Gradually, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is getting kinder reviews for his management of Manchester United, with most praising his handling of Marcus Rashford and other promising youngsters.
But what about the players he deemed unworthy of his Old Trafford project? Here, theScore picks through the list of departees since Solskjaer took charge in December 2018 to check how they’ve fared.
Matteo Darmian (Parma)
Unspectacular, just as you’d expect.
Parma’s return to Italy’s top flight in 2018 sparked a wave of nostalgia for the club’s heady days from the early 1990s to the start of this century, but they soon became part of the Serie A furniture. This season, the club has been defensively sound and, for the most part, quite forgettable.
Darmian almost perfectly represents this latest version of Parma. He’s logged the fourth-most league minutes of any outfield player at the club in the 2019-20 campaign, barely contributing in an attacking sense but completing more tackles than any of his teammates. He’s a solid, competent right-back for a team chasing nothing more than a mid-table finish.
Marouane Fellaini (Shandong Luneng)
Fellaini was in fine form at the start of 2020, scoring all of Shandong Luneng’s goals in their four warmup matches in Guangzhou and Dubai. Unfortunately, he tested positive for the coronavirus when he returned to China after a break.
By that point, Fellaini already had a full Chinese Super League season under his belt after joining in early 2019. He scored the winner on his debut against Beijing Renhe and netted seven more league goals during the campaign as Shandong finished fifth in the table and suffered heartbreak in the Chinese FA Cup final.
Fellaini was also a protagonist in the Asian Champions League, converting a trademark header to confirm his team’s place in the knockout phase. Shandong’s pursuit of continental glory was halted when CSL rivals Guangzhou Evergrande triumphed in the round of 16 via a penalty shootout.
Ander Herrera (Paris Saint-Germain)
Herrera suffered a peculiar fall from grace during Jose Mourinho’s reign. His workmanlike qualities appealed to the Portuguese handler, and he was duly awarded the club’s Player of the Year for the 2016-17 campaign. However, his league starts were slashed to 13 the following season, and, by the time Solskjaer took over midway through the 2018-19 term, Herrera was little more than a squad player.
He wasn’t convinced he had a significant role to play under Solskjaer, so he left for Paris Saint-Germain when his contract expired last summer.
The 30-year-old’s bite and energy have been a rare sight in PSG’s midfield, as he’s struggled to make an impression during an unfortunate spate of injuries. He’s started only one Ligue 1 match since the end of October and is linked with moves to Athletic Bilbao – for whom he played three seasons before joining United – and hometown club Real Zaragoza.
Romelu Lukaku (Inter Milan)
Lukaku scored 28 goals while starting 55 Premier League matches during his two seasons at Manchester United, and that was at a time when midfield creativity was scarce at Old Trafford.
The Belgian marksman was far from a failure for the Red Devils. In fact, he was underappreciated.
Nevertheless, a potential €80-million fee for Lukaku is costly, especially when Inter will likely sell Mauro Icardi for €10 million less when clubs reopen for business. While others would wilt under the price tag, Lukaku has thrived and bagged 17 goals during the Nerazzurri’s pursuit of their first Scudetto in 10 years.
United have missed Lukaku at times during the 2019-20 season, especially when Rashford was ruled out with a long-term injury in January.
Alexis Sanchez (Inter Milan)
Sanchez has relied on his industry and pace for a lot of his career. Now, it appears a ridiculous run of games for Chile and his clubs over the years has taken its toll.
He can’t move as freely now that he’s 31, and an ankle injury he suffered near the end of an international friendly in October sidelined him for nearly three months of Inter’s season. Before that setback, Sanchez started two of his four appearances – scoring once and assisting once – but was sent off against Sampdoria when he received a second yellow card for an apparent dive.
His return from injury was gradual yet promising, as he shone in February’s 4-2 derby win over AC Milan before showing signs of his old self in both legs against Ludogorets in the Europa League round of 32.
Sanchez is only on loan at Inter and it will probably take more than a handful of decent performances to encourage the Italian club to sign him permanently and consequently pay his exorbitant wages in full.
Chris Smalling (Roma)
Smalling’s career stalled at Manchester United, but he’s been reborn in the Italian capital.
The on-loan Englishman is a commanding aerial presence and among Serie A’s most dangerous center-backs in the opposition box, and has displayed an impeccable reading of the game with a series of crucial interceptions. His no-frills style has been a welcome addition for Roma, atoning for last summer’s loss of Kostas Manolas to Napoli.
His popularity with the Giallorossi doesn’t mean he’s joining them on a permanent basis, though. There are rumors United have raised his valuation, pricing Roma out of a move and condemning them to another dig in European football’s bargain bin.
Antonio Valencia (Liga de Quito)
There was great excitement when the lad from the Amazon rainforest’s oil-slicked doorstep returned to Ecuador before his 34th birthday. Valencia, the country’s best player for a generation, signed for Liga de Quito when his United contract expired, and he was tasked with running the show from the right-hand side of Pablo Repetto’s lineup.
It didn’t work. He read the game better than most players in his homeland but no longer possessed the athleticism to spearhead attacks.
However, everything changed when Valencia moved into central midfield for February’s inaugural Supercopa de Ecuador. Liga de Quito overcame Delfin on penalties in that contest and then, a month later, Valencia’s veteran presence was instrumental as LDU comprehensively beat continental giants River Plate 3-0 in the Copa Libertadores.
Valencia’s shift into the middle of the park has been transformative for both the player and club.
James Wilson (Salford City via Aberdeen)
Wilson managed 15 Premier League appearances in over four years before United loaned him to Aberdeen for the 2018-19 campaign. He played 24 times in Scotland’s top flight during that season-long spell. However, when he joined Aberdeen permanently last summer, Wilson added only 11 more league outings prior to his January transfer to fourth-tier side Salford City.
It seemed like a coup for Class of ’92-owned Salford, especially when the forward marked his arrival with two goals – incredibly, his first brace since his 2014 debut for United. He didn’t add to his haul in the four League Two starts that followed, though, and the coronavirus halted some much-needed regular action for Wilson.
The once-great prospect from Carrington hasn’t looked the same since suffering a serious knee injury on loan at Derby County three-and-a-half years ago.
Ashley Young (Inter Milan)
Young made a quick impact under Antonio Conte. Twenty-nine minutes into his Inter debut, he drew the attention of two Cagliari defenders before curling a cross onto Lautaro Martinez’s head from his position of right wing-back. It was a superb assist.
The Watford product gambled when he signed a contract in Italy for the remainder of the season, but he’s set for a one-year extension as a reward for an impressive start to life with Inter, according to the Guardian’s Fabrizio Romano. It’s unknown how the financial restraints caused by the global COVID-19 crisis will affect that plan, though.
Young turns 35 in July and is currently being denied what was an impressive swansong to his excellent career.