30. Alexis Sanchez
Where to begin? With the astronomical wages and bonuses allowing Sanchez to personally ‘earn’ £28m in 15 months at Manchester United? With the way his arrival represented yet another roadblock in the development of Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial? How about that United signed him to gazump a Manchester City side operating in a different galaxy to their city rivals?
All this, and more – it’s been indisputably one of English football’s most disastrous transfers. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer recently claimed, “When he plays, he needs to find himself.” Finding a team-mate was clearly too much to ask.
29. Radamel Falcao
Beware of Gestifute bearing gifts. Falcao cost Manchester United £6m in loan fees and double that in wages. Oddly, they eschewed the option to buy El Tigre for £43.5m, after 26 Premier League appearances – yes, that many – revealed a mere shadow of a player.
28. Victor Valdes
A three-time Champions League winner, reduced to reserve team action and an acrimonious exit. How the mighty fell.
27, 26, 25. Saidy Janko, Regan Poole, Lee Grant
Each of this trio earns a place by virtue of a single appearance for the Red Devils – not all happy ones. While a 17-year-old Poole came on in stoppage time during a Europa League thumping of Midtjylland (Marcus Rashford’s professional debut), Janko was substituted at half-time in United’s humiliating 4-0 defeat to MK Dons in the League Cup, before Grant helped them to lose to Derby in this season’s competition.
£52m, and he’s no better than Scott McTominay. Peeking at Manchester City’s shopping list is not an effective recruitment policy (see also: No.30).
23. Memphis Depay
The inevitable big move came too early for the Dutchman, only 21 but tasked with saving United’s attack. He did not. They have a buyback clause, mind, and he’s thriving at Lyon.
22. Guillermo Varela
David Moyes’s first signing never featured for the Scotsman but did make a handful of appearances under Louis van Gaal in 2015/16, before retreating into obscurity. He’s now playing in Denmark.
21. Bastian Schweinsteiger
Being publicly humiliated by Jose Mourinho puts Schweinsteiger in good company, although very few have received an apology of sorts, as he did. However, Schweini was hardly an asset in the year before Mourinho arrived. We’re still not certain that Louis van Gaal meant to sign the midfielder or if it was a misunderstanding, given he arrived on the same day as...
20. Morgan Schneiderlin
Of the eight players in four seasons who left Southampton for either Liverpool or Manchester United, £24m Schneiderlin fared the worst. All right, apart from Rickie Lambert.
19. Marcos Rojo
While this may seem low, Rojo – neither left-back nor centre-back – is most important when he’s unavailable, whereupon his reputation rises exponentially until he actually plays again.
Sporting couldn’t believe their luck when United offered £16m, plus Nani on a wage-free loan, AND a 20% sell-on clause if Rojo fetched a similar fee in years to come. Obviously this never happened and never will, so chalk that up as a win for Ed Woodward, we suppose.
18. Matteo Darmian
The versatile full-back isn’t that bad – but he isn’t a player Manchester United should be buying for £13m from Torino, either.
17. Angel Di Maria
Yes, this high. How easily we forget Di Maria’s brilliance in 2014/15 before winter hit. Remember his delightful scoop in United’s 5-3 defeat to Leicester? That was one of nine goal contributions in his first 10 games.
Then injury struck and Van Gaal played him in a different position every week (including at centre-forward, hardly ideal for a man nicknamed ‘Noodle’), while an attempted burglary rocked his home life. Di Maria never recovered, though PSG’s deep pockets did mean United got back most of their British record transfer fee.
16. Nemanja Matic
This apparent coup left pundits puzzling over Chelsea’s motives to sell, especially after a decent start. But maybe Chelsea foresaw his impending rapid decline, and with Matic turning 29, didn’t want to look a £40m gift horse in the mouth.
15. Sergio Romero
We’re into the top half with a second-choice goalkeeper. That’s what we’re dealing with here. Romero is mostly reliable, very experienced and happy to be back-up – perhaps more so than any other keeper in world football.
Since 2013/14 he has played three times as many matches for Argentina (59) as he has league games (20) for Sampdoria, Monaco and Manchester United.
14. Eric Bailly
It isn’t easy to place Bailly, who was Mourinho’s first signing and had a very good first season, aged only 22. Now he’s persona non grata, and although injuries have played a part, so has poor form.
This season alone, Bailly has put in a performance for the ages against Brighton, been sent off against Bournemouth and taken off against Newcastle – after 19 minutes. He’s only just turned 25, but his future is anyone’s guess.
13. Juan Mata
Oh, how Manchester United expected more. Mata at Chelsea was, let’s not forget, widely considered on a par with David Silva. He never set Old Trafford alight, however – and four managers have tried to light the fuse.
Fortunately, being lovable and scoring a belting brace against Liverpool won Mata enough goodwill for nobody to notice that in 2015/16, the Spaniard – a clever and creative playmaker with an eye for goal – played 26 hours of Premier League football across nearly six months without scoring or assisting a goal, except for a single penalty.
12. Timothy Fosu-Mensah
Whether his future’s at right-back, centre-half, midfield or another club, there’s a player in there somewhere. At the very least, the 21-year-old Oranje international will produce a tidy profit on an £300,000 outlay.
11. Marouane Fellaini
Aesthetically, he’s last. In terms of what he represented, as Moyes’s marquee signing in Woodward’s first window, he’s last. But the Belgian had his uses, and at times being effectively odd made him oddly effective.
10. Daley Blind
The Ajax product, now back where he began, was reliable enough and gave United leadership they’re sorely lacking at the moment. However, Blind was never really suited to the Premier League, where his versatility translated only to being too slow on the ball in midfield and too slow on his feet at left-back, forcing him to become a so-so centre-half.
Still, he’s in a Champions League semi-final now, which is more than can be said for United.
9. Henrikh Mkhitaryan
Though his strike rate in England actually isn’t bad, the Armenian was never going to match a ridiculous final season with Borussia Dortmund in which he posted 55 goals and assists in 52 games. Even so, at Manchester United and Arsenal alike, Mkhitaryan was – and is – frustrating.
8. Diogo Dalot
This seems improbably high for a player with 11 Premier League starts. But… well… *gestures broadly at the list up to now*
7. Luke Shaw
Shaw’s had a torrid time at Old Trafford. An injury so horrific that he nearly lost his leg was followed by accusations of weight problems and the kind of managerial treatment that normally induces HR to earn their corn.
Shaw isn’t to blame for any of that, and although he’s not the player he was, nor promised to be, the left-back does occasionally resemble that golden boy again. He’s still only 23.
6. Victor Lindelof
The defender, 24, has been one of United’s better players in 2018/19 after an extremely unconvincing first season that prompted Mourinho to seek a third new centre-back in three years (unsuccessfully, as you may have heard). Lindelof is improving and maturing – give it another year and he could be No.1 in this list.
5. Romelu Lukaku
He’s 25 and in the Premier League’s top 20 scorers since 1992, yet Lukaku hasn’t kicked on as he should have done. United needed a superstar striker and thought that £75m – potentially rising to £90m – would give them one. That status always seems just around the corner.
4. Anthony Martial
It’s not a great week to laud Martial, after his quarter-arsed effort against Everton, but arguably he could be No.1 in this tallest dwarf contest. He made an immediate impact at the club, scoring an impeccable goal against arch-rivals Liverpool on debut and following that with a match-winning brace away at Southampton.
He has produced big moments in big matches, including the semi-final of United’s 2015/16 FA Cup triumph. And he has contributed regularly from his arrival up to now, averaging a goal or assist every 130 minutes even as he’s painted as the symbol of a passionless team.
3. Paul Pogba
Ah yes – the other symbol. Many an article has been dedicated to Pogba’s Manchester United career, and few of them are complimentary. Nonetheless, when he’s hot he is seriously hot, and the numbers back that up: he contributed to 13 goals in Solskjaer’s first nine games and, despite Mourinho playing him with the handbrake on, Pogba ended 2018 in double figures for both goals and assists in the Premier League – one of only five players to do so. His total of 21 was five more than any other midfielder (that other midfielder being Bernardo Silva, playing almost as a forward in an ultra-attacking team).
It’s debatable whether Pogba should need to be told his motivation for each scene, like some melodramatic thesp, but when he is motivated, there’s no one better.
2. Zlatan Ibrahimovic
Well, they did win two trophies in Ibrahimovic’s only full season at the club. And that 2016/17 season seems almost like halcyon days right now. While it can certainly be argued that the mere existence of Ibrahimovic slowed United’s attacks and made them more predictable, there’s little more that the man himself could have done.
An all-competitions tally of 28 goals and 10 assists in a single season, years after his prime, answered his critics. As he told FFT last year: “If I did what I did at 35 years old, imagine it if I was 25.”
1. Ander Herrera
An underwhelming No.1? No doubt. But Herrera has been a rare reliable member of United’s squad over the past few years, even surviving the Mourinho cold shoulder having previously been his favoured lieutenant (well, maybe his favoured cadet, under Lt. Fellaini). Herrera is the one player other than David de Gea to be named Player of the Year by the club’s supporters since Alex Ferguson retired six years ago, and it’s no surprise that the midfielder is a fans’ favourite given that he’s all too often the only player showing any fight.
And boy, do United miss that fight when he’s unavailable. There are important caveats, such as a tougher fixture list and Solskjaer’s honeymoon coming to an end, but it’s not a total coincidence that the Norwegian’s record is P14 W11 D1 L2 with Herrera in the team and P11 W5 D1 L5 without him. It’s not just about mentality, either – Herrera’s positioning, poise and presence frees Pogba to do his thing, which is why the Frenchman has scored seven non-penalty goals under Solskjaer when Herrera’s on the pitch, and none when he isn’t.
Even so… Herrera’s place at the top of this list, and the rest of the top five, speaks volumes about Manchester United’s recruitment in recent years. You may disagree with our No.1 – but who, really, is there?
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