Jaap Stam is a fraud. Jaap is just a nickname. His first name is actually Jakob.
Would you tell him that? Absolutely not. Even Mike Tyson would turn into a quivering wreck at the mere sight of the Dutchman.
Stam turned up at Old Trafford in 1998 to embark on four seasons of wrecking Premier League attackers under the tutelage of Sir Alex Ferguson.
Fast forward 20 years and United’s defence is in tatters.
Conceding three first-half goals against Brighton, who played with Glenn Murray as a sole striker, was a mark of how far a once-great defence has fallen.
Jose Mourinho has the unenviable task of choosing two from the quartet of Eric Bailly, Victor Lindelof, Phil Jones and Chris Smalling.
So what’s gone wrong?
In Stam’s first season, which ended with a treble, he played alongside Ronny Johnsen, with Wes Brown and Henning Berg providing cover.
This was very much a tried and tested format under Fergie. A first-choice partnership, one of whom was aggressive while the other covered.
The next year Johnsen was replaced by Mikael Silvestre as United again won the Premier League. This gave United a balance of one right-footed player alongside a left-footer.
While the personnel didn’t change for the 2000/01 season, playing time did.
Wes Brown and Silvestre were both given more minutes than the experienced pros Johnsen and Stam, as Fergie slowly increased the responsibilities and expectations of his young defenders.
It worked, with United winning a third consecutive title and Brown being named in the Premier League Team of the Season, alongside Stam, who only played 15 times in the league.
Ferguson was never a man to stand still or persist with something that clearly wasn’t working.
In the summer of 2001 he let Stam move to Lazio and signed World Cup winner Laurent Blanc from Inter Milan as a replacement, although their playing styles were chalk and cheese.
A first-choice partnership of Silvestre and Blanc, with Brown and Johnsen in reserve, proved fragile. United finished third in the league and didn’t progress further than the fourth round in either the FA Cup or League Cup.
So in the summer of 2002 United broke the British transfer record to sign Rio Ferdinand from Leeds.
Ferdinand’s arrival, and partnerships with Brown and Silvestre, helped United get back on top in England for one season.
The following three campaigns United struggled in the league, until the signing of Nemanja Vidic in December of 2005.
Vidic, a player very much in the Stam mould, initially struggled to adapt before establishing an iconic partnership with Ferdinand, winning three Premier League titles in a row between 2006 and 2009.
During the Fergie years United always had three experienced pros with a young defender learning the craft.
Jonny Evans, Gerard Pique, Jones and Smalling all took turns picking the brains of Brown, Vidic, Ferdinand and Silvestre.
But that production line has slowly ground to a halt.
Vidic and Ferdinand have retired, Pique has moved to Barcelona and become one of the best centre-backs in the world leaving Smalling and Jones to pass on their knowledge.
It doesn’t take a world-class scout to see that Jones and Smalling haven’t progressed as the United hierarchy would have helped.
Lindelof and Bailly are learning on the job, with disastrous consequences.
It’s too simple to blame United’s centre-back woes on failings in the transfer market, as Smalling and Jones are leftovers from a previous era.
But you can’t overlook the fact that Mourinho signed both Bailly and Lindelof.
In years gone by both would be afforded the time to grow into the role of a United defender.
Now it appears their time at Old Trafford will be limited.
FANCY A BIT MORE ON THIS SUNNY/CLOUDY/RAINY DAY?:
- What if Jose Mourinho was in charge of the Premier League’s other top clubs?
- Maurizio Sarri is preparing N’Golo Kante for the exact same role as Allan at Napoli
- Do Man City have the most complete squad in Europe?