When Jose Mourinho arrived at Old Trafford to face the world’s media for the first time as Manchester United manager, there was one question in particular he was ready for. As soon as the issue of giving young players a chance came up, Mourinho pounced, with a piece of paper in his hand almost Rafa Benitez-esque, to point out the ‘facts’ regarding his use of youngsters.
At United, Mourinho’s signings to date have had pretty good age profiles. Half have been in their early to mid-twenties, with only one, Zlatan, in his thirties. The Swede defied Old Father Time and was clearly a stopgap until Romelu Lukaku was acquired a year later. Having failed in two years to get anywhere near the Premier League title the manager knows that he has to get much closer to the top in his third season, as well as offering a far better challenge in Europe.
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To that end targeting ready-made players with experience makes a lot of sense, in some positions at least. Toby Aldereiweld is one that is logical, particularly if the Portuguese is looking for a top player to partner either of the raw pair of Eric Bailly and Victor Lindelof. Willian, on the right, is slightly more difficult to understand. He’s a good player in a position that desperately needs an upgrade, but there are brighter and younger talents out there and it would feel like a regressive step in a summer in which Manchester City look likely to acquire the brilliant Riyadh Mahrez to play in a similar position. Fred, the midfielder, is only 25, a good age as that area of the team is upgraded with Michael Carrick retiring and, if there is a God, Marouane Fellaini leaving when his contract expires.
I don’t think that Mourinho has done an exceptional job at United to date and the football is extremely difficult to watch. I wouldn’t bat an eyelid if he quit the club tomorrow. But making a binary argument about signings in a summer after which Jose knows he has to deliver both domestically and in Europe doesn’t work for me. We can question the quality of some of his signings and whether he has got the best out of them, but with the pressure on a change in target profile is entirely understandable even if we do not consider all, on an individual basis, to be the best option for particular positions.
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With the football season finally now at an end and with disaster averted thanks to Loris Karius and the stupendous Gareth Bale, we can finally relax, enjoy the sun and look forward to Russia 2018. We can also look forward to a thousand stories about United looking to sign Bale or Cristiano Ronaldo after both expressed doubts about their futures in Madrid immediately after the match in Kiev. Ed Woodward’s balls will be tingling. We can’t have it all. I still have some gloating in me about Liverpool’s demise in Ukraine, but also feel for Lorius and hope that Mo Salah is fit to play in the World Cup. He’s a wonderful footballer and comes across as a really nice guy, and the tournament will be better for his participation. As for United and Jose Mourinho, let’s see how the summer progresses. The Portuguese has made his final coaching change following the departure of Rui Faria, promoting Kieran McKenna from the under-18s.
The Northern Irishman has impressed at youth level, leading a fluid, attacking age-group team. Let’s hope his tactical positivism rubs off on the manager.
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