Following rumours that Wayne Rooney is set to be replaced as Manchester United captain, even if he does decide to remain at the club, there has been a frenzy as to who should be his predecessor. The 31-year-old has had a less prominent role in the side this season under José Mourinho, often being relegated to the bench due to his lack of fitness and form, which has made this summer the likeliest one in which he will finally leave the club.
There have been several deputies to his role in his absence, with Michael Carrick and Chris Smalling often wearing the armband; the latter led the side out at Wembley in their EFL Cup Final win over Southampton in February. Either one of them, along with a few others, could easily put an end to Rooney’s three season stint as skipper.
The longest-serving player in the squad after Rooney, having joined the club in 2006, Carrick is front-runner for the role and he has a decent chance after signing a contract extension earlier in the summer. The move wouldn’t make much sense, however, as he has seen opportunities in the first-team hard to come by. The midfield trio of Ander Herrera, Paul Pogba and Marouane Fellaini has often been preferred by Mourinho.
Herrera has been a fan-favourite ever since he arrived at the club from Athletic Bilbao in 2014 and after a breakthrough season in England, he is another candidate to take on the illustrious role. The robust midfielder understands the club very well and has shown sufficient qualities to become the skipper, with his communication skills being well-appreciated.
Being a midfielder, he has enough access to both sides of the pitch in order to get his points across and his work rate and energy is highly valued as he was voted the Fans’ Player of the Year. Unlike Carrick, however, he has shown a lack of calm on a number of occasions in the past, receiving two red cards for two bookable offences this season.
Valencia is the third longest-serving player left at the club, having joined in 2009. After a successful transition from right midfield to right-back under Louis van Gaal and José Mourinho, the Ecuadorian has enjoyed the most consistent season of his career at the club, winning the club’s Players’ Player of the Year award. In the 2016/17 season, he led the club at the semi-finals and final of the UEFA Europa League as well as several other league games, earning vital experience in the role.
The main problem is that, despite living the country for over a decade, he still doesn’t speak the language fluently, creating a communication barrier with many players and officials. He has also crumbled under pressure of the number 7 shirt when he was given the honour of wearing in the 2012/13 season, which doesn’t give him the edge in assuming this crucial responsibility.
The world’s most expensive player would be another front-runner for this award. At 24, he provides the youthfulness which suggests he could be in the role for a long time, while at the same time, his career thus far has shown that he possesses the essential leadership abilities, being a huge influence on and off the pitch, with the players and staff alike. Often very vocal on the pitch for both club and country, he has never shied away from the big stages, despite the pressure of his hefty £89 million price tag, and despite initial criticism, he has settled well into his role as the club’s ideal box-to-box midfielder.
Legally considered a product of the Manchester United academy, he would come as a long-term option for the role, but having only spent a year at the club at senior level, he probably still needs another year before he can take on such a huge responsibility and a year as deputy would do him no harm.
Other less likely options would be the Spanish duo of David de Gea and Juan Mata, both of whom have taken the role previously, albeit, for fewer minutes than some of the other stand-ins. Both are fan-favourites and have excelled on the pitch over the years; de Gea was Fans’ Player of the Year for three successive years between 2014 and 2016. He does, however, always have an uncertain future with the move to Real Madrid looking a certainty every summer, while Mata himself could expect a lesser role next season, especially if Croatian target Ivan Perišić arrives.
Eric Bailly and Henrikh Mkhitaryan sum up this list of options but their case will have very little weight as they have been at the club for just a season, which have often been interrupted by injury concerns. Bailly possesses the same problems that Herrera and Valencia do: the lack of control in challenges and the insufficient command of the English language, although he does show responsibility and several other leadership qualities, which could earn him a run in the future. Mkhitaryan is a calmer figure and provide a good option, but he has struggled for regular first-team starts so far.
Whoever does take up the role will have a huge burden on his shoulders of replicating the likes of Sir Bobby Charlton, Bryan Robson, Steve Bruce, Gary Neville and more in an illustrious list of Manchester United captains. As they hope to reignite the successes of the Sir Alex Ferguson days, this responsibility that is set to be handed out by José Mourinho could be a major turning point in his stint and pave the way for the club’s future.