An alarming stat emerged on Tuesday. Since Cristiano Ronaldo‘s departure 10 years ago, Manchester United‘s No7s have scored just 15 Premier League goals. For perspective, the Portuguese has scored 332 league goals over the same period.
It brings to light the extravagant expenditure – reportedly upwards of £700 million – on new signings in the post-Ferguson era with so many players passing through Old Trafford.
With the club in disarray though, the genuine talent some of those players possessed was never fully realised. However, a few have kicked on and proved themselves away from United’s crippling scrutiny and toxic environment.
Here’s a look at five players who have flourished since leaving Old Trafford in the last six years.
Sir Alex Ferguson’s last signing should’ve been a nod to the philosophy he instilled at United and Wilfried Zaha’s acquisition certainly had the makings of that. Backed by searing pace, mesmeric skills, youthful exuberance and the potential for greatness, the winger fit the bill.
However, following a £10m move to Old Trafford plus £5m in add-ons, Zaha failed to earn regular playing time under new manager David Moyes. There were whispers of his poor attitude in training but the fact that United were in turmoil didn’t make for a nurturing environment either.
Crystal Palace re-signed him for £4m the following season and he’s since developed into a formidable and lethal attacker. His 10 goals in the Premier League last season was his best return while his 3.4 dribbles per game was topped only by Eden Hazard (3.7).
His impressive performances have attracted interest from the likes of Tottenham, Arsenal and Liverpool this summer.
ANGEL DI MARIA
A British transfer record fee of £59.7m brought Angel Di Maria to Manchester in 2014 in the midst of much fanfare. In the former Real Madrid winger, United had acquired a proven star fresh from his Champions League-winning exploits and deserving of the fabled No7 shirt.
Initially, Di Maria looked like a good fit, oozing quality and producing a few moments of pure genius including an audacious chipped goal against Leicester City. But the honeymoon period was short-lived and he ended up with just four goals in 32 appearances.
Various factors like United’s continued struggles, his house being burgled and Louis van Gaal deploying him as a wingback made him determined to leave Old Trafford after just one season. Paris Saint-Germain snapped him up for £44m and he returned to his outstanding best in the French capital, scoring 69 goals in 179 appearances and winning 10 trophies along the way.
Like Zaha, Memphis Depay arrived with bags of potential and like Di Maria, the No7 shirt weighed heavy on him. After a phenomenal season with PSV Eindhoven during which he bagged 28 goals in 40 games, the Dutchman struggled with the pace and intensity of the Premier League in a team that had lost its identity.
There was no doubting his skill or talent but it just wasn’t a good fit at the time for the £25m-signing and after seven goals in 53 appearances, he left for Lyon midway through his second season.
The move sparked an impressive resurgence with the forward starring for the Ligue 1 outfit, turning heads with some spectacular goals. At 25, Depay has begun to come of age and has developed into a leader at Lyon as well as with a young Dutch national team also enjoying a revival.
After being one of the outstanding performers in Van Gaal’s Netherlands team that beat the odds to finish third at the 2014 World Cup, the incoming United boss ensured Daley Blind joined him at Old Trafford that summer.
The defender was far from a spectacular player and his lack of pace was exposed at times but he did prove to be a consistent performer with an excellent passing range that was key when playing out from the back. His versatility meant he could be deployed either in the centre or on the left side of defence while he never looked out of place in midfield either.
However, after winning the FA Cup in his second season, he dropped out of favour once Jose Mourinho was appointed and returned to Ajax last summer.
In Amsterdam, the 29-year-old has been a rock at the back, lending his wealth of experience to a young outfit that’s dominated Eredivisie and taken Europe by storm this season while fulfilling a similar role in the national team’s success.
Having won league titles in Italy, Spain and France, Zlatan Ibrahimovic arrived in England with the singular aim of winning the Premier League crown. Unfortunately, United weren’t in a place to match his ambition but his ego and natural charisma fit the club like a glove.
Putting Mourinho’s plans into action on the pitch, the aging striker scored 28 goals across all competitions and led the Red Devils to success in the League Cup and Europa League.
However, his season was cut short in April after sustaining serious ligament damage to his right knee, an injury that threatened to end his career. He decided not to accept wages while he recuperated and United released him at the end of the season, only to re-sign him in August on a one-year deal.
He made seven more appearances for United and added another goal to his tally before leaving to join MLS outfit LA Galaxy in March 2018.
A dramatic debut saw him score twice, including a 45-yard half-volley and a header in stoppage-time to secure a thrilling 4–3 victory. He finished second in the goal-scoring charts with 22 strikes in 27 games last year and already has 11 goals in 12 appearances this campaign.
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