The 15 Man Utd players let go by Solskjaer & how they’ve fared since

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Roma defender Chris Smalling protests during their Serie A match against Lazio at Stadio Olimpico, Rome, November 2022.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s reign as Manchester United manager may not have ended as he’d have liked, but it can’t be said he didn’t have a major impact at Old Trafford.

The United squad was in need of an overhaul when Solskjaer took over in 2018, and he wasn’t shy about getting rid of some big names at Old Trafford.

We’ve taken a look at the 15 players to leave the Red Devils on a permanent basis during the Norwegian’s tenure to see how they have subsequently fared. Note: we’ve only included players who have made five or more first-team appearances for United.

Marouane Fellaini

Fellaini was a regular in the team under Jose Mourinho but was sold to Shandong Luneng in February 2019 after playing just 31 minutes under Solskjaer.

The midfielder has scored 32 goals in 80 appearances for the Chinese Super League club, including a hat-trick of headers in eight second-half minutes against Dalian Pro in 2020.

He also played in the Chinese FA Cup final that year, helping Shandong Luneng beat Jiangsu FC 2-0.

Ander Herrera

Herrera was a fan favourite at Old Trafford but called time on a five-year stay at the club when his contract expired in 2019.

The Spain international joined PSG on a five-year deal in 2019 but Injury problems limited him to just eight Ligue 1 appearances in his debut season.

He returned to Old Trafford the following season, starring in PSG’s 3-1 win over United in the Champions League group stage, but he fell back to the periphery amid their many big-money additions.

Herrera is now back with boyhood club Athletic Bilbao.

Antonio Valencia

Despite being club captain, Valencia only made two appearances under Solskjaer and was released by United at the end of the 2018-19 season.

He moved to LDU Quito on a free transfer and helped them win the Copa Ecuador and the Supercopa Ecuador.

The 36-year-old agreed to terminate his contract with the club due to their economic issues and joined Mexican side Queretaro in November 2020. 

Valencia then announced his retirement from football at the end of the 2020-21 season.

READ: A tribute to Antonio Valencia, the winger turned world-class right-back

James Wilson

After spending the 2018-19 season on loan at Aberdeen, Wilson joined the Scottish side on a permanent deal at the expiration of his United contract.

The striker didn’t score a single goal in the opening half of the season and joined Class of 92-owned Salford City in January 2020.

Wilson may have wanted to kick start his career at the League Two club but he was released at the end of the 2020-21 campaign following a total of eight goals from 29 appearances.

He then joined Port Vale on a free transfer and scored his first career hat-trick in a 5–1 victory over Accrington Stanley in November 2021, going on to score 15 goals for the club last term as they were promoted from League Two. 

Romelu Lukaku

Lukaku found himself in and out of the team following Solskjaer’s appointment and joined Inter Milan for £74million in 2019.

He proved his doubters wrong in Italy, by scoring 64 goals in 95 appearances in all competitions, winning the league title and being named Serie A’s most valuable player.

“I think I had to rediscover myself,” Lukaku told Sky Sports in January 2020. “Last year was difficult for me on the professional side, because stuff was not going how I wanted and I was not performing as well.

“So I had to find it within myself what was lacking and came to the conclusion that it was time for me to change environment.

“I made my decision around March, and I went to the manager’s office and told him it was time for me to find something else.

“I wasn’t performing and I wasn’t playing. I think it was better for both sides to go separate ways. I think I made the right decision.”

The striker moved to Chelsea, where he struggled even more than he did at Old Trafford, and is now back at Inter.

Matteo Darmian

Darmian never established himself as a first-team regular during his four years at United and was sold to Parma for just £1.4million in 2019.

The right-back is now at Inter Milan, where he transformed into a game-winning joker in the pack as they won their first Scudetto since 2010. 

Ashley Young

Aaron Wan-Bissaka’s arrival saw Young fall down the pecking order under Solskjaer and the full-back joined Inter Milan on an initial six-month contract in January 2020.

The 37-year-old registered four goals in his first 18 Serie A appearances and did enough to earn a one-year contract extension at the San Siro. He became a valuable squad player for Antonio Conte’s side, winning the Scudetto, before returning to Aston Villa in the summer of 2021.

“It feels amazing to be back – it feels like I’ve not left,” he told VillaTV. “I’m just delighted to be back, seeing some old faces, being back at the training ground, seeing the facilities and how well they’ve grown.

“You can see how much the club has evolved since my time and I’m just ready to get down to work.”

Young remains at Villa Park and was reportedly included in Gareth Southgate’s 55-man provisional squad for last year’s World Cup.

Angel Gomes

After struggling to establish himself in the first team under Solskjaer, Gomes rejected the offer of a new United contract in 2020.

He joined Ligue 1 side Lille following the expiration of his deal at Old Trafford and was immediately sent out on loan to Portuguese side Boavista.

The 22-year-old registered six goals and six assists in 32 appearances in 2020-21, including a sensational David Beckham-esque goal against Moreirense, before returning to Lille.

Cameron Borthwick-Jackson

Having made 14 appearances during the Louis van Gaal era, Borthwick-Jackson never featured under Mourinho or Solskjaer.

After his United contract expired at the end of the 2019-20 season, he returned to Oldham Athletic on a permanent deal following a brief loan spell with the League Two side. 

Writing on Instagram, he spoke of his pride at representing the Red Devils but added: “I’ve had many negative experiences which in turn have become lessons, especially in recent years.

“It’s revealed some truths in football most people won’t ever see (in due time).”

The full-back made 35 appearances in 2020-21 before moving up a division with League One side Burton Albion.

Alexis Sanchez

After a disastrous 18 months at Old Trafford, Sanchez decided to join Inter Milan on loan in 2019 in an attempt to revive his career.

Desperate to forget about the whole thing and get his wages off the books, United then allowed him to join the Serie A side on a free transfer in 2020. 

The Chile international was behind Romelu Lukaku and Lautaro Martinez in the pecking order but still scored seven goals in 30 Serie A appearances in Inter’s title-winning campaign.

Sanchez left the San Siro at the end of the 2021-22 campaign and is now part of Marseille’s squad of ex-Premier League stars.

Chris Smalling

Deemed surplus to requirements by Solskjaer following Harry Maguire’s arrival, Smalling joined Roma on a season-long loan deal in 2019.

The England international has rediscovered his best form in Italy and made the move permanent in 2020, bringing an end to his 10-year spell at United.

Reunited with Jose Mourinho in the Italian capital, Smalling featured prominently as the Giallorossi won the inaugural UEFA Conference League.

“The situation with Chris is about finding a balance on his body that allows him to be playing regularly because after that his experience, his qualities are there, he is a fantastic player,” Mourinho told Sky Sports earlier this season.

“In this moment he is recognised here in Italy even in a funny way: ‘Smalldini’ which is [a mix] of Smalling and Maldini. He is doing amazing for us.”

Timothy Fosu-Mensah

Fosu-Mensah failed to build on a promising debut season at United and joined Bayer Leverkusen in a £1.8million deal in January 2021.

“It was difficult because I ruptured my ACL after my loan spell at Fulham,” Fosu-Mensah said after joining Leverkusen. “I was out for a long time. I came back, [Ole Gunnar] Solskjaer gave me the minutes, they triggered the option in my contract.

“Solskjaer’s been good to me but at the end I was not playing a lot and obviously, when you’re 22, 23, 24 you need to be playing.

“I didn’t play much and I wanted to play, and I think it was the best decision in the end for me to go somewhere else where I would get more minutes.”

During his sixth Bundesliga appearance, the defender suffered another anterior cruciate ligament injury, eventually returning to action in January. He was restricted to just eight appearances in 2021-22, seven of which came from the bench.

Marcos Rojo

Rojo’s reckless defending saw him become an increasingly peripheral figure at Old Trafford, and he spent the second half of 2019-20 on loan at boyhood club Estudiantes.

The centre-back returned to Argentina to sign for Boca Juniors on a permanent deal in February 2021 and provided one of our low-key highlights of 2021 by grabbing a fire extinguisher during a post-match brawl in Brazil.

He’s since won the Argentine Copa de la Liga final and celebrating in style with pizza and cigarettes. Never change, Marcos.

Sergio Romero

Romero was United’s backup goalkeeper for years but the emergence of Dean Henderson made him surplus to requirements at Old Trafford.

He didn’t feature throughout the entire 2020-21 season and was released at the end of his contract last summer. He made 61 matches in all competitions for United, keeping 39 clean sheets.

The goalkeeper signed for Serie A fashion icons Venezia in October 2021. He went on to make 16 appearances, keeping three clean sheets, but he couldn’t stop them from getting relegated.

Romero has now returned to Argentina with Boca Juniors.

Daniel James

The signings of Jadon Sancho and Cristiano Ronaldo meant James’ days at United were numbered and the winger moved to Leeds at the end of the summer transfer window.

The Wales international almost moved to Elland Road in 2019 and many declared that he seemed tailor-made for Marcelo Bielsa’s infamously demanding style of play.

James actually ended the 2021-22 campaign with more Premier League goals and assists than big-money replacement Jadon Sancho, but his decision-making and frustrating tendency to run down blind alleys meant he’s never really won over the Leeds fans.

He was sent on loan to Fulham for the current campaign and was part of Wales’ first World Cup squad since 1958.

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