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Rebuilding a fallen empire: Mourinho’s greatest challenge

May 27, 2016 Tags: , , Opinion 14 comments
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Once the curtain came down on David Moyes’ reign as Manchester United manager, it was clear that the Reds required a major overhaul to bring stability back to the club. Following the inevitable reshaping of the squad and the backroom staff under Louis Van Gaal, it seems that the club is in need of major surgery once again. The Dutchman has failed to end the malaise surrounding United’s fortunes. The higher-ups have some key decisions to make this summer.

The managerial situation was the most pressing issue on Ed Woodward’s in-box this summer. Van Gaal appeared to be a safe bet, mixing an experienced hand with exuberant statements in the media. From targeting a first place finish to drinking wine with the press, the Dutchman captivated audiences with his eccentric behavior. Two years on and the eccentricities remained, but the charm has long since worn off. Forget the title, by the end United barely resembled a side proficient enough to touch the tablecloth it lay upon – a drought of goals, pointless spells of possession and a complete lack of potency in attack.

Van Gaal oversaw just 49 goals this season – United’s lowest total in the past 26 years. Adding further salt to Mancunian wounds, it took United the final game of the season to outscore 17thplaced Sunderland. Van Gaal seemed oblivious to the state of his side, excuses becoming the only consistent aspect of his spell in Manchester. With the spectre of José Mourinho looming large over the past few months, Woodward has finally appeased fans by sacking the Dutchman and bringing in former Chelsea manager.

Injuries certainly left United exposed under Van Gaal, with Luke Shaw’s leg-break the most notable hole. None of the players who deputized for the Englishman did so consistently well. Van Gaal is not to blame for all of it, yet both Matteo Darmian and Marcos Rojo were his acquisitions. Rojo has never looked comfortable in a United shirt and the Argentine’s clumsy play rarely instills confidence. Given the runaround by too many wingers, it’s hard to understand what Van Gaal and his staff saw in the error-prone Sporting Lisbon man.

On the other flank, Timothy Fosu-Mensah highlighted Rojo’s ineptitude with performances his peer has rarely displayed. That should be the final nail in the Argentine’s blundering Old Trafford career, while Cameron Borthwick-Jackson showed rare maturity at left-back.

Darmian slotted seamlessly into the United side and the former Torino man was hugely impressive in his first few months at the club. It didn’t last and the Italian’s form fell off a cliff after November. Similarly, Memphis Depay was an ideal United player on paper, but he too suffered a mid-season dip and has struggled to recover form. Van Gaal, for all his experience, did little to rebuild his players’ confidence.

In particular Memphis has rarely played in recent months despite impressing in the wins against Arsenal and Midtyland. The Dutchman’s bit-part role reminds many fans of the broken relationship between Van Gaal and Angel Di Maria. The dynamic Argentinian departed after a single season at Old Trafford, and there remains a strong possibility that others will follow suit this summer.

Mourinho needs to make quick decisions on the future of fringe players such as Adnan Januzaj and Andreas Pereira before pursuing yet another attacking acquisition. The pair has talent, but can Mourinho coax out the best in them when Van Gaal could not. While Mourinho has a poor reputation for youth, he has uncovered some gems such as Raphaël Varane and Davide Santon at Real Madrid and Inter respectively.

While some players have failed spectacularly under Van Gaal, others such as Antonio Valencia and Ashley Young have enjoyed a renaissance. The Dutchman’s trust in utility players led to United boasting one of their smallest squads in Premier League history, with Van Gaal deliberately shaping his team around multifaceted players.

Daley Blind, in particular, has been transformed into a reliable option at centre back. His partnership with Chris Smalling was one of United’s rare positives this season, with the two ensuring United conceding only 35 goals in the Premier League, the joint-fewest along with Tottenham Hotspur. The former Ajax man is susceptible to pace and his marking is not always at the highest level. Mourinho is likely to bring in an experienced central defender, along with another full-back.

The aforementioned Varane and John Stones are reportedly Mourinho’s preferred targets, however the task of prizing either is likely to be difficult and expensive. The mix of youth and experience makes either an ideal candidate to compliment the Reds’ defence alongside Smalling next season.

Another department that requires reinforcements is in attack. Van Gaal took a bold gamble by limiting his striking options to Wayne Rooney and the relatively unknown Anthony Martial this season. Martial was a revelation, netting 17 goals for United, as the club’s leading scorer. While the Frenchman was primarily deployed as a winger, the emergence of Marcus Rashford could become Van Gaal’s defining legacy at United. The Wythenshawe native was trusted to lead the line, with only briefly enjoying a hot spell. It would represent another huge gamble to rely on Rashford alone in the coming season – his precocious talent needs to be protected to ensure the Englishman doesn’t burn.

So to reports in L’Equipe among others that Zlatan Ibrahimović will be Mourinho’s first signing at Old Trafford. The prolific striker brings huge amounts of experience, along with a charismatic aura that this United side is sorely lacking. Just like his former manager, Ibrahimović is a serial trophy winner. The Swede’s addition will be welcomed by a fans that miss the sight of truly world-class players at Old Trafford.

There is a note of caution though. Another great, Bastian Schweinsteiger, suffered a disappointing season at United, with the veteran German being injured for large parts of the campaign. When fit, he looked off the pace. Similarly, Ibrahimović could struggle in the more rigorous nature of English Football, and in turning 35 this year his accession represents a sizeable gamble. With reports of senior players angry at Van Gaal’s preferential treatment of Schweinsteiger, Mourinho should be wary not to fall into a similar trap if Ibrahimović arrives.

Either way, it is likely to be another summer of change – the only constant after Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement. After 26 years of stability under the Scot United scoffed at the idea of hiring managers with the notion of ‘short-term success’. Lasting legacies and a long-term view were the cornerstones of a club that witnessed significant changes at rivals every summer.

We now know that Ferguson was an anomaly in an environment where stability is as rare as Leicester City winning the league. In the three years since the legendary Scot hung up his coat, Moyes and Van Gaal failed to provide instant results or successfully build on Ferguson’s blueprint. United has gradually learnt that short-term success is, perhaps, the only viable success in today’s era. It won’t take long to ascertain whether the latest rebuild will finally bring a semblance of stability to the club.

14 comments

aki - May 27, 2016 Reply

its not fallen… Only base is built we have more building to do..

Teofelus Costa - May 27, 2016 Reply

I like the entry, but Memphis Depay should stay

denton Davey - May 27, 2016 Reply

Enjoy the ride ! It’s going to be a roller-coaster.

SAF had carte blanche to do whatever he wanted; it worked a treat. Unlike his previous jobs at CSKALondon and RM, Jo$e will not have an ignorant control-freak looking-over-his-shoulder and shit-stirring. It will be “my way or the highway” with the players. Also, Jo$e has had six months to scout, to prepare, and to analyze what needs to be done – in and of itself, that’s a huge bonus. PLUS, getting Ibra for “free” – i.e., no transfer fee just large wages – is another huge bonus which means that paying-over-the-odds for transfer-targets like Willian or Saul Niguez or Rafael Varane or John Stones or ??? becomes more palatable. The Glazers have the money and Jo$e is going to spend some of it.

Fun times ahead.

Julian - June 1, 2016 Reply

Indeed. Jose has had no other job quite like this one. He should relish it. How successful he is and how long he stays will depend largely on how adaptable he is to United’s traditions and culture. A little bit of humility coupled with more reand responsibility might see a change in Jose.

NazManUnited - May 27, 2016 Reply

I’m not mad? I actually think our squads quite good, the players need to be trusted & set up to play will balls

Ralph C - May 29, 2016 Reply

I think too many are too happy to follow the doom and gloom narrative in the general media.

United’s attack is pathetic. That is literally all there is to it. Our home form in the league is really quite good. Our defensive record on par with Spurs. That’s not nothing, but too many are too happy to dismiss it as nothing.

Van Gaa; literally just needed a creative force and a true star striker. And generally let the team attack.

Mourinho has got a job on his hand, but quite frankly, I don’t think he’s starting at 0. Van Gaal left a decent base in place to build on.

Opti - May 30, 2016 Reply

” just needed a creative force and a true star striker”
— Mata should have been the creative force? Depay was bought for it, too
— Why sell Chicharito and leave us skin-bare in front? Is the mexican not star enough? –> LvG’s biggest mistake, it appears, was depleting our strike force and struggling to score enough goals. Martial is amazing and Rashford is great, but LvG dug his own grave with that gamble… and it didn’t work out for United.

Opti - May 30, 2016 Reply

I even forgot to add that Di Maria was also supposed to be creative force… but I guess he never really wanted to put effort into the team.

Abba - May 29, 2016 Reply

One of the most pathetic things about lvg reing is after all the possession stuff and what not, opponents will make one brake and its all hell brea loose.
Jose teams are sometimes breathtaking, I like the 2005-2007 chelsea, very good in both attack and defence.

Mike - May 30, 2016 Reply

I am glad with the Mourinho appointment. He is the best we can do now regardless of his extra curricular activities.

But unfortunately United’s biggest problem will probably still be there next year. Rooney.

We will not be a force in Europe ala 2007-9 with him as a starter. As van Gaal eloquently said the captain has special privledges. Maybe he was slyly referring to the alleged contract clause stating he wont be benched. If Mourinho continues to pick Rooney irregardless of merit I think that will be confirmation of said contract clause.

Imagining the amount of games that will be wasted in trying to find the scousers position feels me with equal amount of frustration and apathy. He should plqy as a 9. No he should play at 10. No he should play as a box to box midfielder. No he should be defensive midfield. How long would it twkevthe press and his fan boys that he sucks everywhere. Or do we have to exhaust all possibilities and try him at defense and in goal.

What a waste of a season it will be for us fans and the other players in the squad .

Julian - June 2, 2016 Reply

You’re going to be very disappointed. Rooney will be a key player for Mourinho.

Rory Cornelius - May 31, 2016 Reply

I am not sure Mourinho’s style suits ManU. His park the bus attitude might not go well with the clubs fans. Ibrahimovich is getting long in the tooth and the rigours of the premier league might take a toll on him. Vir how come no mention of Wayne Rooney? I quite like Jesse Lingard playing alongside Rashford. ManU should play with new young home grown blood, true to thier clubs mantra in the past. Jose only gets established players and is used to managing delux teams. He has a brilliant footballing mind, hope he can turn the firtunes of Man U around. Summer transfers are going to be exciting. Looking forward to a great 2016/2017 season. All this from a Liverpool fan.ķ

Caius - May 31, 2016 Reply

Hope Man U recovers now that Mourinho is at the helm

Edgar picardo - June 2, 2016 Reply

Lovely and amazing God bless u

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