The Manchester United captaincy. It can’t be put to a vote. And it can’t be given to David de Gea. For it’s traditions. It’s legacy. The United armband deserves better than a player poll.
Indeed, after the past season, would anyone trust anything good to come out of a vote from this Manchester United dressing room?
Okay, okay, that’s harsh. But the idea that almost 150 years of tradition is going to be thrown away by the new man in charge is just ridiculous. This isn’t a knock on Erik ten Hag. Maybe he simply doesn’t understand the gravity and importance that is placed on the club captaincy within British football. But he better learn quick. Removing the armband from Harry Maguire and giving it to the most popular member of an underperforming and dysfunctional dressing room isn’t the way to start your new career.
For this column, we were right behind Maguire being chosen as club captain by now former manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. He came up through the football pyramid. He was brave. Down-to-earth. And boasted all the qualities to grow into an outstanding Manchester United captain. He was basically Steve Bruce 2.0.
A year ago, no-one was questioning the England international as a leader. He’d just helped United to a second-place finish the previous season and was entering the new one having been part of an England team which had reached the final of the European Championship. A new defensive partner in Raphael Varane had arrived. And the combination was being sold as potentially the best in the country.
But then, as the team collapsed, so did Maguire’s form. And with that, as United’s front man, came all the speculation. The doubts. And the demands for change.
With Ten Hag now in place. With so much flux on and off the pitch. There is some momentum behind removing the armband from Maguire before the new preseason kicks off. A cheap, media decision? One to appease the critics for a token amount of time? Perhaps. It certainly can be spun that way. But there is the prospect of Ten Hag simply wanting to go in another direction. It’s his dressing room. It’s his job on the line. So the manager has every right to make his choice of whom should represent him on the pitch.
But that’s with an emphasis on his choice. For the scale of this decision, Ten Hag needs to make it himself. He can’t fob it off to a straw poll. It’s simply too important. Denis Law. Bobby Charlton. Bryan Robson. Steve Bruce. Roy Keane… for what they did as leaders. For the legacy they created as captains. These men deserve better than to see United’s next leader decided by vote and not by the discernment of the manager and his staff.
If it is to be a vote, the early indication is that De Gea would be chosen. Having just taken the Players’ Player of the Year award, any outsider can put two and two together here and be sure of getting four.
But that wouldn’t be in the best interests of the team nor the club. This can’t be decided by a popularity contest. De Gea, as good as he was last season, was facing the exit door 12 months ago. He was effectively in the same position as Maguire finds himself today – and that was without the pressure of being Manchester United captain. Without Dean Henderson’s problems in preseason, there was every chance he could’ve started the campaign on the bench.
De Gea was magnificent for United last season. Now 31, he produced a campaign of career best form. He was inspiring. Sensational. Without the Spain international, you do wonder whether this team under Ralf Rangnick would’ve been capable of finishing in the top eight.
But as captain, De Gea isn’t what United need right now. He’s not a blood n’ thunder personality. And even if he was, such a presence is lost when it’s restricted to the defensive penalty area.
The choice to succeed Maguire, of course, is obvious. And this column can reveal there is some discussion amongst club heavyweights about making sure this decision isn’t fumbled. If Ten Hag is to take the armband away from Maguire, it must go to Cristiano Ronaldo.
Sir Alex Ferguson supports it. Richard Arnold favours it. Even Steve McClaren can understand it. Though there’ll be no pressure on Ten Hag to agree to it. But upstairs. Within the corridors of Old Trafford. There is an acknowledgment that Ronaldo would be the ideal choice to lead United next season.
Ronaldo’s interview last week went down a storm with those of influence inside United. His thoughts on the youth of the team. His willingness to help bring through the next generation. It was everything Sir Alex has discussed with Ronaldo these past 12 months.
“The new generation will be the future of the club,” declared United’s No7. “I’m in favour of giving opportunities to the young generation because they will be the future.
“But you have to help them… And you have to give them time. You have to give them of course the opportunity and let them grow in a normal way without pressure.
“Of course, if the kids ask me advice, I will give my opinion and advice because I want to help.”
The Portuguese is noticeably finding enjoyment in this new role. After some initial skepticism, Ronaldo now understands Sir Alex’s claims of finding pleasure and satisfaction in helping younger players and leading this team into a new era. It was the pitch the Scot gave Ronaldo last summer and the same which he raised towards the end of the season.
For all his achievements in the game, this will be a first for Ronaldo. An official club captaincy. He was never granted this at Real Madrid. Nor with Juventus. At 37 years of age, it’ll be new ground for Cristiano.
But it will depend on the manager. If Ten Hag is to take the armband from Maguire… For it’s traditions. It’s legacy. The Manchester United captaincy cannot be allowed to be decided by dressing room vote. Ronaldo is the only choice the new manager can take.