Man United FC

Not Bruno or Maguire – Erik ten Hag recruitment strategy has given Manchester United two new captain candidates

Due to Harry Maguire's limited opportunities, this season, Manchester United may need to select a new permanent captain in the not-too-distant future.

It would be ironic if Cristiano Ronaldo’s final outing in a Manchester United shirt was one in which he wore the captain’s armband.

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With Bruno Fernandes suspended for the trip to Villa Park earlier this month to face Aston Villa, and Harry Maguire left out of the starting lineup, manager Erik ten Hag chose Ronaldo to serve as stand-in captain. The Dutchman’s move was surprising, not least because he had barred him from the squad for the trip to Chelsea just 15 days earlier due to disciplinary concerns stemming from his unwillingness to come off the bench against Tottenham Hotspur.

Ten Hag explained why he decided to give Ronaldo the armband ahead of kickoff at Villa Park: “We have more leaders; Harry is on the bench, Bruno is suspended; you pick the person who has the most influence.

“The goalkeeper [David de Gea] is frequently removed from situations, particularly in the opponent’s half, and we want to play in the opponent’s half. Casemiro is not yet fully fluent in English, and Cristiano has performed admirably in the last two games, which I hope he continues.

“You have to set an example as a captain and leader, and that is what I want from him – he is a crucial part of the squad, we are satisfied with him, and now he needs to take on even more of the leader position.”

Ronaldo has not featured for United since captaining the team in the 3-1 defeat at Villa Park, missing the last two matches due to illness. Following the release of his explosive interview with Piers Morgan, the five-time Ballon d’Or winner may never play for United again.

It means that Ten Hag, as startling as his decision to give Ronaldo the armband against Unai Emery’s team was, might soon find himself a ‘leader’ down – even if the Dutchman is unlikely to hand the Portuguese international the armband again. He has disrespected Ten Hag in every way conceivable, which means his United career is very certainly finished.

Away from the Ronaldo story and the baggage that comes with it, questions, particularly among fans, continue to be raised regarding who could become United’s next permanent captain in the event that Maguire is stripped of leadership or leaves the club. Despite earning Ten Hag’s full support prior to the start of the season, the England international has struggled for regular opportunities this season, appearing in just nine games across all competitions.

If that tendency continues, which appears likely considering how well Raphael Varane and Lisandro Martinez have flourished alongside each other in the heart of United’s defense this season, Ten Hag will have to make a decision on who will take over as United captain on a permanent basis. Would Fernandes be the first in line for the job, or does Ten Hag have other candidates in mind?

Given that he mentioned Casemiro in his pre-match TV interview at Villa Park, citing his lack of fluency in English as the reason he did not earn the armband on that occasion, it hinted that the Brazilian could be a viable candidate to take over the job in the future. Casemiro is a natural leader who has fit in perfectly at Old Trafford and has a wealth of expertise.

Furthermore, his location, which sees him play in the very center of the pitch, may further impact Ten Hag’s mindset. He has also played with a number of elite-level players throughout his career, and he is capable of captaining United.

The Brazilian, though, is not the only summer signing who could be in line for the prestigious honor. Martinez, too, has demonstrated exceptional leadership qualities since joining M16 this summer.

He has quickly become a fan favorite, accentuated by his shout of ‘Argentina,’ and has delivered a string of performances displaying the characteristics and attributes you would expect from a captain at a club of United’s status. He is a no-nonsense player who loves to wear his heart on his sleeve and give his all for the cause.

During the summer, Ten Hag made it his aim to instill a new philosophy and culture in the club. He may have identified potential captains in the additions of Casemiro and Martinez.

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