Manchester United’s season has been one of frustrating but gradual improvement under José Mourinho’s stewardship. Little by little the last vestiges of Louis van Gaal’s philosophy is being chipped away, to be replaced with a style of football that’s more in-keeping with the demands of United supporters.
It’s too soon to raise expectations beyond the minimum, but the higher quality of play has given Mourinho breathing room to implement an effective squad overhaul and regeneration. At least when the Portuguese isn’t threatening the lives of others by kicking water bottles across Old Trafford.
Perhaps more promising still is the rumour that United’s football structure could be getting a welcome shot in the arm. Agent Dario Canovi has claimed that United’s top brass are interested in bringing in Atlético Madrid’s sporting director Andrea Berta to Old Trafford.
This isn’t the first time Berta’s name has been linked with a move to the red side of Manchester. The Italian was mentioned as a potential United sporting director as early as February this year – a rumour that came in tandem with news that José was interested in succeeding Van Gaal.
Mourinho may well be realising that the task at hand at Old Trafford is significant, and Berta could make the manager’s make life easier by taking on some of the hefty workload. It sounds like an attractive proposition, with the Atlético sporting director boasting a good track record in identifying and signing talent at reasonable fees, including Jan Oblak and José Giménez.
It’s always worth treating agent talk such a Canovi’s with a hint of suspicion as there’s likely to be an agenda lurking under the surface. Speaking to Calciomercato Canovi indicated that Berta could form part of a dream team with Diego Simeone at Internazionale, if the Italian club’s grand plan is to lure Simeone back to Italy.
“It would mean that Inter really want to get back to winning,” Canovi said of Simeone’s potential capture. “Berta is a champion. In these years at Atlético he has always achieved good results and gained money. He finds important players without paying too much, he has done miracles in Madrid.”
“Although it would be far from simple. The best clubs in the world want Berta, the big English teams as well and not just Manchester United.”
It could certainly be that Canovi is telling Inter’s hierarchy to get to work. No better way to shake off any sense of complacency at the Nerazzurri than by using United as leverage. Indeed, Canovi also said that he’d like to see Berta back in Italy, so there is reason to his statement. It also doesn’t rule out United’s interest in the Atlético sporting director. After all, as part of the Old Trafford rebuild the club hired Gerardo Guzmán, who was chief scout at none other than Atlético Madrid.
"Mourinho may well be realising that the task at hand at Old Trafford is significant, and Berta could make the manager’s make life easier by taking on some of the hefty workload."
Another link is Portuguese super-agent Jorge Mendes, who is reportedly close to Berta as well as being Mourinho’s representative. Given the ties that Berta and Mourinho share it’s not hard to envision United’s manager and the Italian working together, knowing that they are being backed by one of the most powerful men in football.
Where would that leave Ed Woodward? The United executive vice-chairman has been one of the main figures when it comes to player recruitment in the years since David Gill stepped down, and after getting his fingers burned, he managed to deliver in last summer’s window. Yet, hiring Berta would require Woodward to step back on player recruitment, an area the executive appears to enjoy, despite his failings in the market.
Not that Woodward lacks for scope in a wide-ranging role. With a seemingly endless roster of commercial partnerships and tie-ins needing his attention, Woodward may also have come to the conclusion that there’s simply too much job for one person to handle. Berta’s acquisition would reinforce United’s football and player recruitment structure, potentially offering the perfect solution to help the club both on and off the pitch.
Moreover, if the club’s preeminent summer transfer target truly is Antoine Griezmann then hiring Berta to negotiate the deal seems like a sensible route to take. Theoretically, the move should be a smooth one – unless Atlético feels slighted of course – especially given Berta’s knowledge of the Frenchman’s contract. In one swoop Woodward would make his marketing department happy by bringing in another bona fide star, while boosting United’s squad strength.
In the longer run Berta could also supplement United by recruiting hidden gems like Eric Bailly, saving the club from paying monstrous transfer fees in the process.
Perhaps most importantly, it is reported that Berta is not just somebody Mourinho willing to work with, but one with whom he is keen on having a professional relationship. If the Portuguese manager is indeed at Old Trafford for the long haul then anything that helps him build a strong, stable and effective football structure is in everyone’s interest.
Appointing Berta as a sporting director would also help United modernise its football infrastructure without compromising the managerial model currently in operation. If he does arrive then it’ll further demonstrate United’s desire to bring its football department up-to-speed with the demands of the modern game.
A ‘holistic overhaul’ may be too fancy a phrase to dress-up Berta’s potential arrival, but perhaps interest signifies a recognition that it isn’t just the playing squad that could do with the benefits of team building and strengthening.