FOUR IN – WHO TO GO?
Manchester United’s transfer business has been the talk of the footballing fraternity all summer. A box office manager spending box office transfer fees makes this the most outlandish attempt yet at a return to football’s upper echelons. The theatre has regained its dreams.
Ed Woodward has made good on his promise of marquee signings and new boss Jose Mourinho has been given every opportunity to bring the good times back to Old Trafford.
Red Devils chiefs recognise that the post-Ferguson spending spree hasn’t quite gone to plan, with Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao serving as reminders of some costly errors of judgment. Keen to avoid anymore expensive mistakes, the initial accomplishments of this year’s summer acquisitions will bring great relief to the Old Trafford financiers.
With Eric Bailly giving two man of the match performances and Zlatan Ibrahimovic scoring in every game he’s played so far, United’s new signings are hitting the ground running. Bailly’s athleticism and defensive prowess was a necessity, as was the charisma, experience and unrivalled domestic achievement of Zlatan Ibrahimovic. The ego has landed, and not before time.
Mourinho views his signings as crucial to United’s title ambitions and it’s hard to disagree. The distinct lack of a prolific target man (not since Robin Van Persie’s 30 goal haul in 2012/13 has a player reached 20 goals in a season) combined with defensive difficulties have beset any recent title challenges, resulting in David Moyes and Louis Van Gaal’s respective dismissals.
Soughting to avoid a similar fate, Mourinho immediately addressed all those problems, as well as banishing any mention of the previous three seasons of shame.
The two-time Champions League winner has nailed his targets and completed his business early. The signatures of Henrikh Mkhitarian and Paul Pogba have since been secured, with the latter’s world record proving slightly more complex.
A saga of international tournaments, agent payments and the priming of the New York Stock Exchange – as well as recording a music video and hiring a look-a-like – delayed the inevitable; such is the way these mega-transfers are conducted these days.
Historically, the required attributes of the archetypal Mourinho player have been pace, power and strength. And after citing four ‘specialist signings’ in his opening press conference, that’s exactly what he’s gone out and bought.
Mourinho wants athletes readily equipped to supplement his system. He buys parts that fit instead of fusing them himself. And Pogba – offering a blend of Toure strength, Vieira finesse, and Essien power – is the absolute embodiment of Mourinho’s model midfielder.
It’s an efficient system, one he trusts, but it can also be an unaccommodating one. For every Lampard, Sneijder & Costa, read; De Bruyne, Lukaku, and … Juan Mata.
We’re all well aware that Mata and his new, old manager, have got previous. But Jose seems to be going out of his way to make the Spaniard a part of his plans. How big a part that is remains to be seen but it looks safe to assume that he’ll be plying his trade in Manchester come the start of September. So who, if not Juan Mata, faces the Old Trafford exit door.
Gone are fringe players Paddy McNair and Donald Love. They’ve been sent on a one way train to the north-east, with some also fearing that Adnan Januzaj’s promised return ticket may get lost in the post. Nick Powell once represented the future of the Reds’ midfield but, with instant success being Mourinho’s sole remit, the new boss isn’t willing to wait for any early promise to materialise. To that end persistent loanees Will Keane (Wigan Athletic, Queens Park Rangers, Sheffield Wednesday and Preston North End) and Tyler Blackett (Blackpool, Birmingham City and Celtic) may also find it beneficial to look elsewhere.
Talented defender Guillermo Varela has joined Eintracht Frankfurt on a season long loan. And fellow starlet Andreas Pereira, as well as the excellently named Axel Tuanzebe, look set to follow suit in the hunt for game time on the continent.
Manchester United have never been a selling club, either in big name sales or mass clear outs. Their supreme off-field operation dispels the notion of ‘selling to buy’. Ultimately however, when four first teamers arrive at a major club, it stands to reason to expect the same number – or more – to depart. Too many egos is one problem, too many unhappy ones is entirely another and big names look set to leave the Theatre of Dreams before the window closes.
Bastian Schweinsteiger’s Old Trafford nightmare appears to be heading to a rather undignified conclusion and the German superstar’s unceremonious ostracisation will be cause concern for others on the sidelines. After all, if it can happen to a world cup winner, it can happen to anyone.
Rumours too are circling around flexible full backs Matteo Darmian and Marcos Rojo. The pair have found playing time hard to come by this pre-season and, with youngsters Cameron Borthwick-Jackson and Timothy Fosu-Mensah providing more than adequate back up last term, their United futures are looking bleak.
Versatility will not hold the same value as it did under the previous regime. Gone are the days of Ashley Young at left back, Phil Jones in midfield and Wayne Rooney on the wing. Jack’s of all trades make way for masters of one. Mourinho runs a tight operation and after completing his costly recruitment, he’ll now look to refine his rather sizable squad.
And one thing’s for certain, it’s his way or no way for Jose.