Training at Manchester United during the Sir Alex Ferguson era was the stuff of folklore, with plenty of tales of new recruits having to earn the respect of the senior players.

Former Manchester United captain Roy Keane and Gary Neville would foul the new United recruits at training to see if they had the temperament to join the best team in England.

Cristiano Ronaldo was forced to endure the aggressive play from teammates and even teasing to toughen up for the Premier League.

A lot people associated with United while Ronaldo was at the club, including assistant coach Mike Phelan and defender Rio Ferdinand believe the treatment Ronaldo received during his initiation enabled him to become the best player in the world.

It is easy to blame the managers for the demise of the Red Devils, but the players also need to take credit for the position the club are now in, six years after the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson.

The 2012-13 title winning team that David Moyes inherited were arguably the worst United team to win the Premier League.

In that title-winning team, it was not uncommon to see Phil Jones playing as a defensive midfielder, Danny Welbeck as a winger and Anders Lindegaard dethroning David De Gea as the number one goalkeeper.

Sir Alex Ferguson’s final title winning team.

The only reason that side was able to win the Premier League title was because of the genius of Sir Alex Ferguson and his ability to galvanise ordinary players.

Those players faced reality when David Moyes took over as manager of United. Gone was the wizardry of Ferguson and in his replacement was a manager, who had worked with mid-table teams for all of his managerial career and was use to selecting teams to counter the opposition, instead of making his side feel indestructible.

One of the more humorous anecdotes is when Moyes made Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic, arguable United’s greatest central defensive partnership watch videos of Everton defender Phil Jagelka.

In his book Thinking Out Loud, Ferdinand admitted he told Vidic after a video session with Moyes: “I don’t know what the f**k he just asked us to do”.

United were on the back foot once Ferguson retired because the team needed revitalisation, which never eventuated during the Moyes reign.

The squad overhaul occurred during Louis Van Gaal’s first season as manager and as mentioned in part one of this series, the drastic squad overhaul had its on problems.

Vidic, Ferdinand and Patrice Evra, the three players that shared the captaincy in the previous two seasons were axed, while Ryan Giggs retired and took up a position as Van Gaal’s right-hand man.

The departures of these players left a gap in the leadership at the club and forced Wayne Rooney and Michael Carrick to take up leadership duties. Chris Smalling was also given a leadership role, which from a position outside the club seems like a downgrade from the likes of Keane, Giggs, Gary Neville and Vidic.

Chris Smalling was given a leadership role under Louis Van Gaal.

In Van Gaal’s first season, United signed Angel Di Maria, Radimal Falcao, Ander Herrera, Luke Shaw, Marcos Rojo and Daley Blind.

Di Maria and Falcao were world class players, even if Falcao was still recovering from a knee reconstruction while Blind and Rojo were two individuals that were unlikely to have been signed by United had they not impressed at the 2014 World Cup.

Under the guidance of Ferguson, all six players would have fit into the team comfortably, particularly Di Maria who would have provided the flair United craved after Ronaldo was sold to Real Madrid. But under Van Gaal, Di Maria looked a shell of the player that starred at Real Madrid and after one season at the club he was shipped off to PSG.

A year later Memphis Depay endured the same issues as Di Maria and was sold to Lyon and has since reached his potential.

With so many players coming and going from United in recent years the case needs to be made; what is preventing players from reaching their potential at Manchester United?

One of the reasons has been the manager’s at the helm, while another has to be the lack of leadership at the club.

The departures of Vidic, Evra and Ferdinand left a vacuum in the dressing room that United have not been able to recover from.

Evident throughout this period has been the lack of leaders on the field whenever United need a player to settle the team down. Antonio Valencia is the current captain of the Red Devils and does not seem to be a vocal leader, which may be because struggles to speak English and conducts all his interviews in Spanish.

If United had a dressing room full of leaders, then perhaps they would have seen Di Maria and Depay thrive at the club.

Manchester United fans never saw the best of Memphis Depay during his one season at the club.

A current example of a player that would thrive in an environment full of leaders is Paul Pogba. The Frenchman has the talent to be one of the best players in the world and during his time at Juventus, while he was under the guidance of Andrea Pirlo, Gianluigi Buffon, Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci it appeared Pogba would dethrone Lionel Messi and Ronaldo as the best player in the world, but since his transfer to United, Pogba has struggled to recapture his best form and seems more interested in his global branding instead of on-field performances.

Pogba’s relationship with Jose Mourinho and his ‘gloating’ when Mourinho was sacked also appear childish and lack the class personified by United players in the years past.

The Frenchman would never have been allowed to act in that manner had a Roy Keane or Gary Neville been at the club.

But in todays football it appears a player that makes millions of dollars in revenue for the club can act any way they want.

Alexis Sanchez is another commodity that has not stamped his mark on United, despite taking the Premier League by storm while at Arsenal. The Chilean earns £550,000 per week, but since his arrival at the club there has been constant rumours about his unhappiness.

Another possibility for the lack of progress by players once they arrive at United is that the club is too big for them to thrive. Manchester United is valued at $4.123 billion, which makes them the second most valuable sport team in the world according to Forbes. With so many fans around the world and corporate requirements, players can find their experience at the club daunting.

For one reason or another players have struggled once they join Manchester United. Whether it is the manager, culture, personality, the shear size of the club or a combination of all four characteristics could be a reason for players struggling to acclimatise to the club.

What can be guaranteed is that if Sir Alex Ferguson was given the funds spent by United in the last six seasons, they would have added to their 20 league titles and possibly had another Champions League crown.











Christopher Chrysostomou