As Nemanja Vidic ends his 8 year long association with the Red Devils, they look for their next captain.

Last month Manchester United skipper officially announced that he would not be renewing his contract with the club. This means that at the end of this season, when his contract expires, Vidic will go to another club as a free agent. This in many ways is a triple blow for the beleaguered Old Trafford club. Firstly, they lose a quality central defender, secondly they lose him for free and last but not the least, they lose an influential skipper. United captains of the past have been players who could influence their side and galvanise them into performing. As a defensive wall, Vidic commanded respect from his team mates and opposition alike. He read the game well and knew when and how to rally his troops either to defend or to break for goal. While a captain’s role in football may not be as pivotal as in other team sports like cricket, it is vital nonetheless. The manager sets up the team lineup, formations and strategies and tactics but it is the captain who marshalls the troops and ensures that strategies are utilised effectively as and when the situation appears. Enough and more has been written about replacing Nemanja Vidic the player with various names like Ezequiel Garay, Inigo Martinez, Christian Zapata, Matts Hummels and Eliaquim Mangala thrown into the mix. Much less, however, has been written about replacing Nemanja Vidic the captain. Vidic has definitely earned his place in the list of United captains alongside greats like Robert Byrne, Denis Law, Sir Bobby Charlton, Bryan Robson, Steve Bruce, Eric Cantona, Roy Keane and Gary Neville. Let’s take a look at the probables who could receive the captain’s armband from Vidic on his departure in May.

Wayne Rooney

Wayne Rooney - Manchester United strikerOne of the foremost choices (and for many, foregone conclusion) for the captain’s job, the English striker has been in terrific form this season. He always had a tremendous work rate but this season there seems to be a renewed vigour to his efforts. He is everywhere on the pitch helping out in defense, dropping deep into midfield to retrieve the ball as well as popping up in the box to convert chances into stunning goals. Even if David Moyes were to be sacked tomorrow, Wayne Rooney would count as one of his achievements at Manchester United. Wayne Rooney had allegedly tabled a transfer request last summer. Going from there to actually getting him to sign a new contract extension, Moyes has come a long way. The new contract Rooney has just signed keeps him at the club till 2018 and also makes him the highest paid player in United Kingdom. All these could all be harbingers of his being anointed Nemanja Vidic’s successor at the end of this season. Rooney is a dynamic player who can play in multiple positions though he is primarily a striker. He is a team player with a great work ethic and while he did antagonise many fans with two transfer requests in three years, none can deny his dedication and effort on the pitch especially this season. At the age of 28, Rooney is at the peak of his footballing skills and can very well form the core around which Moyes builds his new team to take on the might of England and Europe alike.

Patrice Evra

(c)evra_flickrThe French left back is one of the first names on the team sheet when fit and has been deputy to Vidic since the very beginning. That would make him automatic choice to succeed the Serbian defender. There are however issues surrounding his appointment as captain not least of which is the fact that he will turn 33 this year and is arguably past his prime. This has started showing in his game as well as he often struggles to track back after a run down the flanks or even to catch up with one of the quicker wingers in the game. More importantly, while he is a hard working footballer, he does not possess the footballing brain that players like Vidic, Rio or Rooney possess to read the game and break it up.

Robin van Persie

RvP captained Arsenal for a year before his marquee transfer to Manchester United. RvP had a sensational first season for his new club helping them to their 20th English top flight title. This season however has been a very different story. RvP has been out for extended periods through injuries and even when he is playing, he seems to be a Chinese version of himself. The skill obviously is still there but there seems to be a slight hesitation to pull the trigger. There are far too many scuffed shots and mishits. This can either be attributed to age catching up – he turns 31 this year – as well as a certain amount of discontent. RvP arguably committed the rest of his career to United under the assumption that he would play under Sir Alex Ferguson. The gaffer’s sudden retirement at the end of last season came as a shock to most people but would have been more shocking to RvP. There is clearly a lack of trust and/or confidence between Moyes and RvP. This has even prompted rumours of transfer links for a possible return to Arsenal for the Dutch international. Also given his age, Moyes may not want to necessarily include van Persie as a central piece of his core team. He is definitely an indispensable resource to have but Moyes would be wary of sowing discontent at the core of his new team.

Michael Carrick

Carrick, who many considered to be one of the most underrated players at United, has been a vital cog in the wheel for United over this season and the last. Carrick’s preferred style is to sit deep and distribute the ball. His vision is quite good and he often uses long balls to pick out team mates on a run. His position is the ideal position to run the game and it is the same position from where Roy Keane led United to innumerable trophies. The issue with Carrick however is that he cannot motivate a team on his own. When things are not going their way, a team looks to its captain and other senior players for inspiration. Good captains respond with performances akin to Roy Keane’s against Juventus in the Champions League semi final of 1999. Carrick usually gets beaten down by the situation. More than once in this season itself, Carrick decided to pass the ball backwards rather than run forward with it even in the dying moments of a game when United were either level or trailing. The drive that would characterise him as a captain is somehow missing.

Darren Fletcher

Darren_Fletcher_vs_Everton_(cropped)The midfielder has returned after his two years’ battle against a debilitating career ending illness. While there is no doubt about the talent possessed by Fletcher, such long term illnesses do permanently affect the player and there is more than a shadow of doubt regarding Fletcher’s longevity and fitness. He turned 30 this year and probably what would have been the two best years of his career were spent on the sidelines as he battled with illness. Fletcher is undoubtedly a hard worker, an intelligent speaker and commands respect from peers through his skills, his attitude and his accolades. Moyes trusts him as well but that said, Fletcher may well be over the hill in terms of his peak playing years. He is yet to have a sustained period of 90 minutes’ action with the first team and it is still not certain if he can sustain the vagaries of playing premier league football week in week out.

Also rans

MUFC CaptainsPhil Jones was spotted by Sir Alex Ferguson in United’s 7-1 demolition of Blackburn Rovers in 2010. Jones turns 23 this season and may therefore be a bit young for captaincy. Combined with his injury prone run this season, it is improbable he would receive the captain’s armband but he still carries Sir Alex’s endorsement that he will one day captain both Manchester United and the English national side. And endorsements like those are worth their weight in gold.
Rio Ferdinand could have been another candidate for the armband with his excellent skills in reading the game and breaking up play. Rio is usually a cool customer in defense and makes up for his lack of pace with his reading of the game and being in the right place at the righ time. Age however is not in his favour and his slowness and injury prone body have finally caught up with him forcing large amounts of time on the bench or the sidelines.
Juan Mata was obviously purchased for the record breaking transfer because Moyes sees him as a player who can form the core of his side. The Spaniard is young, highly skilled and remains relatively fit. He is however unidimensional, not contributing enough in defensive areas. It is one of the primary reasons he saw himself shut out of the Chelsea starting line up of Mourinho. This makes him an iffy choice for captain.

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