Nothing in life is guaranteed. When Luke Shaw signed for Manchester United in summer 2014, by the newly appointed manager Louis Van Gaal, the club assumed it had purchased the best money could buy. The deal followed Shaw’s surprise inclusion in the England World Cup squad in preference to Ashley Cole, one of country’s finest left-back’s in the English game. Shaw’s 57 appearances for Southampton, some under Mauricio Pochettino, demonstrated enough potential to persuade United to spend £27 million on the left-back, making the 19-year-old the most expensive teenager in world football. It hasn’t worked out as hoped.
There have been three occasions on which Manchester City has visited Old Trafford with the clubs occupying the top two spots in the Premier League. Yet, the latest instalment has an entirely different narrative to it than those that proceeded.
Check out the Manchester United Foundation website and you’ll come across Maria. Maria is a talented striker who scored goals for United’s Regional Talent Club and by all rights her story is an uplifting one. Yet, if Maria is to pursue a playing career she is more likely to don the blue of Manchester City and not United’s red. United still does not have women’s team.
Michael Carrick did not feature in Manchester United’s handsome victories at Watford or Arsenal. The 35-year-old is still regaining fitness after a spell on the sidelines following detection of a worrying heart condition back in September. One suspects that the veteran midfielder will be enjoying the performances of fellow Englishmen Ashley Young and Jesse Lingard though; two revivalists enjoying life under José Mourinho. Not just because of Young’s successful reinvention as a decent left-back, or Lingard’s ascent to become United’s number 10, but the way each has transformed to get ahead. After all, Carrick is an avid student of the game.
The rivalry between José Mourinho and Pep Guardiola is one of modern day football’s great dramas. The duo have crossed swords numerous times, with Mourinho cast as the master of the dark arts, while Guardiola is portrayed as the idealistic purist. It is a story riddled with feuds, tetchy conflicts, and no shortage of bad blood dating back to the time when the pair were in charge of Spanish giants, Barcelona and Real Madrid.
The director of football, or sporting director, may seem like a modern phenomenon, but the role has existed for decades. Fundamentally, the role is an intermediary between the board and the first team manager, with a task of creating continuity: in the long-term direction, playing style, transfers, hiring and firing, and bridging the gap between the academy and the first team. Given that managers and players often focus match-to-match, the former with the intention of keeping his job and the latter with hope of staying in the team, the sporting director is charged with executing a long-term vision.
Yo, naysayers claiming that Paul Pogba is over-rated, too expensive and never turns up! Get. Back. In. Your. Box. Pogba is back. Bigger, stronger, and better than ever before. Boy did United miss him.
José Mourinho’s side never recovered from October’s international break, or more specifically, autumn’s momentum was shattered as the Portuguese sent his high-flying team out to defend at Anfield on 14 October. In the interim Mourinho’s side has failed to convince in any of the six league and cup fixtures since the bore draw on Merseyside. Victory over Tottenham Hotspur was hard-won, but defeats to Huddersfield Town and Chelsea have left United well off the Premier League pace. As November’s break comes to a close, the Reds face 13 fixtures between now and the end of the year. It’s a period that won’t make United’s season, but it could certainly break it.
The tale of the tape for José Mourinho’s Premier League campaign this season reads played 11, won seven, drawn two, and lost two. In that run 23 points have been garnered and United sits joint second in the table alongside Tottenham Hotspur, having scored 23 and conceded just five goals. Mourinho has all but guided his troops to the knock-out stages of the Champions League, winning four out of four, and his side is in the quarter-final of the Carabao Cup.
We’ll always have Wembley and Stockholm. Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s late header, Paul Pogba’s long-range strike, Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s flicked finish. These are the feel-good moments that football fans savour – the stuff from which memories are made. They’ll be more of these moments under José Mourinho. After all, he has spent a career hoovering up trophies. Mourinho has also spent much of the past two decades combusting in the most spectacular fashion. It’s never a good look and the writing for José’s Manchester United future is already on the wall.