Mourinho moans but recruitment not money is where United’s problems lie

December 29, 2017 Tags: , , Opinion 16 comments
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José Mourinho’s assertion that the £300 million he has spent since taking the Manchester United job in 2016 is “not enough” to compete in the Premier League is easy to mock. After all, he has been afford more investment in less than two full seasons than David Moyes or Louis van Gaal before him. More, indeed, than Sir Alex Ferguson over the Scots final few seasons at United. Yet, in the context of Manchester City’s generation of heavy spending, the Portuguese may well be right, though it hardly explains all United’s ills. How the club spends its money is far more of a challenge to bridging the gap to the rampant Blues.

Mourinho’s comments came after the Reds’ second draw inside a week; two games that once again exposed the frailties present in United’s squad almost five years since Ferguson’s retirement. The Reds were hugely disappointing in dropping points against Leicester City and Burnley, while the recent cup loss to Bristol City opened up yet more questions about the level of progress under Mourinho.

"Mourinho’s assertion that the £300 million he has spent since taking the United job is “not enough” is easy to mock."

Inside Old Trafford Mourinho enjoys support, as did Moyes and Van Gaal before him. The atmosphere is far from as feted as the one that greeted the Dutchman two years ago when United lost four on the bounce in December. Yet, the doubts remain. Progress has come, with the team 10 points better off than at this stage than last season and Mourinho has also brought home two major trophies in his time at United.

But context, with City running away with the league, is king. United’s ascent is neither fast nor substantial enough for some, especially given that the club employs a manager who is both increasingly moody and and reluctant to ditch his ultra-negative tactics when it comes to the biggest games.

Jose Mourinho

For his part, Mourinho blames the quality of his players and the level of investment sanctioned by the club for any failings. He is not one for introspection, although it is not a message that has received widespread support.

“It is not enough,” Mourinho argued after United’s draw with Burnley. “The price for the big clubs is different from the other clubs. So the big, historical clubs are normally punished in the market for that history. When you speak about big football clubs, you are speaking about the history of the club.”

It is, of course, precisely United’s size and history that attracts an army of sponsors and broadcasters to pour money into the club. Now generating more than £500 million in revenue each season, investment in players and wages has increased substantially since Ferguson’s departure. No longer as hamstrung by the vast debt laid on the club by the Glazer family, United was supposed to have spent its way out of trouble by now.

“One thing is a big club and another thing is a big football team,” adds Mourinho. “They are two different things. We are in the second year of trying to rebuild a football team that is not one of the best teams in the world. Manchester City buy full-backs for the price of strikers.”

Still, since Ferguson left in 2013 United has spent £700 million in the transfer market, a figure that is only City, Paris Saint Germain, Real Madrid and Barcelona have beaten in world football*. It leaves an obvious conclusion: that perhaps it is not United’s level of investment that is the greatest challenge, but the players acquired, the method used, and the managers appointed to get the most out of money spent.

Indeed, after two disastrous appointments in Moyes and Van Gaal – the first horribly out of his depth, the second fundamentally at odds with United’s “history” of attacking football – the club is paying a very heavy price to rebuild. On the pitch Moyes and Van Gaal, together withs executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward, recruited 14 senior players at a gross cost of £385 million in transfer fees alone. There are none surviving that era who can be classified as an unequivocal success.

United’s summer of change in 2013 is still felt deeply, both the loss of Ferguson and CEO David Gill, and what came next. There were many words written about United’s transfer strategy in that summer, Moyes’ first in charge, but few of them were positive. The club’s propensity for generating ridicule was impressive, from the time the window opened in late May, to a touch over 100 days later when United over-spent to acquire Marouanne Fellaini.

Marouane Fellaini

In between there was a level of amateurish tomfoolery that left supporters’ overwhelmed with relief when the summer came to an end – that Woodward could cause embarrassment no longer. Strung along by Thiago Alcântara’s inevitable decision to join Bayern Munich, and humiliated by Cesc Fabregas’ manipulation of United’s interest, Woodward’s dash home from Australia in mid-July 2013 became the butt of a thousand memes – and heralded six weeks of maladroit bumbling.

United submitted barely credible bids for Fabregas, just after his Barcelona understudy Alcântara’s arrival in southern Germany. The club followed a similar strategy in its pursuit of Everton left-back Leighton Baines, lowballing offers that were quickly rebuffed. Woodward and United’s army of lawyers, agents and middlemen tried and failed to activate a buy-out clause in Ander Herrera’s contract, the Shakespearean farce ending in “imposters” visiting the Spanish FA to wrap up a non-existent deal. And the summer ended with a tsunami of reported bids for, among others, Daniele De Rossi, Fábio Coentrão and, as the player revealed, Sami Khedira. Juan Mata arrived the following January, but by then Moyes’ time was already winding down.

"It is to the agent-led approach that the club has turned. One that brings players through the door, but comes at a heavy price in terms of fees paid."

Van Gaal stimulated a larger flurry of transfer activity, the Board backing the Dutchman in a fashion that Moyes never enjoyed. Ángel Di María, Luke Shaw, Ander Herrera, Marcos Rojo, Daley Blind and Falcao joined in a spend that totalled more than £160 million in 2014. The strategy changed too, with United ditching Woodward’s direct negotiation, and leveraging ‘super agent’ Jorge Mendes to land Di María, Rojo and Falcao.

Indeed, it is to the agent-led approach that the club has turned since, one that brings players through the door, but at a heavy price in terms of fees paid to Mendes, Mino Raiola, and others.

United’s structure has not evolved though. Where Ferguson’s albeit now outdated network of contacts and scouts was once the envy of many, United has become a pawn in other actors’ games. Down the road at City, the Blues have little compunction in voicing a belief that the club’s transfer policy is superior to United’s. After all, City employs a Director of Football in Txixi Begiristain who is well-connected in Europe and beyond. At Old Trafford, the manager has the final say, and agents take home big fees. Van Gaal and then Mourinho have each tried to shape the squad in their vision, with little connecting the dots between.

Jorge Mendes

The transfer policy has brought little in the way of success. Van Gaal’s second season brought in Anthony Martial, Morgan Schneiderlin, Memphis Depay, Matteo Darmian, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Sergio Romero. It says much that only three remain at the club, and only Martial has any legitimate claim on a place in the first team. Even then, the Frenchman’s vast talent is only intermittently employed.

Recruitment has improved under Mourinho, and despite the Portuguese’s protestations, he has been well-backed. The Reds turned once again to Raiola last summer, bringing in Paul Pogba, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Eric Bailly and Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Romelu Lukaku, Nemanja Matic and Victor Lindelöf have followed. That’s more than £300 million in backing, including potential add-ons and agent fees. There are millions more committed in wages. As of November, United had the third largest wage bill in Europe.

Yet, there’s a strong sense both that Mourinho is not getting the most out of his squad, or that the club enjoys the right structure to guarantee success should yet more millions be released for transfers. After all, for all Mourinho’s gruff moodiness, petulant inability to take responsibility for his own failings, the club probably ranks no better than a C+ for recruitment since Ferguson’s retirement. It’s a damming thought.

*All data sourced from Transfermarkt.co.uk


tim - December 29, 2017 Reply

Look no further than the purchase of Lukaku to see how United get it wrong so often. When they plumbed for this guy over Morata I moaned that the team was going the classic British/United route of going for pace and brawn over skill. Lukaku is all speed and brute force, requiring the efforts of others to get the best out of him while offering them little in return – Rooney mark II. That they actually had first choice on Morata, and passes over him to take the Belgian player, speaks volumes to how United never seem to learn, even when bringing in a European manager who should know better. As for Mourinho, expect the honeymoon period to end quickly and for ‘the special one’ to either quite or get the boot. The idea that this guy could moan to the extent he has about money – when he’s spent so much during his time there and wasted a great deal of it on lame choices – is beyond belief. Sure, City are basically a plaything of a billionaire and would probably sink back to the championship if he took his money elsewhere, but the fact is that United have very deep pockets now that the Glazer loan has become less of a financial anchor, and the money being spent should be going on wiser choices and player development at the junior level to offset the overall costs.

tim - December 29, 2017 Reply

Sorry for the typos! Raced through the typing and posted without checking.

Denton Davey - December 30, 2017 Reply

Completely agree with you about choosing Lukaku over Morata: “going for pace and brawn over skill” and finesse.

red head - December 29, 2017 Reply

United have wasted 5 years fumbling about the transfer market. Ed Woodward sat back and watch agents rip us off by changing us ridiculous amount n then getting paid ridiculous fees for average players. Pogba is a very good player but he is not worth 90mil except that fee includes image rights which United can profit off in the future….Lukaku not worth
75mil….all LVGs buys bar Martial has flopped Blind n Rojo were cheap so i would say they are ok for their worth.

Pep inheriting a superior team is nonsense Citeh finished on the same points as us 2seasons ago last season they came third n won nothing. Jose was not backed fully in the summer n no one would sell to us at a fair price. Fergie leaving was a big blow to us as Gill as all the contacts and connection United had in the football world was lost….now every club is looking to screw us over….our solution is to bite the bullet give Jose the funds he needs let him build a team like he did at Chelsea and Real that will go on n win 🏆 years after Jose leaves.

Bonehead - December 29, 2017 Reply

As mentioned before Jose needs to start utilising his working materials better instead of misusing millions of pounds worth of talent. Pep is fulfilling his player’s potential, Jose is ruining ours. Is De Bryne definitely a better midfielder than Pogba, Fernandinho better than Matic, Ederson better than De Gea, Walker better than Valencia, I could go on and on. Jose’s style of management is exhausting for everyone including himself and his best days have gone unless he genuinely matures as a person and his man management skills improve as a result of it.

Mumford - December 31, 2017 Reply

“Is De Bryne definitely a better midfielder than Pogba, Fernandinho better than Matic, Ederson better than De Gea, Walker better than Valencia,”

As individuals the answer to that is probably ‘no’, but as a team, the league table seems to suggest the answer is ‘Yes’

Ben - December 29, 2017 Reply

Tim – have you watched Lukaku play? Pace? He barely moves.

Ben - December 29, 2017 Reply

“City are basically a plaything of a billionaire” – it’smore complex and sinister than that: https://goo.gl/fp24Yp

pelican tangerine - December 29, 2017 Reply

A bit harsh on Rooney Mk 1 Tim, on his day a force of nature and a fantastic servant to MUFC, and some of United’s recruitments have been glorious (Cantona, RvN, RvP et cetera) but I after totally with the authors points, the management system and recruitment is where the balls up lies, and five years later we’re still picking up the pieces. SAF made a monumental cock up in picking Moyes, something he has since suggested wasn’t his choice!!! And allowing Moyes to ditch the entire back room staff. Instead of plumbing for a young, hungry fearless manager with advisors surrounding him, they go for an old, set in his ways, tired busted flush in LvG. Jesus H. Christ!!! And now Mourinho (whom I’ve always thought was a bad choice for MUFC) leading us down dark, moody paths that will inevitably find us lost and directionless.

Instead of spunking gazillions on more quick fixers, why not try out the talented youth that we have. I can live with that type of failure, but not this current reactionary bullshit we have to watch now.

Thanks for the blog and podcasts.

Peace and love to all for 2018.


subterranean steve - December 29, 2017 Reply

Lukaku has played every minute of every Premier League game so far this. Mourinho admits that the lad is tired and needs a rest, but he (Mourinho) says he cannot give him one. The inference being that the player is indispensable.

Mourinho has got to be kidding. We have two of the brightest strikers in the country wasted job-sharing one position. Both Martial and Rashford are underused. Then there is Zlatan now back in the squad. He may not be match-fit but surely more game time is what he needs. Add to that, Lingard who is in decent goal scoring form.

Yet somehow Mourinho thinks it’s too risky giving Lukaku a rest.

Mumford - December 31, 2017 Reply

“Lukaku has played every minute of every Premier League game so far this. Mourinho admits that the lad is tired and needs a rest, but he (Mourinho) says he cannot give him one. The inference being that the player is indispensable.”

I hate that, the bloke spends 180mins a week playing football, and at the most 120 mins a day training on other days, and gets Sundays off ! unless he is playing, so in a 7 day week he is actually ‘doing his job’ for about 16hrs, the rest of the time is spent lounging around, playing golf, watching horse racing, taking the kids to school etc, tell me what exactly does he need a rest from, I have to work 60hrs a week to watch him once a month, and I expect better for my Quid.

Dazza2501 - December 31, 2017 Reply

Never been sold on the Director of football model, but reliving United’s recruitment through this article makes you wonder if it’s worth a try. The gap in ability between Woodward &’David Gill is as wide as that between Sir Alex & Moyes. In 2013 the club failed to build on success & has been trying to stop the rot ever since. As far as Mourinho is concerned it always seems to be about his agenda and reputation, not the club he is richly paid to lead. I am wondering if he has lost some support amongst the players, complaining about the investment, publicly calling them childish. The negative tactics in big games tells the squad he doesn’t rate them, but the starts flirting with PSG. It looks like Mourinho has bought his melt down forward a year. I am starting to worry Jose Mourinho is a spent force. Given the upheaval at United sine 2013, I really hope i’ m wrong.

Bonehead - January 1, 2018 Reply

United to drop out of the top 4 under Sith Jose.

Leads to 2018 : A New Hope feat. Carlos (A) and the Class of 92!

Julian - January 1, 2018 Reply

Ancelotti would only be a short term fix as, if truth be told, is Mourinho. At best Jose has one more season at OT to get it right before someone like Pochettino is approached. The club must be hoping that in the interim Pochettino establishes himself as a winner which he has yet to do. That will of course make it more diffficult to get him. Not an easy road ahead.

Bonehead - January 1, 2018 Reply

I agree would be a short term appointment, that’s why having selected members of The Class of 92 as the prominent backroom staff and being mentored would be a preferred option. Barcelona and Madrid have gone the internal route and it is sustainable. Ancelotti to take up a director of football type position after the transition.

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