started doing my own research. I prayed once with my friends and I felt something different. I felt really good.
“Since that day I just carried on. You have to pray five times a day, that’s one of the pillars of Islam. It’s something that you do.
“The meaning why you do it – you ask forgiveness and be thankful for everything you have, like my health and everything.
“It’s really a religion that opened my mind and that makes me, maybe, a better person. You think more about the afterlife.
“This life has a test. Like when I’m with you, here. Even if you’re not a Muslim, you are a normal human. You have a human relationship and respect you for who you are, what religion you are, what colour and everything.
“Islam is just this – respect of the humanity and everything.”