Ryan Giggs, Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic have all played their last game in Manchester United shirt.
Between them they made 1,718 appearances for the club and addressing the vaccuum created by their departure will be one of Louis van Gaal’s most pressing concerns.
United’s midfield may have dominated the transfer gossip thusfar this summer but defensive recruitment is a priority but in Ferdinand and Vidic, it was not just defensive cover United have lost but also experience and leadership. Giggs has transferred his presence from the pitch to the dugout but with the loss of the three most senior players at the club there is now a vaccuum of on-pitch authority.
There remains a strong possibility of promotion from within. Jonny Evans, touted by Fergie as the long-term future of United’s defensive core, now has the opportunity to cement himself as a successor. Considering he is likely to face stiff competition from any new signings, it will be his defining season as a United player.
Phil Jones, criticised by Roy Keane this month for a lack of toughness, and Chris Smalling could also be forgiven for casting nervous glances at the transfer gossip pages. Whilst generally solid defenders, they are little more than that at this moment and despite Van Gaal’s well-documented commitment to youth, it’s unknown if their relative inexperience will see them fully trusted by the Dutchman.
In Vidic and Ferdinand at least, United have also lost two dominant figures in the dressing room. Will Louis van Gaal be prepared to place his trust in Wayne Rooney with the striker’s questionable history of loyalty? Will Darren Fletcher, perhaps more of a quiet, Giggs-type leader rather than a Ferdinand-type, be playing enough to be an effective presence?
The answer right now is probably not, so the burden of leadership appears likely to fall on Robin van Persie. The striker’s close personal relationship with Van Gaal has him as the frontrunner for captain ahead of Rooney, who threw his lot in yesterday whilst insisting he wouldn’t mind if his strike partner was given the armband. Whoever gets the nod will have big shoes to fill in place of dignified assuredness that Vidic provided.
Replacing Ryan Giggs on the field may not be quite so complex, considering how sparingly he was used in his final season. He was part of a midfield that will be overhauled both centrally and on the wing with Antonio Valencia, Nani and Ashley Young all producing sub par seasons.
Nevertheless, in Giggs United have lost something of a comfort blanket, a reassuring presence that was demonstrated so beautfully in that extraordinary performance against Olympacios at Old Trafford in March.
The reality is that in Vidic, Ferdinand and Giggs the club are now a little light on heart, even if the powers of all three began to wane in the later years. The pressure now sits on the shoulders of Ed Woodward to perform the surgery and on United’s remaining contingent to prove they belong.
Out of the ashes of the Moyes era will emerge a new United and potentially one that may be difficult to recognise. With the summer barely started, there is plenty of time for more names to be linked with the rebuilding process and the only certainty is that come August – we may be looking at a side with an entirely new personality.