Despite Wayne Rooney only being named Manchester United captain less than three years ago, the armband at Old Trafford may well be up for grabs again come the end of the campaign, but who will Jose Mourinho choose to lead his side as they quest to return to the top of the table again.
After the departure of Nemanja Vidic in 2014, a new captain was to lead at Manchester United in what was unquestionably its toughest time of rebuild in the Premier League era. The duty was appointed to none other than Wayne Rooney, who, at the time was a clear candidate, although some would argue he had no one to contest him for the role and appointment by default was the real truth.
Since taking up the mantle Rooney has also seen several others lead out United in his absence from the side, Darren fletcher popularly wore the armband on occasions before departing for West Brom and more recently the current vice-captain Michael Carrick has been another fan favourite following in great footsteps. Of course, former manager Louis Van Gaal famously regarded Chris Smalling as his “third captain” whilst christening the central defender ‘Mike’ in the process.
This season the captaincy at the Theatre of Dreams has been somewhat of an anomaly, the official captain Rooney has been dropped and clearly doesn’t fit into the clubs strongest 11 whilst also being heavily linked with a departure in the summer. Also, vice-captain Carrick is into the twilight of his career despite a strong run in the side this season. The central midfielder is certainly not a long-term successor to the role. And the afore mentioned Smalling doesn’t appear to be Jose Mourinho’s first option at the heart of defence. His new signing Eric Bailly has shown a tenacity and strength that’s hard to come across. Not to mention Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo revelling at the chance to impress this season. With the former Jones a sneak shout to take up the role as Sir Alex Ferguson believed he one day could.
It’s a debate that divides opinion among the United support. After all, the man who takes the team into battle has so typically been a player of great esteem and stature. Roy Keane, Bryan Robson and Gary Neville are just a few names in a long line of United skippers who have fought tooth and nail for the club in their own ways down the years so the man who takes the armband has to be up to the task; which isn’t something for every player, of course.
United’s Spanish trio have all brought themselves to the forefront of the reckoning, Juan Mata is adored at Old Trafford and has worn the armband on a handful of occasions before – twice this season to be exact, and several times under Van Gaal. He is as passionate about his team as he is skilful and despite many believing Mourinho would sell him just as he did at Chelsea, the reality has been quite the reverse. He has been one of the top performers of the campaign with plenty of goals and assists in his usual manner.
David De Gea is a world class goalkeeper and he’s beloved by the entire red half of Manchester. Captaincy isn’t something that many have discussed when it comes to the Spanish number 1 and perhaps the role maybe a little too much for him but his major role at the club must propel him into the reckoning; albeit as a long shot.
Now for the man who would win the majority of online fan polls. The Basque-born Ander Herrera joined United in 2014 and the love affair he has created with so many fans is as strong as you can get. This season, in particular, his guile and resilience in midfield has been typical of the clubs great midfielders – it’s not to say he is in the same category as Keane or Scholes, far from it in fact. But he gets what it means to play for the club, something that rings true with those who pay to watch the player’s week-in-week-out. They want to see those who wear the shirt fight for the honour of the club and anything below that isn’t good enough. Herrera personifies this label, the big test for him would be taking the captaincy and not letting it affect his game each week which some players can succumb to. He is, of course, one of the few candidates who hasn’t worn the armband previously (although the season still has just over 3 months left to change that).
Jose Mourinho certainly plans to bring the title back to Old Trafford after the baron spell post-Sir Alex Ferguson. But whilst he tries to implement his style of play, he must also consider the departure of his captain and vice-captain in quick succession of one another, and passing the armband at any club is not to be taken lightly. When you’re plotting to be champions of England choosing your skipper can be a key decision and the Special One must certainly tread with caution when he does indeed pass the armband on.