5 Players Whose Careers Went Backward After Leaving Manchester United
Manchester United often represents the pinnacle of a player's career. During negotiations about the future of Carlos Tevez in 2009, then-chief executive David Gill said, per the Sun: "The game is littered with players who have left us, for whatever reason, who say after Manchester United it is downhill."
Gill had a vested interest in selling that line of thought to Tevez and his representatives, but there certainly have been players who left too soon. The Argentinian has been extremely successful since leaving that summer, and it is hard to imagine he considers his career to have taken a downward trajectory since he moved on.
But what of those whose careers did?
For the purposes of this list, certain categories of players are excluded. Firstly, United academy products are mostly left out—with one specific exception. Not making the grade with the Red Devils is not the same as enjoying a career with the club and then seeing it collapse.
Secondly, players who spent time as squad players at United and then went on to have good careers at middle-ranking clubs are not among the selection. Technically, Tim Howard, John O'Shea and Wes Brown all had careers that went downhill after they left Old Trafford, but it is not in the spirit of this article.
Honourable mentions go to David Beckham, Ruud van Nistelrooy and even Cristiano Ronaldo, all of whom left for the glamour of Real Madrid and enjoyed plenty of success but might have won even more if they had stayed at Old Trafford for a few years longer.
Jim Leighton was a Sir Alex Ferguson player. The Scotland international had been Fergie's goalkeeper at Aberdeen, and two years after taking over the Manchester United reins, the manager invited the Dons' No. 1 to follow him.
The goalkeeper had been a big success in Scotland, where Ferguson's Aberdeen—with Leighton between the sticks—won league titles and cups that were traditionally the preserve of Celtic and Rangers.
Leighton kept goal when the Dons beat Real Madrid in the 1983 European Cup Winners' Cup final, a game that hinted at Ferguson's triumphs to come.
However, there was no silverware for Leighton at United, or at least not a prize he could be proud of. In a 2012 interview with Alan Pattullo for the Scotsman, he revealed Les Sealey offered him his 1990 FA Cup winner's medal.
Leighton, who had been dropped for the replay of the final against Crystal Palace refused, said: "I said to him: 'see if it was round the other way, you wouldn’t accept it, would you?' He said 'no'. I said: 'well, I am not interested'."
There was no return to league or cup glory after United, and he went on to play for Reading, Dundee and Hibernian before finishing his career with Aberdeen.
Paul Ince was once an extremely popular figure at Manchester United. The tough-tackling midfielder formed the kind of fearsome centre-midfield partnership with Roy Keane that opposition players must surely have dreaded facing.
His friendship with Ryan Giggs was displayed on the pitch, with their choreographed goal celebrations copied in school playgrounds all around the country.
However, after leaving United for Inter as part of Ferguson's infamous clear-out in the summer of 1995, Ince returned to England two years later, and in choosing Liverpool as his destination, he made himself a villain among fans.
Fortunately for those fans, Ince did not do a Tevez and win silverware with their rivals.
Indeed, of all the silverware Ince won as a player—two Premier League titles, two FA Cups, a League Cup and a European Cup Winners' Cup among them—only the trophy for winning the First Division play-offs with Wolverhampton Wanderers in 2003 came after he left United.
Ince played for Inter and Liverpool—two glamorous clubs—remained an England international and a well-respected player, but he never again reached the heights he did with the Red Devils.
The only exception to the "no academy players" rule could have been Jonny Evans, but having only just left Old Trafford for West Bromwich Albion, it seems fair to give him a little longer to prove himself.
In his place is Fabio da Silva. An import to United's academy from Fluminense, he pips Evans to the place because the Cardiff City player started in the 2011 Champions League final.
At the time, it was not a shock decision from Sir Alex Ferguson. Fabio had edged out his brother, Rafael, in contention for the right-back berth thanks to a series of tidy displays in the second half of the season.
Sadly, a string of injuries meant his chance to establish himself at the top level was denied. After a loan spell at Queens Park Rangers during Ferguson's last season, 2012-13, he joined Cardiff City in 2014 and has been there ever since.
Now 25, a return to a Champions League final seems a long way off.
In Red: My Autobiography, Gary Neville tells the story of the United dressing room's reaction to Ferguson's change of heart over his decision to retire in 2001.
The exact language Roy Keane used will be excluded here for reasons of decency, but according to Neville, he suggested in no uncertain terms it was bad news for Dwight Yorke.
Yorke was a pivotal figure in United's most glorious of triumphs, the 1998/99 treble. Forming a joyful and productive partnership with Andy Cole, the former Aston Villa man was electric and full of flair and incision.
However, after he had won the lot, it was never quite the same. He scored 23 goals in the following season, but he was down to 11 goals for the 2000/01 season, and Ferguson sold him to Blackburn Rovers in 2002.
Nemanja Vidic has not enjoyed his time post-United. With his contract recently terminated by Inter, the 34-year-old finds himself a free agent.
He left United at the end of the David Moyes season, 2013/14, and he played 23 times for Inter in the following campaign, per WhoScored.com. However, Roberto Mancini has since deemed the former United captain surplus to requirements.
It has been an inglorious chapter in a career filled with glory. Ferguson's club captain for the final stretch of his time at United, Vidic left the Red Devils with a vast collection of medals.
He has not been able to add to it since, and the ignominy of a cancelled contract speaks to the downward trajectory he has followed since leaving.
The latest rumours suggest he may be on the radar of Aston Villa, per Manchester Evening News.
If he does end up at Villa—who sit bottom of the Premier League—it will be further evidence of a career that peaked when the Serbian was leading the team out at Old Trafford.