Last term, under David Moyes, Manchester United came under criticism for their apparent lack of leadership on the pitch – it was undoubtedly a disappointing season overall and one that lost the Scot his job as manager but the club still have a problem they need to fix under Louis van Gaal.
The two formers who will join the first team at Old Trafford cost a combined £56 million and have an average age of just 21 years and whilst they are quality signings that will undoubtedly become key players for United, the new boss still lacks experience and leaders in his team.
Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie will provide him with quality, experience and leadership in abundance but losing captain Nemanja Vidic, his defensive partner Rio Ferdinand and midfield veteran Ryan Giggs who moves into a coaching role adds to the loss of Paul Scholes, and the likely loss of vice-captain Patrice Evra.
The average age of those four players (excluding Scholes) who were such integral parts of Sir Alex Ferguson’s United is 35 and all four of them have been leaders at Old Trafford over the years.
The likes of Michael Carrick, Darren Fletcher, Rooney and Van Persie are now considered the elders of the squad but Louis van Gaal must bring in players who can replace the leadership qualities of the players that have departed.
Quality is obviously something the club are looking to bring in and in Shaw and Herrera they have that in abundance but neither of those players are leaders at this stage in their careers. Up front Van Persie and Rooney can lead the line but in defence and midfield there must be concerns over the age and experience of the first-team regulars.
Undoubtedly the club will bring more players in but looking at the potential starting XI as it stands today, there is a real lack of experience and leadership:
De Gea – Rafael – Jones – Evans – Shaw – Carrick – Mata – Januzaj – Valencia – Rooney – Van Persie
The average age of that starting XI is just 25 with just one player over 30 in Michael Carrick who may not even be considered a key player under the Dutch coach.
Phil Jones and David De Gea are two of the most talented prospects, along with Shaw, in terms of defence but they are still young and still developing.
Now that Shaw and Herrera have been brought in, the club must look to targets suggested such as Mats Hummels, Arturo Vidal, Thomas Vermaelen, and Angel Di Maria who can bring in top-level experience and who, the case of the first three, can all be considered leaders at their current clubs.
Vermaelen in Arsenal’s captain, Hummels is Germany’s best and most reliable defender, Vidal is Juventus’ talisman and even Di Maria who one wouldn’t think of as an obvious leader is a leader for club and country via his creativity and his ability to take the game the opponent.
Those are the kind of signings Manchester United must look to bring in this summer to counteract the glaring void of strong characters, leaders and fighters in Moyes’ team last term.
Van Gaal is well-known for his preferring to bring through youth in his teams and nurture young players into stars but there must be balance in the team and young players like Shaw and Herrera will look for role-models and senior players for guidance and assurance, especially when the going gets tough.