Neville claimed no leaders at Man Utd – now four "guardians" inspiring revival

Two years ago, ahead of the 2019/20 campaign, Gary Neville urged Ole Gunnar Solskjaer to have a ruthless clear-out of his Manchester United squad.

Reflecting on his glittering playing spell under Sir Alex Ferguson, he said: "When I was playing you always had three groups – the guardians, the middle group and the younger ones.

“Manchester United doesn't have the guardians now. Absolutely not, no. There are some good professionals there, But I don’t think they carry the influence in the dressing room to be able to dominate the culture and that’s a real problem.

“In any business, in any football team if the guardians in the dressing room, the ones who have the influence, are not setting the example, then you have a big problem and have to clear them out."

Since then, Solskjaer has overseen a huge overhaul of his team, with several figures emerging as influential in United's bid to return to their heyday.

So, which players have emerged as leaders in the dressing room? Here, Mirror Sport takes a look at four standout stars…

1. Harry Maguire

The English centre-back arrived at Old Trafford less than two months after Neville's rallying cry, signing from Leicester for an eye-watering £80million.

He took a while to settle at United and attracted criticism due to his price tag, but there's no doubting the influence Maguire has had under Solskjaer.

The 28-year-old was given the captain's arm band on a full-time basis in January last year after Ashley Young left for Inter Milan – and his performances have gone up a level this season.

Indeed, Maguire has been part of a United defence which has laid the foundations for a United team who are on track to secure second place in the Premier League this campaign.

He produced a typical captain's performance in Sunday's 2-0 win over Manchester City too, with his successful stats including; 100% aerial duels won, nine clearances (most in the match), three interceptions and 91% passing accuracy.

It's testament to his character that he has silenced his critics in perfect fashion; and has now become Solskjaer's go-to man.

2. Bruno Fernandes

Few players have made more of an impact in the Premier League era than Fernandes.

The Portuguese midfielder leads the way for United with the most goals and assists – 23 and 13 respectively – to add to his impressive totals from the second half of last term.

It is no secret that the Portugal international is the gel that holds United’s attack together, while his leadership qualities both on and off the pitch have also been hailed by his team-mates.

Speaking last week, team-mate Fred admitted: “I think it surprised. His impact was very fast, you know. He arrived here and already took over the midfield, called for the lead and took it.

"I think he’s a great player, he came here to help us. I’m very happy with this. "He’s a very good guy, we see that he works a lot on a daily basis. A guy who’s always trying to win, you know?

"He doesn't like to lose. So his mentality is very cool, very good."

That speaks volumes; and certainly strengthens his standing as one of United's "guardians".

3. Scott McTominay

The Scotland international has enjoyed a remarkable rise through the Old Trafford ranks, having first been handed his chance to shine by Jose Mourinho in 2017.

Since breaking through into the first-team, it's been steady progress for the midfielder but, under Solskjaer's stewardship, he has finally become an integral part of the United set-up.

The 24-year-old has has established himself in Manchester United's midfield over the past 12 months and has kicked on this season, making 35 appearances in all competitions.

He was even handed the captain's armband in the FA Cup third-round win over Watford back in January, yet another sign of his influence within the United dressing room.

Former Old Trafford hero Dimitar Berbatov has previously touted McTominay as a future United captain, and there's no reason why McTominay can't live up to that hype.

Like Maguire, he has bounced back to prove his critics wrong and is now deservedly regarded as a leader in the dressing room.

4. Marcus Rashford

The England striker has earned plenty of plaudits, and rightly so, for his work away from the football pitch.

Last month, he was awarded one of the BBC’s top honours – a gold Blue Peter badge – after campaigning against food poverty in 2020.

He successfully lobbied the UK Government into a U-turn over its free school meals policy in England.

And the striker clearly has a growing influence within in the United dressing room too, having contributed to the cause with 18 goals and 12 assists this season.

It's easy to forget that at just 23 years old, Rashford hasn't even reached his peak yet – but he has already made 257 appearances for the club and is just 15 goals away from reaching his century.

He's held in high esteem by not only his colleagues, but millions around the country, and his standing as one of English football's biggest superstars shouldn't be questioned.

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