Where are they now? The last Man Utd XI to be eliminated in the UCL group stages
Manchester United have a distinguished history in European competition, but their 3-2 defeat at Wolfsburg in December 2015 sent Louis van Gaal’s side tumbling out of the Champions League in the group stages.
Having struggled in a group that also contained PSV Eindhoven and CSKA Moscow, United travelled to the Bundesliga side needing a win to stay in the competition.
But the Red Devils were on the wrong end of a five-goal scoreline, with Nacho’s late header sending the Premier League giants out and sparking wild scenes at the Volkswagen Arena.
We’ve taken a look back at one of United’s worst evenings in Europe to see what the XI that played in Germany are up to eight years on.
GK: David de Gea
After Schmeichel and Van der Sar, there’s little doubt that De Gea is United’s best goalkeeper in the Premier League era.
During his 12 years at the club, the Spaniard made over 500 appearances and won United’s Player of the Year award on four separate occasions.
Even in his final year at Old Trafford, where the criticism was particularly intense, De Gea still kept more clean sheets than any other Premier League ‘keeper and remains a world-class shot-stopper on his day.
He’s currently unattached, but you can’t imagine he’ll remain so for much longer.
RB: Guillermo Varela
The first player signed by David Moyes, Varela had to bide his time to break into the United side, making 11 appearances in Van Gaal’s final season in charge.
He’s had a nomadic career since leaving the club, playing in Spain, Germany, Uruguay, Denmark and Russia before joining his current club Flamengo in Brazil permanently in 2023.
“It would be a dream to go back to Old Trafford,” Varela previously told The Sun in December 2019. “It would be a beautiful moment – I wait for this.
“I’m still only 26. I of course want to go back to the Premier League at some point. In the future, maybe I can come back and play for Manchester United – I hope.”
It’s unlikely, but United have made stranger decisions over the years.
CB: Chris Smalling
Van Gaal famously got his name wrong in a press conference – mistakenly calling his defender ‘Mike’ Smalling – and was further marginalised by Jose Mourinho before linking back up with him at Roma.
With longer hair and increased confidence, the former England centre-back remains an important squad member and has made 146 appearances for the Serie A side since 2019.
CB: Daley Blind
Blind joined United in 2014 from Ajax after being signed by his compatriot Van Gaal. Less than 18 months after the Wolfsburg humiliation, Blind helped United win the 2017 Europa League before he returned to Ajax for a second spell.
Now at La Liga high fliers Girona, it’s just fantastic to see Blind still playing football; the Dutch international was diagnosed with a heart problem after feeling dizzy during a match against Valencia in 2019.
LB: Mateo Darmian (Cameron Borthwick-Jackson, ’45)
Darmian was used as a utility man throughout his time at United, receiving plaudits for his solid defensive display in the 2017 Europa League final operating on his unfavoured left-hand side.
The full-back currently plays for Inter Milan after returning to Italy following four years at Old Trafford between 2015 and 2019. He became an unexpected title hero after a string of goals helped Inter win the Scudetto two years ago.
Borthwick-Jackson came on at half-time against Wolfsburg, but didn’t make the grade at United.
Loan spells at Wolves and Leeds were both terminated early amid questions about his attitude, and he joined Oldham Athletic on loan in January 2020.
After his United contract expired at the end of the 2019-20 season, he returned to Oldham on a permanent deal but is now out in Poland with Slask Wroclaw.
The winning streak looks set to continue for Inter! 🔵⚫
Matteo Darmian gets the breakthrough, Conte runs on to the pitch to celebrate, and they move another step closer to Scudetto glory 🔥 pic.twitter.com/fg0ubOUZhD
— Viaplay Sports UK (@ViaplaySportsUK) April 11, 2021
CM: Bastian Schweinsteiger (Michael Carrick, ’69)
Having worked under Van Gaal at Bayern Munich, Schweinsteiger joined United in 2015 but made just 35 appearances for the club in all competitions.
The former Germany international spent two-and-half years in the MLS with Chicago Fire before deciding to hang up his boots in 2019.
He is currently working as an analyst for German broadcaster ARD.
By contrast, Carrick was hugely successful at Old Trafford and it could be argued that United haven’t signed a midfielder fit to lace his boots since his retirement in 2017.
The former England midfielder is now the manager of Championship side Middlesbrough, who he led to the play-offs last season after implementing an attacking style of football at the Riverside.
Boro are currently mid-table after the opening three months of the campaign, but Carrick will back himself to match last year’s feat.
CM: Marouane Fellaini
Time has been kind to Fellaini’s time at Old Trafford; despite his unpopularity amongst supporters, several big-money signings have made less impact than the afro-haired Belgian since his departure to China in 2019.
“Even if you have earned money during your career, sometimes you also have to think about your future,” Fellaini said when he joined Shandong Luneng in 2019.
He’s recently left Shandong and is currently looking for a new club at the age of 35.
RW: Jesse Lingard
Lingard enjoyed arguably the best form of his career under Van Gaal, going on to the score the winner in the 2016 FA Cup final.
But, as has been the case for most of the midfielder’s career, he couldn’t cement a place in the starting XI consistently and is now unattached after leaving Nottingham Forest last summer.
Having flirted with the idea of returning to West Ham, where he shone on loan in 2021, Lingard recently trained with Saudi side Al-Ettifaq but hasn’t been offered a contract at the time of writing.
CAM: Juan Mata (Nick Powell, ’69)
Mata became a cult hero at Old Trafford before leaving in the summer of 2022. He’s now turning out for Turkish side Galatasaray.
And his replacement for Powell on that December evening in Germany has gone down in the club’s infamy. Powell was a talented prospect when he joined from Crewe in 2012, but probably wasn’t the guy to replace United’s main creative spark during a must-win game.
After a career bobbing around the Championship and League One, the 29-year-old is turning out for League Two table-toppers Stockport County.
LW: Memphis Depay
Depay was one of the more notable flops of the post-Ferguson era, but is currently playing for Atletico Madrid and, on his day, remains one of the best attackers in European football.
That is a ROCKET!! 🚀🚀🚀
What a goal from Memphis 🙌 pic.twitter.com/XAc2yq1Lha
— Viaplay Sports UK (@ViaplaySportsUK) August 14, 2023
ST: Anthony Martial
When Martial fired in a Henry-esque goal on his Red Devils debut against Liverpool in 2015 – sending Martin Tyler into pandemonium on commentary duty – it seemed like the sky was the limit.
But his career hasn’t panned out as hoped. He’s produced moments of quality, but never consistently enough and has struggled with injuries for years.
Martial remains at Old Trafford, but you imagine he’ll be leaving Old Trafford sooner rather than later.