With Manchester United struggling to put a coherent performance together in any competition at the moment, question marks have been placed over a number of players’ futures at the club.
After Sunday’s 4-1 capitulation at the hands of neighbours Manchester City, pundit and former captain Roy Keane said that ‘five or six’ players ‘should never play for United again’.
The names Keane had written down on his hit list, he suggested, were the subs – Marcus Rashford and Jesse Lingard, plus Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Fred, Harry Maguire and Scott McTominay.
Keane’s comments led a number of leading United journalists to offer their own lists of who should go and who should stay at the end of the season.
The Times’s Henry Winter calls for the departure of no less than fourteen players, Edinson Cavani, Jesse Lingard, Juan Mata, Phil Jones, Nemanja Matic, Eric Bailly, Anthony Martial, Donny van de Beek, Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Dean Henderson, Scott McTominay, Fred, Paul Pogba and Cristiano Ronaldo.
The Telegraph’s James Ducker, meanwhile, says United should sell, release or listen to offers for Dean Henderson, Lee Grant, Eric Bailly, Phil Jones, Harry Maguire, Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Victor Lindelof, Diogo Dalot, Alex Telles, Donny van de Beek, Paul Pogba, Nemanja Matic, Juan Mata, Andreas Pereira (whose move to Flamengo has still not been finalised), Edinson Cavani, Anthony Martial, Jesse Lingard and Cristiano Ronaldo.
The Mail’s Nathan Salt argues that Dean Henderson, Eric Bailly, Phil Jones, Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Harry Maguire, Paul Pogba, Nemanja Matic, Juan Mata, Jesse Lingard should all go, declaring that the ‘jury’s out’ on a number of others, including Victor Lindelof, Marcus Rashford, Diogo Dalot, Fred and Alex Telles.
The only players to NOT appear on any of the four lists (Keane’s and the three reporters) are David de Gea, Raphael Varane, Luke Shaw, Bruno Fernandes, Anthony Elanga and Jadon Sancho.
Of course, every journalist, like every fan and like Roy Keane himself, is entitled to their opinion. But it seems hard to believe that all of these players are genuinely bad players.
Likewise, those spared the cull by the four could consider themselves lucky and it could be argued that it is only the short memory of the list-pickers that has come to their rescue.
De Gea, for example, has been in blistering form this season, but if the axe lists had been drawn up 12 months ago, he would no doubt have been on most of them after two or three years of erratic performances.
There is also the issue of the Spaniard’s suitability for the modern game, where keepers are expected to operate as an extra sweeper and cover behind the high back line employed by most top teams.
Shaw, also, has had periods of woeful form – this season included – and few would claim that he is at the level of the likes of Liverpool’s Trent Alexander-Arnold and City’s João Cancelo.
Varane’s quality is clear for all to see but his season has been littered with injuries and this has led to a lot of chopping and changing and consequent instability at the back.
Under the Ole Gunnar Solskjaer era, there was a clear strategy of building a predominantly British, home-grown squad – presumably, in order to foster a sense of team spirit and loyalty.
That experiment came at a cost, with the massive premium that is attached to the price of English players.
It is safe to say that experiment was an abject failure and it is interesting to note that five out of Keane’s six names are British.
We are all perhaps guilty of assuming that British players, especially those who have come through the academy, will by nature be loyal, hard-working and give that extra 10% and we try harder to see their strengths and overlook their weaknesses because of this.
However, as Keane suggested himself on Sunday, when those same players show signs of giving up during the Manchester derby, of not chasing back, of not putting their lives on the line for the red shirt, then they must be judged like the rest of the squad.
On the other hand, perhaps we are too quick to write off, or be more critical of, some of the foreign players when they struggle for form. The likes of Dalot, Lindelof, Telles, Matic, Pogba and Martial could fall into that category.
Ultimately, United have a squad of supremely talented players. Of course, new signings will help and there is still some deadwood. But the main problem is not so much a lack of quality but finding a way to get the quality out of the players that are already at the club.