Ranking every centre-back Man Utd have signed since Jaap Stam left

Quick Reads

Jaap Stam was always going to leave a gaping hole in the Manchester United defence when he was sold in 2001 – replacing him was never going to be easy. 

Stam won three Premier League titles and the Champions League during his three years at the club before falling out with Sir Alex Ferguson.

Here are the 12 centre-backs United have signed since Stam’s departure, ranked by how well they fared at Old Trafford.

12. Gerard Pique

Pique may have become one of the best centre-backs in the world, but his Manchester United career never really got going.

The Spaniard struggled to break into the side and only made 23 first-team appearances before returning to Barcelona in 2008.

He has gone on to win everything at the Nou Camp and even helped his current side beat United in the 2009 and 2011 Champions League finals.

11. Marcos Rojo

Rojo was signed from Sporting Lisbon on the back of some impressive performances for Argentina in the 2014 World Cup.

But his reckless defending saw him become an increasingly peripheral figure at Old Trafford and spent the second half of last season on loan at Estudiantes.

10. Eric Bailly

Bailly would be a lot higher on this list if it wasn’t for his injury problems.

The Ivorian had a promising debut season at United in 2016-17 but has only made 47 appearances in all competitions over the last three years.

READ: Eric Bailly’s stepover gave Man Utd the flair they didn’t know they needed

9. Daley Blind

Blind joined United from Ajax on deadline day in 2014 when fellow Dutchman Louis van Gaal was in charge.

The midfielder was converted into a ball-playing centre-back and formed an impressive partnership with Chris Smalling as United won the FA Cup in 2016.

However, he fell down the pecking order under Jose Mourinho and eventually returned to Ajax in 2018.

READ: An ode to Daley Blind, the slender defender who defies modern logic

8. Phil Jones

Jones was a highly-rated prospect when he joined United from Blackburn in 2011 and was tipped for a bright future by Sir Alex Ferguson.

“The way he is looking, he could be our best ever player. He may be one of the best players we have ever had, no matter where we play him,” Ferguson said in 2013.

“At 21 years of age, he is going to be a phenomenal player. He can play anywhere on the pitch. He has such a massive influence, with his instinct and reading of the game. He has a drive about him.”

However, his career hasn’t gone as planned and the centre-back has been prone to silly mistakes and lapses of concentration.

Injuries have also hampered his progress, restricting him to just 165 Premier League appearances over the last nine seasons.

7. Laurent Blanc

Blanc was signed as the replacement for Stam in 2001, but he was coming towards the end of his career and couldn’t fill the void left by his predecessor.

The Frenchman initially struggled to adapt to English football and United conceded 45 goals in 38 games as they finished third in 2001-02.

His form eventually started to improve and the defender helped United win the Premier League title in 2002-03 before hanging up his boots.

6. Victor Lindelof

Lindelof was brought to United from Benfica by Jose Mourinho in 2017 but endured an underwhelming first season at Old Trafford.

However, the Sweden international turned things around in his second season and has been able to establish himself as a regular starter under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

5. Harry Maguire

Maguire became the most expensive defender in the world when United spent £80million to sign him from Leicester City in 2019.

The defender may not have been able to live up to that huge price tag, but he has definitely shored up United’s leaky defence.

Solskjaer has been particularly impressed by Maguire’s leadership qualities, choosing him as the official club captain. That seemed like a good call, until this summer…

4. Gabriel Heinze

Heinze was primarily a left-back but was also a very capable centre-back during his three years at United.

He won the Sir Matt Busby Player of the Year award in 2004-05 but angered fans by trying to force a move to rivals Liverpool in 2007.

The Argentine was also a bit of a shithouse but met his match when he tried to stand up to Roy Keane and got knocked unconscious.

“We lost a game and I went in the dressing room first and Roy Keane was second. I liked to go first after the game; I didn’t want to speak to anyone as we lost,” Heinze told Pura Quimica in 2017.

“I didn’t understand English, just the bad words. I heard my name and ‘f*ck off’ by Roy Keane, the best player.

“I knew that was bad so I stood up to him, this idol of Manchester, this great guy who everyone loved, and replied, ‘F**k off, you.’ I don’t remember what happened next.”

3. Chris Smalling

Smalling joined United from Fulham in 2010 and was originally seen as the man to succeed Rio Ferdinand in the heart of their defence.

However, despite being a reliable performer under Van Gaal, he became a much-maligned figure at Old Trafford and was sent on loan to Roma in 2019.

The centre-half has still made 323 appearances for the club while winning two Premier League titles, the FA Cup and the Europa League in the process.

2. Nemanja Vidic

Vidic arrived at Old Trafford as a relative unknown in 2006 but soon established himself as one of the fiercest centre-backs in the game.

His partnership with Rio Ferdinand was the cornerstone of United’s success in the late 2000s and the pair won five Premier League titles together.

“He became a defender that was feared,” Ferdinand said in 2016. “He could fight with the most physical, he crunched into tackles, he attacked the ball better than anyone I’ve ever seen.

“But as he will tell you with a smile, he could also play with the ball too, which made him complete and a great defender.”

1. Rio Ferdinand

United spent a then-British transfer record of £29.1million to sign Ferdinand from Leeds United in 2002, but it proved to be a bargain.

The former England international developed into one of the finest defenders in the world and United finally had a worthy replacement for Stam.

He made 455 appearances during his 12 years at Old Trafford, winning six Premier League titles, the Champions League, the FIFA Club World Cup and two League Cups.

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