The role of Manchester United captain carries special weight, leading one of the most famous and successful clubs in the history of world football.
It is an honour steeped in tradition and responsibility, especially now at a time when the club is struggling compared to the heights of the 19990s and 2000s.
Here’s a look at every Manchester United captain of the Premier League era, ranked from worst to best…
11. Antonio Valencia (2018 – 2019)
Antonio Valenica was a loyal servant of 10 years at United and was an important player for most of that time. Even in his penultimate season when he was vice-captain, wearing the armband more often than not, he still contributed greatly.
However, the sole season for which the Ecuadorian was actually club captain was his worst by far. He hardly played because of injury and fitness trouble and because he usually led by example instead of talking, he didn’t appear the type to be a particularly vocal off-field leader.
10. Ashley Young (2019 – 2020)
It wasn’t Ashley Young’s fault that he stayed at United far longer than he should have. He worked hard and gave his all, which ultimately kidded the hierarchy that recruiting new full-backs wasn’t a priority as here was a former winger who seemed to be doing a passable job.
Quality, not application, was Young’s issue. He was never really good enough, although he was a senior player in the dressing room that others looked up to in his final years. In the end, he was officially club captain for just a few months before joining Inter in January 2020.
9. Michael Carrick (2017 – 2018)
Michael Carrick will be remembered as a United legend, although his season-long stint as club captain amounted to only a handful of games as he spent most of his final year at Old Trafford on the sidelines nursing a worrisome heart condition.
But even though he couldn’t play a role on the pitch, Carrick was not a completely spare part as captain. He was already being groomed to join the coaching staff and retained his position as a leader in the dressing room and mentor to young players.
8. Harry Maguire (2020 – present)
Harry Maguire is United’s latest captain and is only six months into the job, half of which time has been spent in isolation with players only recently allowed to train as normal. That will have made it tough on the new skipper, but his leadership skills have arguably thrived in other ways.
Maguire was one of the first phone calls Liverpool counterpart Jordan Henderson made when setting up the #PlayersTogether initiative, while he was already reported as having asked his United teammates to donate to local hospitals in the early stages of the crisis.
7. Wayne Rooney (2014 – 2017)
Wayne Rooney probably inherited the United captaincy at the worst time in the last 30 years. The club had just finished seventh the season before and the squad needed to be rebuilt, while Rooney himself was past his peak and beginning to struggle.
Seniority was likely what led him being handed the armband in the first place, but the former teenage sensation still lifted three major trophies as United skipper and also went on to break Bobby Charlton’s all-time goal record ahead of his departure in 2017.
6. Bryan Robson (1983 – 1994)
Bryan Robson’s best years as United captain were obviously long before the Premier League era but he was still around in those early years to jointly lift the first two trophies. By then, however, his playing time was way down on what had been at his peak as he eyed a switch to coaching.
As skipper for 11 of his 13 seasons at Old Trafford, Robson remains the longest-serving captain in the club’s illustrious history. He left Old Trafford in 1994 to become player-manager at Middlesbrough back in his native north east.
5. Nemanja Vidic (2010 – 2014)
Soon after making Nemanja Vidic only United’s second ever non-British or Irish captain in late 2010, Sir Alex Ferguson remarked that he thought defenders ‘make better captains’, with the Serbian international arguably the best in the world at that time.
Despite quality attacking players, much of United’s success in those years was built on solid defensive foundation and Vidic went on to lift a record breaking 19th English league title in 2011. He cruelly missed a lot of games over the next few years because of injury.
4. Gary Neville (2005 – 2010)
Gary Neville was probably the obvious choice when the United captaincy suddenly became available in November 2005. He had already worn the armband in the past and was by then a senior player who had been a passionate fan of the club since the late 1970s.
United blitzed the Premier League in Neville’s first full season as captain in 2006/07 and he was named in the PFA Team of the Year for the fifth time in his career. Injury cost him most of the next season and he eventually gave up his role a few months before retiring.
3. Eric Cantona (1996 – 1997)
Eric Cantona was only United club captain for a single season in 1996/97, his final year as a professional before a shock early retirement. But it was a crucial campaign in which he continued to mentor emerging home-grown talents that were part of the club’s success for another 15 years.
Cantona was United’s star man and game changer when he first arrived from Leeds in 1992. And while that remained true to a degree right the way through his five years at Old Trafford, the captaincy brought out a different side to him that is an equally important part of his legacy.
2. Steve Bruce (1994 – 1996)
Steve Bruce was already United’s usual on-field captain by the time he was officially made skipper in 1994 and had been a leading figure in the club’s early Premier League dominance, lifting those first trophies jointly with predecessor Bryan Robson.
Bruce was a leader on and off the field and injuries during the 1991/92 season – a year before the Premier League – arguably cost United the title 12 months sooner. He remained integral into his final year in 1995/96, which saw another Premier League triumph and the birth of a new team.
1. Roy Keane (1997 – 2005)
No United captain lifted more trophies than Roy Keane, who laid his hands on five Premier Leagues, two FA Cups and the Champions League during eight years as skipper. He actually missed most of his first season with the armband because of a serious knee injury.
Keane is famously demanded the very best from his teammates at all times and they could expect the same back from him. His single most famous performance was against Juventus in 1999 when he drove United to an iconic comeback win, despite knowing he was suspended for the final next.