Monday 5 December 2016

Magnificent seven becomes a Manchester United curse

Mark Ogden

Published 28/07/2015 | 02:30

The No 7 energised and inspired Cantona, Beckham and Ronaldo, but Di Maria (pictured) allowed it weigh him down
The No 7 energised and inspired Cantona, Beckham and Ronaldo, but Di Maria (pictured) allowed it weigh him down

Whatever happened to the magnificent seven?

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It is a question that Louis van Gaal will be pondering as he attempts to secure the game-changing galactico who, according to the Manchester United manager, can be the difference between his team competing and winning over the remaining two years of his Old Trafford contract.

Think Thierry Henry, David Silva, Dennis Bergkamp, even Paul Scholes. Every great team in recent seasons have had their magician who can unlock doors when it truly matters.

Yet, speaking in California last Saturday, Van Gaal made the rather blunt, but fair, observation that "Ashley Young is not Neymar" when explaining the need for a stellar addition to his squad.

Van Gaal also bemoaned United's lack of an Eden Hazard or a Sergio Aguero, not to mention the absence of a Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez or, much to the frustration of many in the upper echelons at the club, a Cristiano Ronaldo.

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David Beckham wore number seven for United
David Beckham wore number seven for United

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United, of course, had Ronaldo. They spotted him as a 17-year-old at Sporting Lisbon, tempted him to Manchester, nurtured him and put him on the road to superstardom before allowing Real Madrid to take him away for the princely sum of pounds 80?million in the summer of 2009.

Six years on and United have still not come closing to replacing Ronaldo, despite the lofty ambitions of Van Gaal and the executive vice-chairman, Ed Woodward, to pull off a deal that will rock the football world.

Throughout Old Trafford, there is a sense that 'something big' is being planned and United's determination, perhaps even desperation, to park their tanks on the lawns of their rivals and blow them away has seen even Messi's name whispered around the club.

United have bank vaults full of money, and their cash flow will become a tidal surge on Saturday when the £750m, 10-year kit deal with Adidas officially begins.

But United had serious money last summer and, having invested a British record £59.7m in Angel di Maria, are now having to negotiate a fire-damage rate with Paris St-Germain for the 27-year-old.

Di Maria was supposed to fill the Ronaldo void. He arrived from Real with a big reputation, to be given the iconic No 7 shirt that Ronaldo had worn with distinction during his six years at United.

"I wanted to wear this shirt and do as much for the club as Ronaldo and the others could do," Di Maria said on his arrival at United.

In the brutal language of social media, however, Di Maria and the No 7 shirt has been an epic fail.

Michael Owen, the free transfer who followed Ronaldo in the shirt, also did little to add to its legend.

And, remember, Antonio Valencia became so paranoid about the No 7 shirt bringing bad luck and poor form that he asked David Moyes to restore him to the No 25 shirt that he had worn in his early seasons at the club.

United's No 7 has become a burden, with recent incumbents having disrupted the lineage of Bryan Robson, Eric Cantona, David Beckham and Ronaldo.

Many within the game believe that the United shirt is a 'heavy' one, with every number from 1 to 11 - and beyond in the era of squad numbers - distinguished by a great down the years.

The No 7 energised and inspired Cantona, Beckham and Ronaldo, but Di Maria allowed it weigh him down.

However, there is no escape from a club's history, and Van Gaal must get it right with whichever superstar he eventually brings to Old Trafford to become Manchester United's next magnificent seven. © Daily Telegraph London.

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