There is one such characteristic of Sir Alex Ferguson that stood out during his tenure at Manchester United — leadership. The team always had leaders and not just a leader. Eric Cantona, Roy Keane, Japp Stam, Denis Irwin, Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic and the list goes on. Under David Moyes, the club missed a leader. A Keane or a Cantona. The situation was no different under Loius van Gaal.
Since Ferguson retired in 2013, United are yet to win a Premier League title. However, there is a feel-good factor among the fans after the arrival of Jose Mourinho — a proven leader. He won two trophies in his first year as the United boss but is yet to fill the left-back void left by Irwin and Patrice Evra. The club managed to snatch Luke Shaw from Southampton in 2014 but somehow persistent injuries have derailed his progress. Ashley Young, Marcos Rojo, Alexander Buttner and Matteo Darmian tried their luck but they don't look like Mourinho's cup of tea.
However, the post-Ferguson era — bereft of leaders — have enjoyed the return of Paul Pogba from Juventus. The Frenchman took no time to prove his worth with his command over the midfield and industry, something United have missed since Scholes' departure. Speaking to Firstpost, the Manchester United Ambassador and former defender Irwin said that he was convinced with Pogba's attitude as he possesses all the qualities to lead from the front with Mourinho.
Excerpts from the interview:
Do you think Manchester United have recovered well following Nemanja Vidic, Rio Ferdinand and Patrice Evra's move from the club?
Irwin: Losing three experienced players of their ability is always going to be a loss to any team, not only on the pitch but also in the dressing room. But that is football, players move on or their game comes to an end. I think it was only Patrice who actually went on to play. Vidic has unfortunately had some injuries and Rio didn’t play that much after his move. I think the team we have now under Jose has become a lot better and we have improved this season.
Does the current side miss a leader like Vidic, Japp Stam or Laurent Blanc?
Irwin: The game has changed and there aren’t as many leaders as there were in my day. I think Paul Pogba has the potential to be a leader, but there aren’t the same players like the likes of Robson and Keane in teams anymore. If there was to be a leader in this team I think Paul has the potential.
Looking at the fast-paced nature of the Premier League, how important is the role of an attacking full-back?
Irwin: Again it has changed from my day, teams are playing attacking full backs and allowing them to go forward. My game was much more defensive and today it is much more attacking.
Most of the Premier League clubs played with wing-backs last season, how helpful was it?
Irwin: It suits some teams more than others. I always prefer four-four-two but I understand that managers have to play the positions available to them. It’s the current trend to play with wing-backs, I think.
Shaw finally looks fit. How can he cement his place in Mourinho's starting XI, knowing he is still 22?
Irwin: He has been playing well and that’s all he needs to keep doing. Play well and train well. He has competition with Young, Rojo and Blind, but if he keeps working hard and playing the way he is and impressing the manager then he will do well.
Manchester City are miles ahead in the league but there have been patches where they have been vulnerable at the back. Are they beatable?
Irwin: Yes, every team is beatable. They are on tremendous form, there is no doubt about that, but the Premier League is a long old season and you just never know with injuries and fatigue, especially for teams who stay in all competitions. Saying that I do still think they will win this title this season, but in terms of being beatable, any team is.
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Updated Date: Jan 19, 2018 20:16:45 IST