It speaks volumes that one of the first things that springs to mind when you mull over Daley Blind’s Manchester United exit is that the club will certainly be a lot less handsome than it used to be. The Dutchman’s soft features and smile had very little to do with his ability to kick a football, of course, and it’s not as if Blind’s only contribution to United over the last four years was his good looks, but his return to Ajax is certainly a deal that will benefit both clubs and the player himself in both the short and long term.
This can’t be described as a huge loss, purely because the Dutchman featured so rarely under Mourinho. When he did play, in whatever role he was assigned, he performed well enough, if unremarkably, and that appraisal fits in with the notion that he won’t be sorely missed. Similar will likely be said of Matteo Darmian if he returns to Italy this summer, with the former Torino defender never reaching the heights that he hit at the start of the 2015/16 season.
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Their exits also symbolise Jose Mourinho’s ongoing disatisfaction with the signings made under Louis van Gaal; Morgan Schneiderlin, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Memphis Depay were all jettisoned after barely six months under his management, Ander Herrera’s utilisation has fluctuated dramatically after a starring role in the 16/17 campaign and Luke Shaw and Anthony Martial have had a plethora of issues under the former Chelsea boss. At this stage, Sergio Romero, who arrived on a free transfer from Sampdoria in 2015 and whose profile couldn’t have been much lower could realistically lay claim to being the most trusted of the bunch. And he’s United’s second-choice goalkeeper by a significant distance.
There’s a combination of things at work here; plenty of fans have bemoaned some of the purchases of Van Gaal’s two years at the club, dubbing them ‘deadwood’ or not up to ‘United’ standard, and there’s some truth to that.
There’s no doubt that the quality of United’s squad has improved over the last two years, and that’s down to both the players both brought in and sold by Mourinho. Of those LVG-ites let go, only Blind was seen as a trusted member of the team at any point for a consistent basis, having been one of the manager’s trusted centre backs for a full season, and Henrikh Mkhitaryan was shipped swiftly out when a better option became available. As a result, it’s tough to argue with any of the departures that have occurred under Mourinho’s watch, purely because few have been able to offer what he wants.
The problem with this attitude is that eventually, the club aren’t always going to take kindly to this occasionally brutal approach. Already, there have been reports of United’s executive vice-chairman and do-er of things Ed Woodward refusing to countenance a sale of Martial, whilst Mourinho would reportedly be happy to let him leave in order to bring in another right-sided attacker (strange, that Woodward and a lot of the club’s fans are seemingly on the same page for once). The Portuguese’s predicament with the Frenchman isn’t totally without merit; Martial has been inconsistent, and reservations have been raised about his personality and application on the training ground, but the talent is there for all to see, when he is given the chance to unleash it on a frequent basis. Like all young players, he needs nurturing, trust and a run of games, which could be said for several members of this squad who have yet to fully impress their manager.
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Not to labour the point but Mourinho’s reluctance to utilise Victor Lindelof and Eric Bailly in defence as the season drew to a close was puzzling, to say the least, given that both centre backs where buys of his own. This is a new situation for the manager, however; normally, he takes charge of clubs with a ready-made clutch of senior players at his disposal. He’s not used to building, or dealing with a club that encourages development and integration of youth players into the first team, and that could easily explain why he persistently wants more from the likes of Shaw, from Martial, from Lindelof and Rashford. It would be totally acceptable if it wasn’t clear that most of these players could have a bright future at Old Trafford with the right guidance.
Few fans will likely be able to conjure up a convincing argument against the manager’s decision to sell Blind, same goes for Darmian should he head to Juve. Mkhitaryan’s transfer to Arsenal in January was seen as the correct move, primarily because Alexis Sanchez went the opposite direction and the Armenian’s form had fallen into an abyss as deep as United’s pockets, but if Mourinho genuinely wishes to remain at Old Trafford and attempt to form a dynasty of sorts, then not every player that he struggles to get a tune out of can be deemed expendable.
…partially because he’ll have no players left.