Under new management and spending like there’s no tomorrow. Manchester United are not in the Champions League again next season, and with only one trophy in three seasons, it all seems to be too much for United’s fragile ego to take. Fair enough, really.
They’ve taken the executive decision to appoint born-winner Jose Mourinho and to trust him with cash – enough to break the world record and still have enough left over to make three huge signings.
Last season was painful to watch, and not just for United fans. After years of watching Sir Alex Ferguson’s teams dominate the league with style and verve, it was jarring to see a United team play with such toothless attacking intent, passing the ball around without ever taking a risk.
But there were some nice moments. The arrival of Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford, for example, will help United fans at least to see some sort of progress, but things certainly look very different now that Jose Mourinho is at the helm.
It’s usually quite simple at Manchester United. The fans expect to be entertained.
But up until recently, there really was no difference between being entertained and seeing your team lift a shiny trophy if you were a Manchester United fan. They used to come together.
But now there’s a choice to be made. And the appointment of Mourinho looks to be a nod towards trophies rather than beauty. Success, then, will surely be measured in silverware.
Jose Mourinho will have been happy to return to Manchester from China. Pre-season hasn’t gone according to plan for United, and their preparation hasn’t been ideal. But so long as the players are fit for the start of the season – a week after the Community shield – then all will be forgotten.
The signings, however, have been impressive. United under Mourinho are starting to look like they’ll be very dangerous in the race for the title, rather than settling for a return to Champions League football next season. The only blot on the copy book so far is the fact that the Paul Pogba deal is dragging on much longer than expected.
The longer that goes on, the more worried United will get, and not just about whether or not they’ll seal the deal: in pre-season every day is crucial, fitness is important, but team-building even more so. Every day that Pogba is still a Juventus player makes it harder to integrate with the squad before the season starts.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic is the biggest signing of the window as far as United are concerned, and all eyes will be on him to see if he can still produce his best quality in the world’s most physical league at the age of 34.
If he can do it, he could just be the man to bring United out of the toothless attacking slumber they’ve endured over the past few seasons. If he isn’t, then United may find themselves relying on Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford – and although that may not be the worst backup in the world, they’re two young players who should be getting game time every now and then to aid their development, not being relied on for goals by a club with three European Cups.
Wayne Rooney is Manchester United’s captain, but over the past two seasons or so the talk has centred around whether or not Rooney can still play up front, or whether his ageing body is better suited to a deeper role.
Jose Mourinho has made it very clear that Rooney will not be employed as a deep lying midfielder, so he will very much be an attacker. It’s strange to think that the man who will most likely retire as the top goalscorer for both England and Manchester United will have to prove himself this season, but that’s his situation.
If he does, however, he could not only break Manchester United’s all-time goalscoring record, but also find himself climbing up to sixth in their all-time appearances list, just behind Gary Neville. Rooney is playing for his legendary status.