From Bill Foulkes to Sir Bobby Charlton, Bryan Robson to Roy Keane, Manchester United’s roster of iconic captains has left an indelible mark on the club’s rich history.
Required to be a natural leader on the pitch and an ambassador for the club at all other times, the captaincy can be as heavy-a-burden as it is a privilege to receive.
Less than a year ago it was Ander Herrera who many fans wanted and believed would be José Mourinho’s next choice for club captain. Instead, the baton passed from Wayne Rooney to Michael Carrick
As the 2017/18 draws to a close, the baton is once again ready to be handed on. With Herrera now little more than an afterthought for selection, let alone becoming the player to lead the club next season, we take a look at who the early candidates are to carry the team forward into the club’s next chapter.
1 Antonio Valencia
If Mourinho decides to go the route of Real Madrid and appoint the club’s longest serving player as captain, Valencia will be the next Manchester United captain. There is already a precedent set for this too, given that Carrick (12 years) is currently the player to have spent the most time in the first team with Valencia (9) and Chris Smalling (8) the next in line behind the Geordie midfielder.
Irrespective of this, Valencia has often been Mourinho’s on-field captain throughout the Portuguese manager’s reign. As the player to have led the side more than any other in the squad this season due to Carrick’s ongoing health problems, Valencia will be the strong favourite to take the armband permanently at the end of this season.
However, as a player who will be 33-years-old at the beginning of next season, this may work against the Ecuadorian. If Mourinho is determined to build for the long term, he may well decide to appoint a longer-term solution as his next captain.
2 Paul Pogba
A player long-touted by Mourinho as perfect captain material, Pogba was thought by many to be the next in line to take on the honour at Old Trafford. Having been named the on-field captain for five consecutive matches around the turn of this year, it looked like Pogba was slowly being eased into the role, albeit, in the absence of both Carrick and Valencia from the starting lineup.
Since then, relations have rumoured to have frosted over between manager and record-signing, something exasperated by Pogba’s declining form of late.
With Manchester United looking a more balanced unit against Liverpool without the French midfielder in the team and several warning shots fired by Mourinho stating that no player is safe from being dropped this summer, what once seemed a near-certainty is now far from a shoe-in for the role.
3 Eric Bailly
Perhaps an outside bet for the captaincy, Eric Bailly has been unlucky with injury for large parts of this season making it hard for him to push his credentials forward. A player who seems assured to become an ever-present in Mourinho’s starting eleven, Bailly has proved a natural leader in the team when he’s played following his £30 million transfer from Villarreal 18 months ago.
Centre backs are also a natural choice for captains due to their position on the pitch, something which Mourinho has typically opted to take advantage of throughout his career. With the exception of Iker Casillas, every captain Mourinho has appointed prior to Carrick has been a defender and in this respect, Bailly is the most obvious choice.
A calming influence on the players around him, Bailly has also shown himself to be a good organiser in the side although, it is still perhaps a little early in his career to take on this responsibility, especially away from matchdays where he does not yet have the talismanic stature perhaps required of club captain.
4 Nemanja Matić
Another potential surprise which Mourinho could pull could be in the shape of his trusted lieutenant, Nemanja Matić.
The Serbian enforcer has taken his summer switch to Manchester in his stride and is only second to David de Gea in terms of minutes played in Manchester United’s Premier League matches, having twice been substituted despite starting every game for his new side.
Already a key part of the team, Matić may be more suited to a vice-captain position but his mentality and attitude to the game is exactly what Mourinho demands of his players. While not the loudest player in a game, other players listen when he does speak - such as when he delivered a speech to his teammates prior to Chelsea’s League Cup final win over Tottenham in 2015.
5 David de Gea
While it’s not a common occurrence for a goalkeeper to be named club captain, neither is it completely unheard of. Dino Zoff, Lev Yashin, Peter Shilton and, more recently, the likes of Gianluigi Buffon and Manuel Neuer have worn the captain’s armband with distinction while even Fabian Barthez captained the French national side in the World Cup final against Italy in 2006, albeit after Zinedine Zidane was sent off.
For de Gea, it seems like the next realistic role for a player Manchester United arguably need to retain more than any other. With Real Madrid rumoured to yet again be waiting in the wings for the Spaniard’s signature this summer, this move would cut off any potential attempts by the Los Blancos to lure away one of their brightest stars.
Elevating his status would also be a hugely popular choice among players and fans alike and serve to fill the vacancy with a player who has star quality and respectability on and off the pitch.
What do you think? Who should be the next Manchester United captain?
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