Friday night’s comfortable 4-0 win over Yeovil Town in the FA Cup completed a very good week for Manchester United. On Monday weeks of speculation ended when Chilean forward Alexis Sanchez was confirmed as a United player. Then came the news that manager José Mourinho had signed a contract extension keeping the Portuguese manager at the club until at least 2020, with an option for another year.
“I am really honoured and proud to be Manchester United manager”, said Mourinho. “I would like to say a big thank you to the owners and to Mr Woodward for the recognition of my hard work and dedication. I am delighted they feel and trust that I am the right manager for this great club for the foreseeable future.”
Halfway into his initial three year contract, United’s hierarchy has reason to believe that they have found the man to guide the club back to the top of the domestic and European game after a barren post-Sir Alex Ferguson period. Friday night was also Mourinho’s 55th birthday and his 100th game in charge of the team. He enjoyed his 62nd win at the Red Devils.
"Halfway into his initial three year contract, United’s hierarchy has reason to believe that they have found the man to guide the club back to the top of the domestic and European game."
“We have set very high standards,” he added. “Winning three trophies in one season – but those are the standards I expect my teams to aim for. We are creating the conditions for a brilliant and successful future for Manchester United. To be Manchester United manager is an honour every day and I am really happy.”
During his 18 months at Old Trafford, Mourinho has evolved the team significantly from his opening games, starting with Daley Blind and Chris Smalling as the preferred centre back pairing, and using the aging Wayne Rooney as a deep-lying playmaker. Players such as Morgan Schneiderlin, Memphis Depay and Rooney have been replaced by Paul Pogba, Alexis Sanchez and Romelu Lukaku. Upgrades all.
Mourinho has overseen three transfer windows, recruited eight new players – less than half of the number acquired by Pep Guardiola at City – and sold off 12, including former captain Rooney. The latter probably should have departed when Sir Alex retired.
When Mourinho took over the reigns it was only three years since United’s last league title, in May 2013. The club was also the FA Cup holder, yet the Portuguese coach arrived at a club in disarray after the mess left behind by David Moyes and Louis Van Gaal. Players, staff and directors had left the club en mass, with Kath – receptionist since 1967 – seemingly the only constant presence.
Mourinho has overseen the ongoing development of goalkeeper David De Gea, brought new life into the formerly perennially injured Phil Jones, and succeeded to some degree in toughening-up the still raw Luke Shaw. Local lads Marcus Rashford and Jesse Lingard have been offered plenty of minutes on the pitch, with the latter probably the Premier League’s most improved player. The former is the only to feature in every United game this season.
Locally-born midfielder and lifelong United fan Scott McTominay played the full 90 against Yeovil in the Cup, and will get plenty more chances when Marouane Fellaini leaves the club this summer. Mourinho has given senior debuts to ‘keeper Joel Perreira, defender Axel Tuanzabe and exciting prospect Angel Gomes too. So why the persistent myth that the manager doesn’t have time for youth, when it could be that he is simply following Sir Matt Busby’s advice that “if they are good enough, they are old enough”? Indeed, this season, Mourinho has given academy players, including Paul Pogba, a total of 3540 minutes on the pitch, up to United’s fixture against Burnley. The minutes offered to academy graduates on the other side of Manchester, by contrast, is just seven.
"United has scored more goals, conceded fewer and the club’s points total is better this season than at any other point since Sir Alex’ retirement."
Not that Mourinho’s United side is the finished article just yet. The manager does need to win the Premier League title at some point before 2020, but he has every right to claim United’s spending isn’t enough to compete against City. Abu Dhabi’s sovereign wealth fund has spent around £2 billion on the club, developing a state of the art training facility, and spending heavily in the transfer market, not including wages and agent fees, since the take over in the summer of 2008. From the Abu Dhabi takeover at City to Ferguson’s retirement in May 2013, the Blues outspent the Reds by 450 per cent on transfer fees alone.
At Old Trafford, the cost of having the Glazer family as owners since 2005 has exceeded £1 billion, including the current debt and dividends paid to the family. United’s owners haven’t injected a single penny into the club, but have at least allowed the club to live off its own generated money in recent years.
Either way, whatever Mourinho spends this summer, he will still be playing catch-up, much in the way Ferguson had to spend big to catch the Merseyside clubs and Arsenal in the 1980s and ’90s after years of relative neglect following Sir Matt Busby’s retirement in 1969.
The starting team in United’s last Premier League game – an away victory against Burnley – contained no fewer than six players from the Ferguson era, including all five in defense. Stopper De Gea, Ashley Young, Antonio Valencia, Chris Smalling, Phil Jones, with forward Lingard, who was mostly loaned out during the Ferguson years, all featured at Burnley.
To give that some context. From Sir Alex’ first game in charge as manager of United – a 2-0 loss to Oxford City 8 November 1986 – to his first trophy, the 1990 FA Cup – the entire first XI was replaced, albeit with captain Bryan Robson being injured for the manager’s first game in charge. Mourinho should and will bring in more of his players during the coming transfer windows.
The manager has achieved plenty during his first 18 months in charge and there is more to expect, but he will need the backing of Ed Woodward and the Glazers to succeed. Of the past 14 seasons, United has outspent City just three times, and that includes the summer of 2005, three years before Abu Dhabi’s sovereign wealth fund took charge at the Blues.
United has scored more goals, conceded fewer and the club’s points total is better this season than at any other point since Sir Alex’ retirement. This season’s Premier League title City’s to lose, of course, but it is worth remembering that United hasn’t finished inside top three since Ferguson left. The Reds now employ the best man to take the club back on top. After all, Mourinho is the only manager in the Premier League era that has won the league with a negative net spend at Chelsea in 2014/15. Pep Guardiola will never have to achieve the same at City.
Transfer data source: transfermarkt
United under Mourinho – 100 games, all competitions
Goals scored: 180
Goals conceded: 70
Trophies: 2 (or 3 if you believe Mourinho!)