The big problem that Manchester United must solve ASAP

Laura Hamill

When it comes to football clubs, it’s a well-known trait that they have somewhat of a hierarchy in terms of shirt numbers. There is an air of expectation around a number, depending on who has worn it previously. I don’t need to tell you the importance of the number seven at Manchester United; but is this once-famous shirt now doomed?

Considering the last few players who donned the number worn by the best of the best – as in Ballon d’Or winners Cristiano Ronaldo and George Best, and of course the King Eric Cantona – it isn’t looking good at Old Trafford.

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Antonio Valencia had a stab at the number seven shirt back in 2012 after Michael Owen (yes, really) left, but this was very much short lived. The big number did not inspire and after just a season in single digits, the Ecuadorean gave up the privilege to return to number 25. All is not lost though, as Valencia has been rejuvenated since been under the watchful eye of Jose Mourinho. The winger-cum-fullback may be in the form of his life at the minute; but this is a far cry from the player he was at #7.

What about Galactico, Angel Di Maria? One of the key players at Real Madrid, in particular he ran the show at the all-important ‘La Decima’ (2014 Champions League final), would take on the prestigious number seven and you couldn’t think of a better fit for the job. Only, Di Maria did not fit whatsoever. El Fideo’s time at United was hardly glittering. He had that goal against Leicester, just in case anyone forgot. But all in all, the general consensus was the man who does not want to play will not play and Ashley Young was chosen ahead of the big name signing from Real. Unsurprisingly, Di Maria soon left for the dizzying heights of Paris St-Germain and has been dubbed a ‘snake’ ever since.

And now to present day – Dutchman Memphis Depay. Where do you even begin? When signed by Louis van Gaal, United fans jumped straight onto good old YouTube to see what all the fuss is about. Eyes flickered when the free kick compilations paired with a dubstep backing track appeared, but his Eredivisie form hasn’t quite been replicated in a red shirt. Can we entirely blame the player? Of course not.

The chances are not there for him, and how much can he truly show when he’s given about seven minutes to do his best? It’s no wonder whispers of a move in January have been circulating – with Everton believed to be Depay’s next destination. As he’s only 22 years old, Memphis does have to think long and hard about his best options. Playing for Manchester United is a dream (according to every PR agency who are employed by any footballer ever) but is it viable in the long run?

One player can wear a number and make it an iconic blueprint for those who follow in order to inspire the next generation. This has been the case at Manchester United but it now begs the question – is the pressure too much? Seemingly, if recent attempts are anything to go by. The number 9 and 11 had their issues in recent seasons too, though. Berbatov’s successor was Radamel Falcao – which seems ridiculous – but Falcao just couldn’t produce the goods in a shirt wore by the likes of Andy Cole and the Berbagod himself.

Anthony Martial dipped his toe in the sea of number nine-hood, but how it sits snugly on one of the best forwards in the world: Zlatan Ibrahimovic. But the number seven, the epitome of Manchester United’s numbers, isn’t even rotting on the bench – he’s a nobody at present. Unless Depay gets more opportunities, and can produce something magical, the number seven is quickly becoming a shadow of what it once represented.

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