Danny Higginbotham highlights Manchester United's need for "leaders"

Former Manchester United defender Danny Higginbotham discusses with Sports Mole the current squad's requirement for new "leaders".

In the minutes that preceded Manchester United's 3-0 defeat to rivals Manchester City at Old Trafford last month, David Moyes was quick to admit that his squad was in need of an overhaul.

"I mentioned a lot of other clubs have had to change and had to do rebuilding jobs [and] we have a period of time where we have to make sure we get to that level which we are not at just now," a defeated Moyes conceded to reporters.

Indeed, it's a process that already appears to be underway. Captain Nemanja Vidic has agreed to join Inter Milan on a Bosman transfer, while fellow defenders Rio Ferdinand and Patrice Evra have been tipped to depart once their contracts expire during the summer.

A host of other squad members, including Shinji Kagawa, Robin van Persie, Javier Hernandez, Darren Fletcher, Nani and Tom Cleverley, have also had their futures at the club called into question over recent weeks.

Any incomings, though, need to fit a particular bill, according to former United defender Danny Higginbotham. Talking to Sports Mole, the 35-year-old stressed that Moyes must add "leaders" to his playing ranks.

Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand celebrates the latter's winning goal for Manchester United against Swansea City in May 2013.© Getty Images

"A rebuild needs to take place, but the problem is that a lot of what needs to be done is replacing some quality players. Paul Scholes and Gary Neville have gone, while Ryan Giggs is coming to an end. Vidic is going and you don't know what is happening with Ferdinand and Evra," said Higginbotham.

"Those players, not only have they been world-class players, they've also been leaders. It's one thing replacing great players, but you've got to replace them as leaders as well. If you look at United at the moment, that game against City, you're looking around for leaders on the pitch – how many was there? Wayne Rooney, yes, he's a leader. Ferdinand, yes, but he is coming to the later stages of his career.

"What I mean by leaders is not somebody that is necessarily going to get everybody in their positions. It's players that will take the ball when the pressure is on, players that will calm the game down when things aren't going to plan – United have had them in abundance down the years. When United have been successful, they've had five or six [leaders] on the pitch."

Even if the Red Devils win their remaining six Premier League encounters, they will post a club Premier League record low points tally, such has been the inconsistency of their form since Moyes's summer arrival.

However, when comparing the current United contingent to those battling for the big prize, Higginbotham has admitted that it is not a major surprise that they are way off the pace.

David Moyes trains with his Manchester United team on March 18, 2014.© Getty Images

"If you look at Chelsea: John Terry, he's a leader, so are Gary Cahill and Branislav Ivanovic – that's three out of the back four that are leaders. In midfield they have Frank Lampard, even Eden Hazard is a leader in his own way because he'll go to get the ball in situations where others wouldn't," added the now pundit with MUTV among other outlets.

"At Man City you've got Vincent Kompany, Pablo Zabaleta, Yaya Toure, Sergio Aguero and Alvaro Negredo. Liverpool, there's Daniel Sturridge. He won't scream and shout, but he will take the ball anywhere on the pitch. Luis Suarez, Steven Gerrard and Jordan Henderson is starting to come into his own. Glen Johnson, from full-back, is also not afraid to take responsibility.

"Then you look at United: Vidic is a leader but he is leaving, Ferdinand has been fantastic for United but he's coming to the end, same with Evra. Giggs is at an age where he is not playing too often. Van Persie is a leader by taking the ball and taking the initiative, but he's been injured. They've managed to sign Rooney to a new contract, but when you look around the rest of the squad, there are some good players, but it's lacking leadership to guide them through."

There is an argument, though, that the man that Moyes succeeded - Sir Alex Ferguson - should have replenished his creaking playing options much sooner. After all, the ageing Ferdinand and Vidic have been dogged with injuries for a number of campaigns now, while Scholes continued well into his veteran years and Giggs is still playing.

While Higginbotham has accepted that school of thought, he believes that the type of business that is required to make the necessary improvements is much easier speculated upon that it is to finalise.

Sir Alex Ferguson watches the Gentlemen's Singles quarter-final match between Andy Murray of Great Britain and Fernando Verdasco of Spain on day nine of the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Championships on July 3, 2013© Getty Images

"There is an argument to say that, but with who? That's the problem. Arsenal have found that over the years. How do you replace Patrick Vieira? How do you replace Thierry Henry? How do you replace a Tony Adams and a Dennis Bergkamp? It's okay saying it, but it's far easier said than done.

"If there are players out there that can replace those United players, it's going to take a ridiculous amount of money and they will probably be with clubs that are more successful than United right now.

"Look at Steve Bruce and Gary Pallister and the partnership that they had. Jaap Stam was up there with them, but as a partnership, it wasn't until Ferdinand and Vidic came along that they replaced them – that's the problem. Peter Schmeichel as well, they couldn't replace him until Edwin van der Sar [in 2005].

"Has Roy Keane ever been replaced? Some of these players are just irreplaceable and it's unfortunate for United that all these players are getting to the latter stages of their careers or moving elsewhere at the same time. It's so difficult to find players to match those in their pomp."

United play host to Bayern Munich in the Champions League this evening. You can read our preview of the clash with Higginbotham here.

Bayern Munich's Franck Ribery celebrates scoring against Manchester United on March 30, 2010.
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