Old Trafford has seen a fair share of wasted talent.

10 footballers whose careers dipped after joining Manchester United

Manchester United is often called the Mecca of the football world. Countless footballers and fans dream of turning out in the famous red shirt on the turf of Old Trafford. And they should.


Manchester United fans are known to show immense love and respect towards the players that ply their trades for the club. Plus, wages are never a problem when it comes to playing for the most famous and supported club in the whole world.


Old Trafford is always a celebrated place on weekends and Champions League nights. It is hard to believe that United supporters didn't dwindle in number even after the club has stooped low since Sir Alex Ferguson called it a day.


Playing for the Red Devils does give footballers a chance to have a fairytale career etched in football folklore. With its illustrious history, the place has seen many great footballers grace the Theatre of Dreams.


That said, there have been players who could never fulfil their potential and desires while playing with the famous red shirt. The pressure at Manchester United is tough to handle. While some can do it, some others fail to be up to the mark.


Some players, however, are never granted enough time to prove themselves. Although United has a stellar reputation for developing world-class players, the club also has its fair share of wasted talent.


Let's have a look at 10 such individuals who failed to make the grade at Old Trafford.



#10 Massimo Taibi

Massimo Taibi made only four appearances for Manchester United.

Many of us make mistakes in our lives, and nothing's different with footballers. But, some are punished more than they should be. That's what happened with Italian shot-stopper Massimo Taibi.

Sir Alex Ferguson signed Taibi on his brother and chief scout Martin Ferguson's recommendation. Peter Schmeichel had left for Sporting Lisbon, and Taibi was brought in to fill the Great Dane's boots. Although a hard task to fulfil, the Italian did prove worthy of the responsibility in his first two games.

Taibi debuted against Liverpool and announced himself as a man of the match performance in a 3-2 win. Although he did commit a blunder at first, the Italian made up for his mistake by pulling out excellent saves after United were reduced to ten men. His home debut was also marked with a man of the match performance against Wimbledon.

But, fate had a nightmare in store for Taibi when he faced Southampton. The Reds were already 2-1 up when Matthew Le Tissier guided a ball at Taibi from 25 yards. While everyone expected a save, the Italian saw the ball slip through his legs and go beyond the goal line.


A furious Sir Alex Ferguson never allowed Taibi to pull on the United jersey again, as his career at Old Trafford ended in merely 22 days.

Considering that Sir Alex gave David de Gea many chances after his debut blunder versus Manchester City, Taibi fell an unlucky prey to the Scottish gaffer's wrath. Had the Italian been given a chance, who knows? He might have walked into United's hall of fame with Schmeichel.

#9 Paddy McNair

Paddy McNair was consistently played out of position by Louis Van Gaal.

Louis Van Gaal's notoriety for playing footballers out of position is well noted in the soccer world. Although he did change Schweinsteiger into a successful defensive midfielder, he made a host of blunders with other players.

Angel Di Maria cited being played out of position as one of the primary reasons for his early exit from Old Trafford. Paddy McNair belongs to that list as well.

McNair broke through the United youth ranks and was expected to make it big under the Dutch boss. The 21-year-old was a midfielder but filled in at the back for Van Gaal. Despite the Irishman's inexperience, United won all the four matches with him in the starting XI. McNair made only four appearances in his first season.

Mourinho's arrival signalled a loan for McNair. But, the Irishman was adamant on a permanent move and left for Sunderland with only 24 appearances in two years with United.


The lack of chances and being played out o position saw United missing out on one of their brightest prospects. With the quality McNair possesses, he certainly deserves a better club than Sunderland.

#8 Wilfried Zaha

Wilfried Zaha was never given a chance to prove himself at United.

Wilfried Zaha had already lit up the second tier of English football with his fiery performances for Crystal Palace. With his extravagant skills and demonic speed, the English wide man already had a host of Premier League clubs lining up for his signature. But, Zaha opted to go to Manchester United in a £10 million deal.

But, the gaffer's retirement in the following year changed the fate for Zaha at the Theatre of Dreams. Being touted as the next Cristiano Ronaldo to glide down the wings, the winger wasn't in the good books of David Moyes or Louis Van Gaal.

While Adnan Januzaj flourished under Moyes, Zaha seemed to be a far better talent than his Belgian counterpart. But, he was loaned out three times, before departing the club permanently in 2015 to rejoin Crystal Palace.

Zaha showed immense potential, but the lack of guidance and patience from Moyes and Van Gaal saw his growth being stunted.


#7 Federico Macheda

Kiko Macheda was a player with immense potential.

Surely everyone remembers this youngster signed from Lazio as a sixteen-year-old. Federico Macheda made a dream debut at Old Trafford after scoring the winning goal in the dying minutes of a comeback thriller versus Aston Villa.

As a young footballer, every player needs stability and time to learn things. That wasn't so with Kiko Macheda, who was sent out for six loans in his time as a United player.

The Italian got chances only to impress in pre-season tours and a handful of games in the League Cup and Premier League. Though Macheda showed excellent fighting spirit, he couldn't carve out a way with Rooney and Ronaldo at the height of their powers.

He wasn't granted a fair chance even after Tevez and Ronaldo's departures. Changing philosophies at different clubs found his progress being hampered throughout his formative years.

Macheda left United for Cardiff City in 2014. And now the once-promising forward lies forgotten, trying to resurrect his career at Panathinaikos. From 2008 to 2014, Macheda scored just four goals in 19 appearances for the Red Devils.


#6 Adnan Januzaj

Januzaj was the silver lining during the dark times at Old Trafford.

Adnan Januzaj is remembered as the faint glimmer of hope in tedious times at Old Trafford. The youngster burst onto the scene under David Moyes, producing eye-catching performances in a mediocre Manchester United team.

Januzaj dazzled in his first full game for United, scoring a brace as the Red Devils beat Sunderland 2-1. The Belgian winger was already touted as the next Cristiano Ronaldo, with his birthdate coincidentally being the same as the Portuguese superstar.

He had a promising debut season with Moyes in the hot seat. But, his decline started as Louis Van Gaal arrived at Old Trafford

Under the Dutch boss, Januzaj struggled for game time and consistency. The arrival of Argentine heavyweight Angel Di Maria can be considered as a cause for the Belgian's unexpected downfall. Januzaj was another youngster who was pressurised too much at a very young age, and the winger found it hard to live with.


Van Gaal loaned him out for a season to German outfit Borussia Dortmund for experience and regular game time under his belt.Although United recalled him after six months, Januzaj again linked up with former boss Moyes at Sunderland for another season-long loan.

As luck would have it, Januzaj suffered an ankle injury and has never been the same since then. Left with very few chances to prove himself at United with Mourinho in-charge, Januzaj joined Real Sociedad in 2017.

Rapid changing of managers saw another gem getting tarnished in United's attempts to reach the top. Januzaj appeared 50 times and scored only five goals in his four-year stint with Manchester United.

#5 Alan Smith

Alan Smith couldn't fill Roy Keane's boots at Manchester United.

Alan Smith was one of those players who wouldn't quit the game even if he got bloodied due to injuries. A hard-working and brave professional, Smith was signed for £7 million from rivals Leeds United.

Traditionally, Smith was a centre-forward whose career nosedived after Ferguson decided to use the Englishman as a replacement for captain Roy Keane.

Smith had a horrible time after being played out of position, with Rooney and Van Nistelrooy already occupying the United front line. The forward found it a tedious job to fill Keane's boots as United weakened considerably in midfield.

With Van Nistelrooy's departure to Real Madrid, Sir Alex brought Smith back to the front line. But, the damage had already been done.

Smith would never prosper as per expectations, netting only seven times in 61 matches for the Red Devils in three years. He proved to be another excellent example of how a change of position can destroy a player's career.


#4 Shinji Kagawa

Shinji Kagawa is the first Asian to score a hat-trick in the Premier League.

Japanese playmaker Shinji Kagawa is the first and only Asian to score a hat-trick in the Premier League. However, a move to United still beaconed a tough time for the talented midfielder.

A £12 million signing from Borussia Dortmund in summer 2012, Kagawa did not fail to make an impact at Old Trafford with the chances that were awarded to him. Several other reasons, though, proved to be pivotal in his downfall at the club.

The first and foremost was Ferguson's decision to sign Dutchman Robin van Persie. That automatically shifted Rooney to a deeper attacking midfield role behind the former Arsenal hitman.

Rooney's change of position saw Kagawa being played on the wings, where he was not as influential as expected. Yet, the Japanese midfielder continued to do all he could for the team.

In Moyes' stewardship, the Kagawa fell behind new signing Juan Mata in the pecking order, as he claimed later that the Scottish manager did not trust him. Due to the aforementioned reasons, Kagawa rejoined Borussia Dortmund in 2014, where he played for another five years before joining Real Zaragoza in 2019.


#3 Jordi Cruyff

Jordi Cruyff

Being the son of the legendary Johan Cruyff, Jordi knew he had a tough task to prove himself equal to his father. In his formative years, the Dutchman proved that he was capable of being a world-class player himself and fulfilling his father's legacy.

Ferguson signed Cruyff in a £1.4 million deal following Euro 1996, as he arrived at a time when the Class of 92 were dominating the United line-up.

Initially, he proved to be worth the money after establishing himself as a regular starter by November that year. However, recurring injuries kept him out of the team for a considerable period.

Injuries marred Cruyff's four-year spell at United. Additionally, the attacking midfielder struggled to get the better of David Beckham and Ryan Giggs, who were hitting their peaks at the time.

This saw the Dutchman's chances being minimal. Cruyff made only 57 appearances and scored just eight goals for Manchester United between 1996 and 2000.


#2 Javier Hernandez

Hernandez established himself as an instant fan-favourite at Old Trafford.

Many of you would argue why Chicharito has made it to this list. But he has to be here considering the way Manchester United treated him.

Little Pea made an excellent start to his Manchester United career, after scoring the second in United's 3-1 win over Chelsea in the Community Shield fixture. The Mexican was an essential part of the United squad that ended as runners-up in Champions League 2011.

However, looking at Chicharito's appearance graph, it is clear that he was never allowed to be a regular starter after Van Persie's arrival to the club. Yet, he proved to be a game-changing substitute many times for Manchester United.

His finest performance was the hat-trick versus Aston Villa when he came on to score three goals in a 3-2 comeback thriller. He was touted as the next Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, who was also famous as super-sub at Old Trafford. However, it was such a tag that proved to be influential in Chicharito's departure.


Despite his excellent performances, the Mexican forward found himself behind Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie in the pecking order. To add to his woes, Dutch boss Louis Van Gaal loaned him out to Real Madrid, which didn't prove to be fruitful.

Troubled with a lack of chances, Little Pea left Old Trafford to join Bayer Leverkusen in 2015. Chicharito now plays for a Sevilla in the Spanish top-flight and has also represented Bayer Leverkusen and West Ham since leaving Manchester United five years ago.

#1 Bastian Schweinsteiger

Bastian Schweinsteiger is the first German to play for Manchester United.

Even today, the name 'Bastian Schweinsteiger' is respected in every nook and corner at Old Trafford. Der Kommander arrived from Bayern Munich in July 2015 as a £6.5 million signing by Louis Van Gaal.

United fans had already seen Schweini playing at Old Trafford, and there was no doubt he was a player of the highest echelon in world football. To top the pile, he was to work with former coach Van Gaal which signalled an end to United's midfield problems. A pity it didn't turn out as expected.

In his first season at United, Schweini missed the entire second half of the campaign due to injury. By the time Van Gaal left, Mourinho's arrival had proved to be the final straw in the German's tragic departure to the MLS. Even in times when Fellaini was terrible, Mourinho opted against playing Schweinsteiger in his place.

Mourinho's stubbornness saw the German legend playing with the reserves. Schweinsteiger eventually left Old Trafford for Chicago fire in America. If it was for a second chance, Basti could as well have established himself as a Manchester United legend.

The German appeared only 18 times in over two seasons at the Theatre of Dreams.

Edited by
Aakanksh Sanketh
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