Paul Pogba’s tough start to life at Manchester United is reflective of the struggle the club has faced in turning record acquisitions into real success since Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement. In fact United has failed to extract the most from its last three record purchases: Pogba, Angel di Maria, and Juan Mata. While the players’ performances, attitude and commitment can sometimes be called into question, it also clear that the United has made precious few plans for what to do with the club’s shiny new toys.
Statler and Waldorf have finished watching Manchester United’s humbling at Stamford Bridge by Chelsea. Are they fans of the Red Devils? Probably not, but if there’s an opportunity to have a good moan the pair are always game for a whinge.
N’Golo Kante and Paul Pogba were two of the star midfielders that dominated the transfer talk during the summer as records tumbled and serious cash was spent. Manchester United broke new ground with four shiny new acquisitions, including lavishing a world record sum on Pogba. Sometimes, though, clubs do not get what they need most. United might just have missed out on a bargain amid all the spending.
There are a couple of things to be said about United’s last transfer window. First, it was the most successful window that the club has enjoyed since Sir Alex Ferguson retired. Yet, there is still work to be done to fine tune the squad. One position is at centre-back, and more specifically who should partner the impressive Eric Bailly.
Fans think of footballers as solely that, heroes with a ball, rarely considered beyond the pitch. Despite players’ outrageous wages, they all lead lives outside of their football. They have wives, girlfriends (boyfriends), mistresses, children, friends, pressures and stress: the same as everybody else. Much of it holds little interest for supporters. For players, including Anthony Martial, real life can get in the way.
You know the drill. Skip England’s latest embarrassment, bolster hipster credentials by catching American Samoa versus Cook Islands at the Loto-Tonga Soka, wait a fortnight for United’s next game. International week: too often football’s equivalent to watching paint dry. Except, of course, for the diverse collection of Reds in action this week, leaving the kids, the retired and Bastian Schweinsteiger to train at Carrington ahead of United’s fixture with Liverpool next Monday night.
There is something about Ander Herrera’s style that feels intrinsically Mourinho-esq. The sharp eye for a pass and sharper appetite for the tackle; the high-energy modern approach and speed across the ground. Yet, the Spaniard has featured in just eight Manchester United matches this season, and only three in the Premier League as a starter. It is incongruous. That pattern might be about to change though, with the 27-year-old having successfully claimed a role as José Mourinho’s first-choice defensive midfielder.
Picture the scene. Sir Alex Ferguson at his masterful best. Bracketed by journalists anticipating Manchester United’s October 2010 Champions League encounter with Bursaspor, the Scot feigned shock and disgust at Wayne Rooney’s overnight accusation that United, then 132-years-strong, 18-times English league champions, and three times kings of Europe, lacked the ambition to house Rooney’s talents. Ferguson was pitch-perfect in the rejoinder; Rooney’s agent, Paul Stretford, held firm that it was time to move on. Manchester City called with the big bucks Rooney had always craved. In the end the Reds bowed to Rooney’s demands and the former Evertonian was awarded the first of two massive contracts in the past six years. But what if the Scouser had moved on…
It was a moment more than three years in the making. Ever since Sir Alex Ferguson swung his axe in the striker’s direction in 2013, Manchester United fans were introduced to the idea of life after Wayne Rooney. It has taken longer than Ferguson would have envisaged, but following a series of abject performances by the striker, José Mourinho finally elected to relegate an ailing Rooney to the bench.
As the saying goes you’re only as strong as your weakest link. It certainly applies in football. For all a team’s strengths, opponents will target and exploit any weakness. World’s best attack? There’s little point if the midfield can’t deliver the ball or the defence can’t keep opponents from scoring. This is the difficulty of team building, as José Mourinho is discovering.