The decade long ‘right-winger problem’ at Manchester United

(Photo by Alex Gottschalk/DeFodi Images via Getty Images)
(Photo by Alex Gottschalk/DeFodi Images via Getty Images) /

Ever since the departure of Ronaldo back in 2009, Manchester United have struggled heavily on the right flank. Why is this? And who can be the saviour?

Over the years, the wings have always been a prominent position in the way Manchester United attack. On the right-hand side, United fans have been treated to some extraordinary players over the years including George Best, deemed as the best in the world at that time by Brazilian icon Pele, the master of set pieces David Beckham and of course the GOAT Cristiano Ronaldo.

In 2009, a year after winning his first Ballon D’or and Champions League, Cristiano Ronaldo joined Real Madrid for a then record £80 million in what was a very busy transfer window for Real.They also brought in Karim Benzema and 2007 Ballon D’or winner Kaka.

The No.7’s departure left Manchester United with a huge position to fill. Ronaldo could play on both flanks but primarily worked his magic from the right. The first to step up to the plate in his absence was the Ecuadorian, Antonio Valencia. He joined the club from Premier League strugglers Wigan Athletic that summer.

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Valencia scored 5 and assisted 7 in the league, which was not bad for his first season at a new team, but still a bit underwhelming compared to Ronaldo who got 18 and assisted 6 in his final season at the club. While United fans were happy to give Valencia a chance it was obvious that the right wing position had taken a hit at United.

However the board and Sir Alex had faith in the Ecuadorian and he continued to control the right wing position at United for the next few seasons. United signed prospect Wilfred Zaha in 2012 but re-loaned him to Crystal Palace and they also had youngster Jesse Lingard in the ranks who had struggled with injuries but shown promise during loan spells. The position still needed bolstering.

After the retirement of Sir Alex in 2013, David Moyes took over and had massive shoes to fill. Only one signing was made that summer, this being Marouane Fellaini from Everton for £27 million. United struggled heavily that season, a left winger came through the ranks, this being Belgian Adnan Januzaj. He burst onto the scene with a brace at Sunderland, but his form quickly dropped off and he ended up joining Sunderland. The next solution the right-winger problem was Chelsea star Juan Mata, the Spaniard joined for £38 million and was one of the hottest no. 10s in the league. He was one of the few bright sparks in a season that saw United go from Champions to seventh.

Louis Van Gaal took over and one of his first actions was signing Real Madrid star Angel Di Maria. He was one of the best right wingers in the world at the time. He was also suited to midfield or the left. Unfortunately, a falling out with the manager and a bad attitude meant that the Argentine left just a year after signing. Once again United were short of a natural winger. Mata was occupying the right, but he didn’t have the attributes associated with a ‘Man United winger’. United went on to abandon the right wing and focus on the left. Signing Memphis Depay and Anthony Martial. Depay had similar issues that Di Maria had and left after just 18 months at the club.

One positive that came out of this two year spell of unsuccessful wingers was Jesse Lingard. An attacking midfielder who could also play on the right. He was similar to Mata though. Preferring the middle to the right and not looking natural out there. Which was also the case for £25 million signing Henrikh Mkhitaryan.

Despite this, United still didn’t sign a purely right sided player. Instead opting to swap Mkhi for Arsenal star Alexis Sanchez. A very exciting left-winger who unfortunately didn’t take to life at United, scoring just one league goal in his first full season.

This takes us to the start of the current season. United signed yet another left-winger in Daniel James, he has played a lot of games on the right and is developing his game, but its clear he isn’t a natural right-winger. This problem has been going on at United for a decade, the lack of a natural right sided player has seen United become so one dimensional. Teams just double up on the left hand side which is why a right winger should be a priority this summer.

This is why United fans are screaming for the club to splash the cash on Dortmund starlet Jadon Sancho. He is easily the best young right-winger in world football and has declared that he wants a return to England if he is to move. He is a quick, skilful, direct winger who bags goals and assists for fun. He is the epitome of a ‘United winger’ and having him on the right hand side with Rashford on the left and Martial through the middle. United could be scary. This is without mentioning the creativity of Bruno and Pogba behind them and the youth brilliance of Mason Greenwood who will continue to improve. United have a very bright future if they are able to pull off the signing of Sancho and fix the decade long ‘right-winger problem’ since Cristiano Ronaldo left.

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Can Jadon Sancho ‘solve’ the ‘right winger problem’ at Man United?