Zlatan Ibrahimovic is a man used to the spotlight. The Swede eventually stole the headlines with two goals against Southampton on Friday night, but Paul Pogba was firmly the centre of everyone’s attention during Manchester United’s first game at Old Trafford this Premier League season. The Frenchman’s integration could encourage manager José Mourinho to change his approach this season.
“And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to depart into hell.”
Rant doesn’t often get biblical, but in a summer of tough decisions for Manchester United, it is true that success sometimes necessitates sacrifice. Trimming the fat can be the price of moving forward, making tough calls for the betterment and progression of a club. United might need to address the elephant in the room – Wayne Rooney is the hand that might need to be severed for the body to survive.
So here it is: after an 85 day break the new Premier League season begins this weekend. José Mourinho has added four high-class players to his squad and will now, presumably, concentrate on cutting some bloat before the window closes at the end of August. Indeed, Manchester United’s confidence and hopes are higher than at any time since Sir Alex Ferguson retired. It’s a fine squad, albeit with some holes, that should challenge on multiple fronts this season. But who’s the best and the who’s the worst at Old Trafford. Rant ranks them all, from 30 to 1.
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.
It took little more than four minutes. The spin, the leap, the goal. Zlatan Ibrahimovic as only Zlatan could, scoring on his non-competitive début, with a bicycle kick of sorts against Galatasaray in Gothenburg. The moment of Manchester United’s pre-season; a flash of brilliance to underline that the coming season should be very different from the three that have preceded it. Hope, then, for millions of United supporters, although questions still surround a squad that remains incomplete and a tactical plan that is far from firm.
It’s a simple equation: Manchester United needs Paul Pogba more than Paul Pogba needs to be with the Reds. Sign o’ the times. It’s little wonder that Juventus has backed Ed Woodward into a corner over the mooted £100 million transfer fee, with agent Mino Raiola battering the executive vice chairman into submission over his commission. Despite reports of a ‘stalled bid’ and renewed Real Madrid interest the Reds will probably end up paying all of it. It’ll still be a bargain if it helps bring the Premier League trophy back to Old Trafford.
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.