Ranking the 13 central midfielders signed by Man Utd since Roy Keane left
Bruno Fernandes’ start to life at Manchester United has been one of the highlights of an otherwise underwhelming season for the Red Devils.
The Portuguese midfielder scored an equaliser in the 1-1 draw at Everton, his third goal in as many games, and his winter arrival from Sporting Lisbon has been followed by a six-match unbeaten run. The positivity isn’t just about the player himself. To understand why Bruno’s introduction has been such a big deal, it’s worth taking a look at some of United’s recent missteps.
Since Roy Keane left for Celtic in January 2006, United have signed 13 central midfielders and brought a fair few more up through the ranks. It’s fair to say not all of these recruits have been roaring successes, though. We’ve attempted to rank the 13, from worst to best.
13. Rodrigo Possebon
This one’s hardly Possebon’s fault. After all, he never really recovered from a shocking Emmanuel Pogatetz tackle in a League Cup game, but rules are rules.
The Brazil-born Italy Under-20 international played just eight times for United and failed to get things going anywhere else after leaving the club in 2010.
He did at least win some silverware, sitting on the bench for the 2008 Community Shield and 2009 League Cup final.
12. Bastian Schweinsteiger
Another man plagued by injuries, Schweinsteiger joined United a few years too late.
The German was a peripheral figure after arriving during Louis van Gaal’s tenure and was more or less turfed out by Jose Mourinho midway through the 2016-17 season.
After three years in MLS, Schweinsteiger announced his retirement at the end of 2019.
11. Morgan Schneiderlin
Schneiderlin joined in the same summer as Schweinsteiger and was similarly unfancied by Mourinho.
The former Southampton man featured regularly under Van Gaal, although he was an unused sub for the FA Cup final, and did enough at Old Trafford to earn a spot in France’s Euro 2016 squad.
But the following season was one of frustration, with no league starts, but United did at least get most of their money back by selling him to Everton.
10. Nemanja Matic
It’s not been great for Matic, has it?
Seen as a symbol of Jose Mourinho being stuck in the past, the Serbian was one of many expensive signings from the early part of the Portuguese’s reign who left the club with a big recurring payment they really could have done without.
Under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, the kindest thing we can say about Matic is that he’s still there and at least technically capable of making a positive contribution one of these days.
Manchester United needed a mobile defensive midfielder with a good passing range to compliment Paul Pogba, but instead they allowed Jose Mourinho to go through his phone book in the hotel to get Matic.
— Carl Anka (@Ankaman616) September 22, 2019
As above, really, though we’re finally beginning to see some green shoots.
Fred was supposedly signed to replace Paul Pogba, only for Pogba to not leave, Hardly his fault, really, but the Brazilian didn’t set the world alight on those occasions he did get his chance in the team.
He’s beginning to show why United were keen to spend so much to bring him in from Shakhtar, but he’s not quite there yet.
8. Shinji Kagawa
There are a few players on this list who are right on the sweet spot between central midfielder and winger, with Kagawa sitting just the right side of the line and Juan Mata and Nick Powell marginally on the other side.
Kagawa had an impressive first season, scoring a delightful hat-trick against Norwich City and showing signs he’d be able to kick on.
Then Alex Ferguson retired, and it turns out David Moyes was absolutely not the right boss to oversee said kicking on.
Anderson’s a weird one. He didn’t fulfil his potential, sure, but he was a fine servant over a number of years at United.
It’s natural to expect more from a Golden Boy award winner, but 180 appearances – including two in Champions League finals – could be a lot worse.
And besides, that penalty in the 2008 final shoot-out will endear him to United fans forever.
6. Bruno Fernandes
Yes, Bruno Fernandes has only played a handful of games in a United shirt, but his impact is already clear.
A goal against Everton, an assist against Chelsea and one of each against Watford isn’t exactly the worst return for someone coming into a dysfunctional team in a new league.
If he helps United reach the 2020-21 Champions League, he’ll be on his way up this ranking.
5. Marouane Fellaini
We know this looks wrong, but hear us out.
Fellaini was neither Man Utd’s best player or the most Man Utd player around, but he made one hell of an impact in a period that wasn’t really great for anyone associated with the club.
Some will claim he was symptomatic of the decline of the club and only made such an impact because United were on the decline, but there’s an argument that he’d have fit into earlier title-winning squads with just as much ease.
4. Owen Hargreaves
While Hargreaves played considerably fewer minutes than his colleagues on this list, he made enough of an impact in those minutes that we’re still wondering what could have happened if he’d stayed healthy.
The 2007-08 Hargreaves was one of the best central midfielders to grace the Premier League, but injuries restricted him to just five more games for United and forced him into early retirement.
A healthy Hargreaves in the 2009 and 2011 Champions League finals could have made one hell of a difference.
3. Ander Herrera
United missed Herrera for the first half of this season. If not his positive on-pitch contributions, then at least his shithousing and ‘game management’.
The Red Devils might have taken longer than planned to sign the midfielder from Athletic Bilbao, but he made a solid impact and made it clear he was a United-type player – something not necessarily true of all their post-Fergie signings.
Herrera has featured sparingly in an injury-hit first season with PSG, but we bet plenty of United fans would welcome him back.
2. Paul Pogba
It feels hard to square this ranking with the 2019-20 version of Paul Pogba, but we need to look at the whole picture.
Pogba might have seen higher highs with France than with United, but we shouldn’t forget his 16 goals last season or his decisive contribution in the 2017 Europa League final.
Oh, and also his part in the famous 3-2 win at Manchester City, denying Pep Guardiola’s team an unbeaten season at home.
1. Michael Carrick
In the end, it feels right that the man who took Keane’s No.16 shirt is the best player on this list.
Ever since arriving from Tottenham for £18.6million, Carrick showed his worth to the team – often at the expense of glory for himself.
Twelve years, 450+ games, 17 trophies and a place in the heart of countless Manchester United fans.