Stars who flopped at Man Utd and then excelled after leaving Old Trafford, from Angel Di Maria to Wilfried Zaha | The Sun

PLAYING for Manchester United can be a heavy burden for some players, even the very best.

And many find their way again after moving away from Old Trafford to the frustration of supporters.

Wilfried Zaha was barely given a chance at Man Utd, before he returned to Crystal Palace to become a legend of the club.

The only major blotch on Diego Forlan's storied career was his time at Old Trafford as he went on to thrive at Villarreal and Atletico Madrid.

Romelu Lukaku left Man Utd to play a pivotal role in Inter Milan's Serie A-winning side.

And there are many more players SunSport are going to discuss in this lengthy list of ex-Red Devils stars that went on to bigger and better things.



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The Belgian centre forward is definitely the one that got away.

Often, Lukaku was deemed not good enough by Man Utd supporters who felt he was overweight and cumbersome.

After cutting a more shredded figure at Inter Milan, where a new diet and fitness regime saw the striker lose 16lbs and get into the best shape of his career, he helped the Serie A club land the title.

That prompted Chelsea to splash £97.5m on Lukaku, before he was loaned out to Roma.

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If only Man Utd had managed to get out of Lukaku what Inter did less than 12 months later.


In 2015, United shelled out £25m on the Dutch star on the insistence of Louis van Gaal.

But Depay looked lost at sea on our shores, playing 53 times and managing just seven goals.

Two seasons later he was sold to Lyon for £20m, where he rediscovered his form.

He left the French giants having scored 76 goals and providing a further 55 assists in 178 games.


It's not uncommon for Argentinian stars to lose their way at Old Trafford – with Juan Sebastian Veron also struggling in Manchester.

Di Maria was a marquee signing in 2014 for a then-British transfer record fee of £59.7m.

In his only season, he managed just four goals in 32 games and soon fell out of favour with boss van Gaal.

A year later he was sold to PSG for £40m, where he accumulated 83 goals and 119 assists in 295 games, winning five Ligue 1 titles.


In 2013, United moved to sign Zaha from Crystal Palace for £15m – Sir Alex Ferguson's final acquisition for the club.

A year later he found himself out of favour under new boss David Moyes and was loaned out to Cardiff City.

Zaha would later say he never felt he was given a fair chance at Old Trafford.

He was loaned to Palace and then re-signed permanently, becoming an icon at the club across a decade at Selhurst Park – earning a status he was never offered the opportunity to achieve at Old Trafford.


A lot of Blind's problems at Old Trafford stemmed from where managers thought he should play.

Was he a left-back? Should he play in a midfield holding role? Louis van Gaal and Jose Mourinho just couldn't work him out.

In 2018, the Dutch international returned to Ajax, where he won two league titles and contributed to the club's brilliant Champions League run in 2019… playing at centre-back.

And at the Euros he starred for the Netherlands, before he reached the 100-cap mark for his country.


Forlan was a costly (at the time) £7m buy for United in 2002.

However, in his first 13 Premier League games and five Champions League matches he was ridiculed for failing to hit the back of the net.

United sold him to LaLiga's Villarreal, where he was an instant hit as he scored 25 league goals and won the Spanish Golden Boot and the European Golden Shoe in his first season.

He repeated that trick in 2009 at Atletico Madrid – scoring a sensational 32 goals in 33 games.


On loan from Monaco, Falcao really struggled at Man Utd as he managed just four goals in 29 games, although a serious knee injury and a struggle to return to fitness hindered him.

After his Old Trafford nightmare, a poor spell at Chelsea followed.

But a return to Monaco helped Falcao find his world-class form again.

He scored 70 goals in three seasons with the French giants to re-establish himself as one of the best forwards in Europe.

Chris Smalling

Chris Smalling's 10-year spell at Manchester United did see him rack up more than 300 appearances, winning two Premier League titles, the FA Cup, League Cup and Europa League along the way.

But when he departed for Roma on loan in 2019, it looked as though he was a declining defender.

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That was until he began to produce some sensational displays for the Italian giants.

He permanently joined the club in 2020 and thrived even further under former Man Utd boss Jose Mourinho, helping the club to Europa Conference League glory and the Europa League final.

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