At the season’s start the suggestion that José Mourinho would start with both Juan Mata and Henrikh Mkhitaryan would have been summarily dismissed. The notion that the pair could be picked in the same team has seemed fanciful for much of the campaign. After all, Mata and Mourinho shared a chequered history together at Chelsea, while Mkhitaryan was frozen out of the first team picture altogether for a large chunk of the season. Yet, the duo could be the club’s most important combination as United enter the business end of the season.
It was bound to happen. Even the staunchest José Mourinho defendant understood that the Portuguese manager comes with a guarantee of friction in the dressing room. Some supporters were surprised that it happened so soon. Don’t be. It works.
Chris Smalling, Luke Shaw, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Memphis Depay, Morgan Schneiderin, Henrikh Mkhitaryan: six players, almost £100 million in transfer fees, and one big falling out. For differing reasons each of the sextet could be headed out of the club, caught in José Mourinho’s demand for total commitment. Once again the Portuguese has demonstrated a single-minded drive to do things his way, one that will cost the club millions in depreciating player values. It had better be worth it.
Competition for places is a necessity for success. It keeps players at their sharpest, maintains motivation and, ultimately, is a factor driving the club forward. The introduction of a new manager can create a situation where competition is particularly important. Early performances create lasting impressions – a fact players under José Mourinho’s new regime already know.
For the first time in what feels like a generation there are plenty of options in Manchester United’s attack. Such was the depth of David Moyes and Louis Van Gaal’s mediocrity that each was an architect of some of the most boring football seen at Old Trafford in decades. It is now José Mourinho’s time and the impression is already strong that he will not stand for it. Fun is returning to the red side of Manchester.