Evolution is a part of life. Adapt, change or become obsolete. It is the gradual development of everything, including the natural change in a football squad. Manchester United was always heading this way once José Mourinho took charge at Old Trafford. The Portuguese has already begun moulding the squad in his own image. More is to come this summer.
“Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” – Mike Tyson
So far, so splendidly José Mourinho. The Portuguese manager strolled into his first press conference at Old Trafford looking and sounding every inch a Manchester United boss. Gone was the wild-eyed stare of the perpetually out-of-his depth David Moyes. Banished too was Louis van Gaal’s now discredited talk of philosophy. It was always BS, you know. In its place, comes Mourinho’s bravado and clarity of thought – a trait already playing out in the transfer market. Yet, in the back of the mind is the sneaking suspicion that one day, it might go just a little pear-shaped.
Thomas Müller. Gareth Bale. Arturo Vidal. Sergio Ramos. Wesley Sneijder. Five very fine, world-class footballers. The common thread: each participated in transfer sagas that lasted an entire summer, or in some cases even longer. Long, played out dramas that resulted in little but reams of newspaper speculation, and wasted hopes and dreams. Despite the club’s power, money and global reach, Manchester United has become a laughing-stock in the transfer market in recent summers. No longer.
Twenty one – the number of minutes Marcus Rashford spent on the pitch during the 2016 European Championships in France. There’ll be no more this summer. England has failed in the round of 16 once again, humiliated by a country whose inhabitants number around 300,000 – only a little more populous than the City of Salford.
The discovery of Penicillin is popularly described as a happy accident, a serendipitous quirk of fate that led to the creation of one of history’s most important drugs. Indulge the parallel for a moment, and the same could be said for Marcus Rashford’s rise. Drafted in as a late starter against Midtjylland last season, the young striker made his mark immediately and has proved to be one of the few bright spots in a lackluster campaign.
It is often beneficial to look at the Premier League as a whole to see where Manchester United stands and to identify any general trends. Last season was an unmitigated disaster, even with the FA Cup victory, and lessons should be learned to avoid the further ‘Liverpoolization’ of the club. In earlier Data Rant columns, statistical theory was not strictly observed – emphasizing intuition and broad trends above technicalities. However, with more advanced techniques we can get a more precise picture.
The Euros, together with the Copa Centenario, have provided the football world with a welcome distraction from another summer of transfer speculation. Things in the club game keep on moving though – despite the highlights, lowlights and simply bizarre moments of international tournaments. How on earth does it hail in France in the middle of June?
Old Trafford will bounce to the chant of “José Mourinho” for the next three seasons, with the Portuguese finally taking control of the club he has always wanted to manage. Mourinho might not host his first press conference until July, but the 53-year-old’s work is underway within a week of his managerial announcement. And there is plenty of work to do.
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.
So there it is. Manchester United’s long search for a major trophy after Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement finally came to a positive end. The Reds’ 2-1 FA Cup final victory over Crystal Palace at Wembley brought glory and silverware to the club – and Louis van Gaal the sack. It was the Van Gaal’s first taste of success in England, but was swiftly followed by an end to a period in which the Dutchman has increasingly alienated supporters and, critically, failed to deliver on his promises. Retirement beckons, José Mourinho beckons. Louis goes, but it is with a modicum of dignity restored. The same cannot be said for Ed Woodward.