The Manchester United squad is set to learn the composition of their “leadership group” ahead of an important season for the club.
While Bruno Fernandes has been entrusted with the captaincy at the expense of Harry Maguire – a move as bold as it was necessary – Erik ten Hag is yet confirm who will provide the auxiliary support for this role.
Tom Heaton, a member of this group last season, explained the importance it holds:
“This club sets the highest possible standards and you look to the leadership group to set those standards really. I was part of that last season and I would hope to be going forward as well. The manager put it together really. He organises that.
The most likely explanation for a delay is the continued fall-out of a very public transfer of captaincy. While Maguire’s attitude is exemplary, with United staff unworried about any negative blowback from the centre-back, it remains to be seen where his future will be next season.
Ten Hag has reportedly informed Maguire of his wish for the former-captain to remain at Old Trafford. Maguire is said to be keeping his “options open” as he is acutely aware of the potential ramifications from another season on the bench for his place in the England team.
Maguire’s attitude and professionalism would make him an obvious “leadership group” candidate were he to stay however. Hence the delay in a decision.
A further factor may be a more positive one.
For the first time since Sir Alex Ferguson retired, there are multiple viable candidates for such a role. The Athletic contends that at any point in the post-Ferguson period, Marcus Rashford, Luke Shaw, Raphaël Varane or Casemiro would have been an “automatic choice” for captaincy.
When you factor in players (and characters) such as the aforementioned Heaton, Lisandro Martinez, Scott McTominay, Victor Lindelöf and the recently-acquired Mason Mount, there is a wealth of options for Ten Hag to select from.
Heaton corroborates this assessment, detailing how “We have…plenty of leaders in our dressing room.” A positive development given the scarcity of such players in recent times.
The Dutch manager made “attitude” a motif throughout his first season at Old Trafford. Constant references to attitude and application in press-conferences, both in recognition of when his players display them and in criticism when they don’t, underscore how it is not merely tactics Ten Hag has sought to focus on. The manner in which United players take to the field is as important to their manager as where they line up.
The appointment of Fernandes as captain, and a carefully selected “leadership group” to support him, are the next steps, therefore, in this carefully mediated, and necessary, evolution of the United squad. A side exists on the pitch, but a team is made in the dressing room.