The four Manchester United players in the current England squad ensure that a proud club record is maintained – with the Red Devils the only club to send players to every single World Cup and European Championship that England have appeared in, dating right back to Henry Cockburn and John Aston at the 1950 World Cup (ask your grandads).
The recent capture of Brazil midfielder Fred from Shakhtar Donetsk means that United are now sending 12 players to the tournament in Russia. That’s the same number as Chelsea and only bettered by Spanish giants Barcelona and Real Madrid and some outfit from the Etihad.
That all means that there’s plenty for fans to keep an eye on as the tournament folds. So, what are the prospects for Jose’s dozen? Here’s our guide:
Unfairly maligned by fans of other clubs, Phil is probably more likely to end up in a meme than in the team. He’s had a solid season for United (ignoring the FA Cup final perhaps) and will be ready to step in to Gareth Southgate’s three-man central defence if required.
Southgate has benefitted from Young’s United rebirth, using his experience at full back for the Red Devils to help find a role for him at left wing back. He’s the oldest member of the squad and his experience should be a useful asset on and off the pitch.
Two goals in Wembley finals have shown that Jesse is a man for the big occasion and that’s a handy knack to have in a World Cup. Gareth Southgate’s suggestion that he wants to play with a single holding midfielder should mean that a starting berth is within his grasp.
The 20-year-old striker is unlikely to start for England in this tournament but could well make an impact off the bench if Harry Kane or Jamie Vardy tire. He’s been undaunted by the challenges he’s faced so far – with goals on his debut and league debut for United, three minutes into his England debut and in his first Champions League game. Not forgetting, of course, that cracker in England’s warm-up game against Costa Rica. What betting a World Cup strike to add to the impressive collection?
Having recently signed a new deal to stay at Old Trafford for another three years, the Argentine defender will be hoping to stay injury free so that he can feature for Jorge Sampaoli’s men, having only returned from a cruciate ligament tear in March.
If you thought Jose’s relationship with Pogba was strained at times, the fact that Didier Deschamps hasn’t let him off the leash to talk in press conferences is a sign that his national manager is sometimes left scratching his head over him too. There’s no doubting his talent though – and the stage of a World Cup might be what he needs to spur him on (he enjoyed the big occasion against City after all). A look at the odds for the likely 2018 finalists with William Hill suggests that Pogba’s France could well find themselves up against Spain, Germany or Argentina in a likely final combination – don’t be surprised if he pulls out a matchwinning display on July 15 in Moscow.
David De Gea
De Gea probably doesn’t get the credit he deserves in Spain, especially after being named in the PFA Team of the Year for a fifth time following yet more stunning displays in a United shirt. He goes into the tournament as the number one keeper for a Spain side that seems to be hitting form under Julen Lopetegui so expect him to go far into the knockout stages.
Despite a mixed start to his time at Old Trafford, he looks set to line up alongside captain Andreas Granqvist as one of Sweden’s two central defenders this summer. With Germany, Mexico and South Korea in the same group, it’ll be a tough test for the 20-year-old, but hopefully good experience as he bids to force his way into Mourinho’s starting XI on a regular basis next season.
It looks likely that the big Belgian will be leaving Old Trafford at the end of the month. If so, he’ll want to earn himself a decent move by securing a starring role for Roberto Martinez’s much-vaunted ‘golden generation’. He faces stiff competition for a place in the team – but defied critics to make the plane just as he’s continually defied critics throughout his career.
There’s big expectation around Belgium this summer, with the side flattering to deceive in recent tournaments. With that in mind the pressure is on Lukaku to lead from the front for this star-studded collection of players. A 27-goal debut season for the Red Devils should stand him in good stead, let’s just hope he leaves his shooting boots at home on June 28 when he lines up against England.
Unsurprisingly Matic is seen as something of a hero in his native Serbia. He’ll attempt to pull the strings for his national side from the middle of the park and, despite the presence of Brazil in their group, there’s every chance that he can drive them on to reach the knockout stages ahead of Switzerland and Costa Rica. That might disappoint Mourinho though, with the boss saying he would like Serbia to crash out so that Matic can ‘go on holiday’.
United fans might well get their first look at Fred in action for Brazil this summer (unless they’re football hipsters and have followed Shakhtar closely). ‘Fred The Red’ is an all-action box-to-box midfielder – who might be the glue to link Matic and Pogba next season – who has fought back from a doping ban (he had tested positive for diuretic hydrochlorothiazide at the 2015 Copa América) to earn his spot in Tite’s squad. The Selecao are out to bounce back from their 2014 humiliation at the hands of Germany and Fred is a key part of a fresh-looking side that is one of the red hot favourites to win the tournament.
One thing’s for certain, with representatives in the Brazil, France, Spain and Argentina squads, there’s every chance that United fans will still have someone to cheer for if England make an early exit.