Manchester United is undergoing significant changes.
After a dismal season in every aspect imaginable, United is now hobbling down the home stretch as the end of the 2021-22 season approaches. United’s Champions League prospects are hanging on a thread so thin that you need a magnifying lens to see it after a 3-1 loss at Arsenal on Saturday.
Whatever happens in United’s final four games of the season, the magnitude of the assignment that awaits incoming manager Erik ten Hag this summer cannot be underestimated. The Dutchman will be challenged with supervising one of United’s busiest summers in recent memory, in what will be the biggest job of his career thus far.
While massive changes must be made to the first-team roster in terms of players coming in and leaving out, as well as a clear vision and philosophy being implemented, Ten Hag is likely to have another issue in determining who will wear the captain’s armband from next season forward. Harry Maguire has suffered a barrage of criticism this season, and his future as captain is in jeopardy.
Despite being an £80 million signing, the former Leicester City player has failed to demonstrate the leadership traits that a United player should have. In his defense, it’s difficult to do so when practically everything United has touched this season has gone wrong.
Nonetheless, Maguire has failed with the armband, and conjecture over who will wear it next season is already rampant. Will Ten Hag let Maguire keep it in the hopes of resurrecting his career, or will he give it to someone else? Time will only tell.
While Ten Hag will make the final decision, current interim manager Ralf Rangnick has stated what he would do if he were in control next season. He has revealed that discussions will be done with the players to gather their thoughts on who they believe would be the perfect leader of the group, drawing on his experience in Germany.
Rangnick told reporters at a news conference on Wednesday, “I can only tell you what I did in the past when I was head coach or manager, because in Germany it’s called ‘Mannschaftskapitan’ – the captain of the team.” I believe the captain should be elected by the team because he is known as the team manager, and we have always done so.
“We always had a board of four or five players elected by the players, which we named the Spielerrat [players’ council].” At the conclusion, the player with the most votes was named team captain. That’s how I went about it.
“I know a lot of head coaches don’t do things like that.” That’s what I’d do if I were still the manager next season, but I’m not. Erik will have to make a decision on this.”
If the current Ajax manager decides to accept Rangnick’s advice, remove the captain’s armband from Maguire’s sleeve, and ask his players who they believe would be the ideal successor, it will be difficult to choose a candidate based on this season’s troubles. With the exception of David de Gea, United has lacked leaders and big personalities this season.
After a bad loss, the goalkeeper is often the first to appear on social media to communicate with the fans, and he is not afraid to speak his mind in TV interviews. He wasn’t hesitant to express his feelings following the 1-0 loss to Everton earlier this month, providing a brutally honest appraisal of the Goodison Park defeat.
“I don’t know what to say, to be honest,” he told BT Sport. We knew they were battling and how difficult it would be before today.
“It’s not the ideal setting. Today, they [Everton] were exhausted and worried, but they kept battling and had more determination.
“This is not acceptable. They played on Wednesday and were exhausted, but they had more desire than us, which is unacceptable.
“It’s a shame to lose. It is a disgrace on our part. This game should be ours.”
Those are the words of a leader. De Gea has been by far United’s greatest player this season, and his honesty cannot be questioned. It was both refreshing and honest.
However, while he appears to be the best candidate to replace Maguire as United captain, Ten Hag’s style of play may have an impact on his chances, with some United fans already believing that Dean Henderson could get the nod in goal next season due to Ajax’s interest in him a few months ago and Ten Hag’s vision. It’s a difficult decision for Ten Hag to make, but it’s one he can’t afford to do wrong.
In the larger scheme of things, picking who wears the armband may appear little when contemplating the changes that must be made at Old Trafford this summer, but it is a decision that might go a long way toward creating a winning attitude. Ten Hag can’t go wrong.