Jose Mourinho’s first press conference on Man United’s tour of the United States was the perfect antidote for the happy carnival that was the World Cup.
Over the course of that brilliant month, we almost came to the realisation that football is supposed to be a happy experience, before Jose barged back into our lives and reminded everyone that it is supposed to be a cynical, joyless affair by rattling off a list of increasingly tedious complaints.
Mourinho, “De Gea, Matic and Fred will come next week but everything is really bad. Then we go to the UK and have to play the PL and the broadcasters weren’t nice for us by giving us the complicated Friday match. Honestly, I’m worried.”
— Chris Winterburn (@cmwinterburn) July 18, 2018
The “complicated Friday match,” incidentally, is at home to Leicester City less than 24 hours before the majority of the other Premier League campaigns get underway.
A World Cup hangover, Alexis Sanchez’ visa issues and an indifferent start to the pre-season campaign in front of surprisingly sparse crowds have done little to lighten the atmosphere. Ahead of the new season, what are the major challenges facing Mourinho and Man United?
Improve Jose Mourinho’s gloomy demeanour
Mourinho’s sullen mood several weeks before the season has even started hardly bodes well for the main campaign, and it has rubbed off on sections of the support. Granted, Mourinho is rarely the sunniest of coaches but to hear him complaining already will surely have a knock-on effect on a squad looking to narrow the gap on rivals Man City at the top of the league.
The spectre of Mourinho’s “third season meltdown” – that period where his tenure at clubs traditionally goes off the rails in spectacular fashion – will have some United fans feeling wary ahead if the new campaign. That might just prove to be superstition, of course – but the manager’s surly demeanour hardly gives the impression of a positive atmosphere.
Fix the muddled transfer policy
Despite sending the bones of £75m this summer, Man United have been uncharacteristically quiet in the transfer market this summer. Fred should prove to be a fine signing, but the only other additions have been teenage full-back Diogo Dalot and veteran goalkeeper Lee Grant.
Reports over the weekend suggested that left-back Alex Sandro was a prime target – a problem position, so this made sense – but by Monday, attention seemed to have fully shifted to centre-back Harry Maguire. Maguire, of course, showed his quality for England at the World Cup, but one would have thought that Mourinho and Ed Woodward would have more pressing concerns than an already well-stocked area of the pitch (relatively speaking).
The fanciful notions of Gareth Bale, Roberto Lewandowski and Thiago Alcantara are pie in the sky (and at least two of those positions shouldn’t in any way be a priority) – and with the transfer window closing in just over a fortnight, time is running out to make a convincing splash in the market.
Of huge concern, meanwhile, is the reported departure of chief scout Javier Rabialta has reportedly left his role after just a year at the club.
On Javier Ribalta, it’s no surprise he has left after a year. Told he had ‘no power’ and club played down his role. #mufc
— Samuel Luckhurst (@samuelluckhurst) July 23, 2018
Decide on what to do with Anthony Martial
Martial remains one of the brightest prospects in European football – at the age of 22, time is still very much on his side to reach his potential (either at Old Trafford or somewhere else). However, there have been reports of interest from other clubs in England and Europe – and, by the sounds of it, Man United aren’t opposed to letting the French international depart if the price is right.
The arrival of Alexis Sanchez in January really threw Martial off last season – particularly as the new recruit came in and usurped the young forward’s place in the team. It was a huge blow as Martial had been playing really well, and has been a huge factor in his unhappiness ever since.
The club needs to decide what to do with the former Monaco man quickly, because the uncertainty surrounding his future isn’t good for any of the parties involved.
Somehow narrow the gap between themselves and Manchester City
Mourinho can point to the fact that second place was, technically, progress for a side that had been battling for a top-four spot for the three seasons previous. However, the reality is that, as far as the title race was concerned, there was Manchester City well out in front on their own – and then the rest.
Pep Guardiola’s side have since added the £60m signing of Riyad Mahrez – considering they had no real need for him, that should give an indication of how strong that squad already is. The squads remain far apart in terms of depth and quality as neither has done much of an overhaul – to suggest that Man United will narrow that significant gap with just one new first-team addition is a concept that even the most optimistic Man United fan would struggle with.
Stave off Liverpool
Where Man United have been quiet in the transfer market this summer, Liverpool have been the exact opposite. Jurgen Klopp and Michael Edwards have been extremely proactive in recruiting Naby Keita, Xherdan Shaqiri, Fabinho and Alisson in the summer.
In doing so, the Reds have addressed some glaring weaknesses in their squad while increasing the squad depth to the point where, arguably, Liverpool’s squad is now looking stronger than Man United’s. They certainly seem to have less weakness to fill right now, and the clamour among fans to sign Nabil Fekir seems to be based more on “want” rather than “need” at this very minute.
Not to suggest that Liverpool will definitely ahead of Man United this season – but the difference in mood surrounding the two clubs right now is telling.