With only a few weeks left until the summer transfer window slams shut, the lack of business completed by Manchester United has become a concern. Speculation has reduced in the media, and rumours have become less convincing with each week, to the point that it’s unclear if more players will be signed. With Jose Mourinho having handed his transfer list over, and now clearly unhappy with the lack of progress made, much of the blame has been directed towards Ed Woodward and the Glazers, accusing them of either pursuing unobtainable marquee targets, or penny-pinching and under-valuing players.
Financial constrains will always be on the Glazers’ minds, but there could be another reason for their reluctance to fund Mourinho’s targets: quite simply, they might be unconvinced by his transfer dealings prior to this summer. It’s worth bearing in mind when you consider the players he bought since taking over at United, and their current status at Old Trafford.
Paul Pogba was phenomenal in the World Cup, and could justifiably have been awarded the golden ball ahead of Luka Modric. It’s hard to compare him to another player in the world in his position: his skill-set and attributes are virtually unparalleled, now bolstered by maturity and leadership qualities. No-one would claim he’s been a failure at Old Trafford, but he was a signing with an enormous price-tag and remarkable credentials, yet he has not excelled at United as he should have. He has had superb spells of form, in particular the first 3 months of last season, but his impact has been sporadic. He may become a United great, but he needs to find consistency in his performances.
Zlatan Ibrahmiovic was a success at Old Trafford. It was, however, very brief. He was a short-term solution that served the team effectively for only one season, when maybe long-term planning would have been more beneficial. It could be argued it stunted the development of Anthony Martial, and in particular Marcus Rashford, who had developed excellently under Van Gaal but naturally fell under Zlatan’s shadow.
Henrikh Mkhitaryan was enormously talented and looked, after a slow start, to be the spark United’s attack needed. Mourinho’s treatment of him was strange though, sidelining him for several months, before thrusting him straight back into first team action, and constantly switching his position between a number 10, right wing and left wing. Mkhitaryan started to look increasingly uncomfortable and inconsistent, and it wasn’t long before he left to join Arsenal.
Eric Bailly is United’s best centre-half. In possession of every quality you would wish for in a defender – strong, courageous, a great reading of the game, powerful in the air, and comfortable on the ball – yet he has, for reasons that don’t stand up to much scrutiny, slipped down the picking order. He should be the player Mourinho builds his defence around, but, according to the comments made in a press conference last week, he views him more as a fringe player. The fact he can’t dislodge Chris Smalling from the first team is simply baffling.
Victor Lindelof endured a torrid start to his United career, which was a shame, because first impressions linger in football for a long time. However much he improved as the season progressed, and however many solid performances he produced, memories of those first few months proved hard to erase. An excellent World Cup has started to shift perception of him, but whether Mourinho rates him is anyone’s guess. He apparently wants to sign another centre-half, but he has not even given a chance for Bailly and Lindelof to form a partnership. It’s a strange situation.
Nemanja Matic was a shrewd signing, and he enjoyed a quietly impressive first season at Old Trafford. After a strong start, he struggled for a couple of months mid-way through the season but regained his form in the final part of the campaign. It’s not yet clear if Fred will play alongside him, or is intended as an upgrade, but few would argue that Matic has been one of Mourinho better signings for United, and possibly his most successful one.
Romelu Lukaku is another who has made a mark. The prolific Belgian bagged 27 goals last season, an excellent return for a 25-year-old in his first year at a new club. His all-round game developed under Mourinho too, and he will remain the focal point of United’s attack for years to come.
Alexis Sanchez however, was a puzzling signing. He is a world-class player, but his preference for the left-wing (and a desire not to play on the right) meant United were recruiting a player for a position in which they were already well-stocked. So it proved too, as he struggled to adapt to life at United, and disrupted the form of Martial and Rashford as they were either dropped and moved to the right to accommodate him. Also, the way Sanchez dropped too deep, drifted over the pitch, and hung onto the ball for too long hindered the team. He will hopefully excel in his second season after a long summer rest and a decent pre-season, but his signing was an indication of United’s increasingly muddled and unfocused transfer business.
This is Mourinho’s fifth transfer window at United and so far his signings have raised more questions than they have answered. It’s understandable that the Glazers and Woodward may have reservations about his plans for this summer, but they will need to set them aside in the next few weeks. It’s hard to imagine Mourinho succeeding unless they do so.