Manchester United: Ranking the 41 first-team players to leave since 2013 by how well they’ve done

  • Rob Swan

The post-Sir Alex Ferguson era has been a tough six-and-a-half years (and counting) for everybody associated with Manchester United.

It hasn’t been all doom and gloom (United have won the FA Cup and Europa League during that time) but, overall, it’s been more a lot difficult than most would have predicted when Ferguson called time on his illustrious managerial career.

The Red Devils have had four different coaches since the summer of 2013 (David Moyes, Louis van Gaal, Jose Mourinho and now Ole Gunnar Solskjaer) while a host of players have come and gone.

Stability was commonplace at United under Fergie. But things have been anything but stable since the legendary Scottish coach’s departure.

A total of 41 first-team players (discounting those who only made one or two appearances for the club, those who retired immediately, and those who have departed on loan deals) have left Old Trafford since 2013 – but which players have performed the best? Let’s rank them in order…

41. Anderson

Anderson’s career fell off a cliff after he left Man Utd in 2015. He returned to Brazil and joined Internacional, who ended up getting relegated for the first time in their history with the midfielder in their ranks.

He then joined Coritiba on loan and guess what? They were also relegated.

Following a brief spell with Turkish side Adana Demirspor, Anderson retired from football earlier this year aged just 31.

40. James Wilson

United had high hopes for the talented James Wilson a few years back, but injuries have prevented the striker from fulfilling his potential up to now.

The former England Under-21 international, who turns 24 in December, left United for Aberdeen on a permanent contract in the summer of 2019.

Wilson netted four goals in 32 games during a loan spell with the Scottish Premiership side last season but has failed to hit the back of the net in his first six appearances of the current campaign.

39. Ben Amos

Ben Amos made seven appearances for the Red Devils, so he qualifies for this list of former United first-teamer.

The 29-year-old goalkeeper joined Bolton in 2015 but spent time out on loan at Cardiff City, Charlton and Millwall.

Amos joined Charlton on a permanent deal in the summer but is the Championship club’s second-choice ‘keeper behind Dillon Phillips.

38. Alexander Buttner

What’s the difference between Alexander Buttner and Steven Gerrard? Buttner is the proud owner of a Premier League winners’ medal.

Joking aside, the Dutch full-back has since gone on to play for Dynamo Moscow, Anderlecht and Vitesse since leaving Old Trafford in 2014 and now plies his trade with MLS side New England Revolution.

37. Guillermo Varela

Guillermo Varela didn’t look bad on his 11 appearances for United, but that didn’t save the right-back from being offloaded to Uruguayan side Penarol in 2017.

Varela is now back in Europe playing for Danish side FC Copenhagen.

36. Victor Valdes

Valdes only made two appearances for United after a bust-up with Louis van Gaal and ended up signing for Middlesbrough for the final season of his career.

The former Barcelona and Spain shot-stopper was unable to keep Boro in the Premier League and retired shortly afterwards.

35. Anders Lindegaard

After leaving Man Utd’s bench in 2015, Anders Lindegaard went on to sit on the benches of West Brom, Preston North End and Burnley.

The 35-year-old is now playing fairly regularly with Swedish side Helsingborg.

34. Bastian Schweinsteiger

Unfortunately for Man Utd, Bastian Schweinsteiger’s best days were well behind him when he rocked up at Old Trafford in 2015.

The German World Cup winner spent the past few years playing for Chicago Fire, scoring eight goals in 92 games, before announcing his retirement in October.

33. Federico Macheda

Federico Macheda will always be remembered by United fans for scoring *that* goal against Aston Villa back in 2009.

But that moment, which happened on his professional debut, has been his career highlight.

The Italian, who has since played for various clubs including Cardiff and Novara, is now playing for Greek outfit Panathinaikos – and has scored a fairly impressive 15 goals in 36 games at the time of writing.

32. Paddy McNair

Whenever Paddy McNair’s name pops up, it’s hard not to think about Van Gaal’s hilarious 2015 prediction that the Northern Irishman ‘can become Man Utd’s right back for the next 10 years’.

McNair was sold by Jose Mourinho the following year to Sunderland. The 24-year-old defender has been with Middlesbrough since 2018.

31. Fabio

Fabio started for United at right-back in the 2011 Champions League final against Barcelona and appeared to have a big future at ahead of him at that point.

But the Brazilian full-back was offloaded to Cardiff in 2014, before moving on to Middlesbrough two years later.

The 29-year-old has plied his trade with Ligue 1 outfit Nantes since 2018.

30. Matteo Darmian

Matteo Darmian somehow lasted four years at Old Trafford, even though it was clear from reasonably early on that he wasn’t quite good enough for the Premier League giants.

The Italy international joined Parma in the summer.

29. Nemanja Vidic

Nemanja Vidic’s departure in 2014 was a blow for Man Utd, who lost Rio Ferdinand in the same summer, but the Serbian defender was approaching the winter of his career by this point.

Indeed, he only managed to make 28 appearances for Inter Milan, his final club, before his contract was terminated by mutual consent.

28. Bebe

Bebe might be something of a joke figure in English football but his career actually hasn’t been too bad since leaving United in 2014. It turns out that he’s a half-decent footballer.

The Portuguese winger has gone on to play for the likes of Besiktas, Benfica and Eibar, while Rayo Vallecano are his current employers.

27. Antonio Valencia

Antonio Valencia left Old Trafford in the summer with the best wishes of everybody associated with Man Utd following 10 years of great service.

The 34-year-old returned to his native Ecuador to sign for L.D.U Quito.

26. Tyler Blackett

Van Gaal rated Tyler Blackett and played him 12 times during the 2014/15 campaign. The young defender then spent time on loan at Celtic the following season but failed to make a big impact.

Blackett was sold to Reading when Mourinho took over and the former England Under-21 international has since made over 100 appearances for the Royals.

25. Nick Powell

Tipped by some to become the next Paul Scholes, Nick Powell’s Man Utd career failed to take off.

The midfielder left Old Trafford for Wigan permanently in 2016 and went on to score 29 goals in 99 games for the Football League side. He now plays for Stoke City after joining the Potters in the summer.

24. Morgan Schneiderlin

Regarded as one of the best holding midfielders in the Premier League prior to his £25 million move from Southampton to United in 2015, Morgan Schneiderlin’s reputation has taken something of a nose-dive in recent years.

After failing to convince at Old Trafford, the France international signed for Everton in January 2017 – but he has divided opinion among the Goodson Park faithful.

23. Tom Cleverley

Man Utd fans often stick by their players through thick and thin, but they did get on Tom Cleverley’s back during David Moyes’s ill-fated season in charge at Old Trafford.

After being made to feel like a “scapegoat”, in his own words, the England midfielder was moved on to Everton in 2015.

He spent a couple of years with the Toffees before moving on to Watford, with whom he has made 65 appearances.

22. Henrikh Mkhitaryan

It’s been a rough few years for Henrikh Mkhitaryan, who was so good at Borussia Dortmund prior to his £27 million move to England.

The Armenian winger wasn’t a disaster at Old Trafford but he was underwhelming, scoring 13 goals in 63 games.

He flattered to deceive on an increasingly regular basis at Arsenal after joining the north London outfit as part of the Alexis Sanchez deal in 2017 and is now hoping to rediscover his form and confidence while on loan at AS Roma.

21. Adnan Januzaj

Oh, Adnan. Man Utd fans had such high hopes for you.

When Januzaj was handed Ryan Giggs’ famous No. 11 shirt following a brilliant debut campaign at Old Trafford, the Belgian winger appeared to be on the verge of becoming a genuine star.

But he struggled under Van Gaal and then failed to impress during loan spells at Borussia Dortmund and Sunderland, which led to his eventual sale to Real Sociedad in 2017.

Januzaj, now 24, has done quite well with the Spanish club, but it’s now clear that the massive hype surrounding him earlier in his career was misplaced.

20. Darren Fletcher

Darren Fletcher deserves immense credit for salvaging his career after missing so much football between 2011 and 2013 as he battled with ulcerative colitis.

The Scot came back to play another 30 games for United before moving on to West Brom in February 2015. He played 97 times for the Baggies, scoring six goals, and then joined Stoke City, where he played a further 42 games.

A model professional who will always be welcomed back to Old Trafford with open arms.

19. Rafael

Man Utd fans loved – and still love – Rafael da Silva.

The Brazilian right-back always gave 100 per cent for the Red Devils, but his United career was ended by Van Gaal, who shipped the defender off to Lyon in 2015.

Rafael has made 116 appearances for the French side but still delights United fans from time to time with his social media activity.

18. Danny Welbeck

The vast majority of fans were bitterly disappointed to see local lad Danny Welbeck leave Old Trafford for Arsenal in 2014.

But fast-forward five years and it’s fair to say that Van Gaal made the right decision.

Injuries have sadly prevented Welbeck from fulfilling his potential and the England international has only played 208 minutes of Premier League football for Watford since joining the club in the summer.

17. Marouane Fellaini

Marouane Fellaini wasn’t popular among the Old Trafford faithful purely because of his playing style.

Many fans were pleased to see the back of the Belgian midfielder when he joined Chinese side Shandong Luneng earlier this year, despite the fact he scored 22 goals in 177 games for United.

The 31-year-old has netted 12 goals in 31 matches for his current employers and seems to be enjoying his time in China.

16. Shinji Kagawa

United fans liked Shinji Kagawa, but the Japanese playmaker failed to make the most of his opportunities while playing in the famous red shirt.

He returned to Borussia Dortmund in August 2014 and went on to score 31 goals in 145 games during his second spell at the Westfalenstadion.

As his performance levels dipped, Kagawa was loaned to Besiktas last season before joining Spanish second division side Real Zaragoza in the summer.

15. Ander Herrera

It’s still early days for Ander Herrera at Paris Saint-Germain, but the mere fact he earned a move to one of Europe’s best clubs means he deserves to be ranked in the top half of this list.

Instead of playing alongside Jesse Lingard, he’s now playing with Neymar.

But can the Spaniard establish himself as a first-team regular at the Parc des Princes?

14. Nani

In hindsight, Nani was a quality player for United and under-appreciated and many.

The Portuguese star left Old Trafford for Fenerbahce in 2015, before moving on to Valencia and Sporting CP. The 32-year-old joined Orlando City earlier this year and has scored 12 goals in 33 games.

He also played a starring role in Portugal’s Euro 2016 triumph.

13. Javier Hernandez

Van Gaal didn’t fancy Chicharito one bit (we all remember his deathly stare to Ryan Giggs after the Mexican missed a penalty against Club Brugge) and subsequently sold him to Bayer Leverkusen in 2015.

Hernandez scored 39 goals in 76 games for the German club before returning to the Premier League in 2017, joining West Ham in a £16 million deal.

In truth, the live-wire striker was disappointing during his second spell in England, netting 17 goals in 63 games.

The 31-year-old is now trying to rediscover his best form with Sevilla, who sit fourth in La Liga.

12. Robin van Persie

After falling out with Van Gaal, Van Persie was unceremoniously moved on to Fenerbahce in 2015. The Dutch striker, who played a huge role in United’s 2012/13 league title triumph, spent the next two seasons with the Turkish club, netting 36 goals.

He then made a hero’s return to Feyenoord, where he banged in 25 goals in 45 games before hanging up his boots and becoming a pundit for BT Sport earlier this year.

11. Jonny Evans

Did Man Utd make a mistake allowing Jonny Evans to join West Brom in 2015?

The Northern Irish centre-back is now playing for a very impressive Leicester City side and, at this rate, will be playing Champions League football again next season.

10. Memphis Depay

For whatever reason – and the player himself has to shoulder most of the blame – things didn’t work out for Memphis Depay at Old Trafford.

United’s former No. 7 has impressed since leaving Manchester, however, scoring 50 goals in 130 games for Lyon.

It wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Dutch forward join another top club in the near future.

9. Radamel Falcao

Radamel Falcao appeared to be finished following his disastrous loan spells at Man Utd and Chelsea, but the Colombian centre-forward somehow managed to turn things around for himself at AS Monaco.

He scored a hugely impressive 70 goals in just 118 games during his final three seasons with the Ligue 1 side, before moving on to Galatasaray in the summer.

8. Daley Blind

Most United fans loved the versatile Daley Blind, whose four-year spell with the club came to an end in 2018.

He returned to Ajax and enjoyed a magnificent first season back with the Eredivisie side, winning the league and the KNVB Cup. He even scored a hat-trick in December 2018 against De Graafschap – from central defence!

7. Michael Keane

Fair play to Michael Keane. He’s improved himself as a player since leaving Old Trafford.

After impressing over the course of three seasons at Burnley, the England international sealed a big-money move to Everton in 2017.

The 26-year-old has made 82 appearances at Goodison Park, where so many ex-United players seem to end up.

6. Wilfried Zaha

Fergie’s last ever signing, Wilfried Zaha was never given a fair crack of the whip by Moyes.

Van Gaal also wasn’t convinced and allowed the Ivorian winger to return to Crystal Palace in August 2014.

Zaha has since scored 35 goals in 193 games, establishing his status as one of the league’s best wingers in the process.

5. Romelu Lukaku

Romelu Lukaku has only been at Inter Milan for a few months but the Belgian has made a huge impact already, scoring nine goals in his first 15 appearances.

He wasn’t everybody’s cup of tea, but Solskjaer’s decision to sell him without replacing him now looks even more foolish.

4. Wayne Rooney

Wayne Rooney will always be a hero in the eyes of the Man Utd supporters.

The club’s all-time leading goalscorer made an emotional return to Everton in 2017, where he scored 11 goals in 40 games before taking MLS by storm with DC United.

Some of the things Rooney did over in America were out of this world.

The 34-year-old is now set to embark on the next stage of his career, working as a player-coach at Derby County.

3. Patrice Evra

Patrice Evra was 33 when he signed for Juventus in 2014 and deserves huge credit for the way he quickly adjusting to life at Italy’s biggest (and most demanding) club.

He played 82 games for the Old Lady, winning two Serie A titles and two Coppas Italia.

The latter years of his career weren’t quite as good – Marseille terminated his contract following an altercation with a fan, while the less said about his West Ham spell the better – but take nothing away from what he achieved at Juve.

2. Angel Di Maria

If Van Gaal wasn’t the man in charge of United, perhaps Angel Di Maria would have performed better at Old Trafford.

The Argentine has played some of the best football of his entire career at PSG, scoring 77 goals in 198 games in the process.

United fans dislike the South American because of his poor performances and the way he left the club, but what they’d give to have a player of his quality at Old Trafford right now.

1. Zlatan Ibrahimovic

The vast majority of footballers Zlatan’s age would have retired after suffering the same knee ligament injury that he did in April 2017. But the Swedish superstar is no ordinary footballer.

Ibra, who turned 38 last month, went on to conquer MLS, scoring a ridiculous 53 goals in 58 matches for LA Galaxy, including a couple of Puskas award contenders.

The veteran forward is now set to continue his playing career elsewhere, although his next destination is unknown.

AC Milan are currently the favourites to re-sign this extraordinary player.

Sign him up, Ole!

So, what does this list tell us?

Well, it’s often said that there’s only one way your career can go after leaving Old Trafford and that’s down – and for the majority of players on this list, that’s certainly been the case.

But there have been exceptions.

The likes of Zlatan, Di Maria and Zaha have all gone on to enhance their status after leaving the Red Devils.

And no doubt, given the choice, United fans would happily take some of these players back right now.

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