Last August, Man United left no stone unturned in their attempts to sign Sadio Mane from Southampton.
This summer, however, under the new leadership of Jose Mourinho, the club are about to close deals for charismatic Swedish forward Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Borussia Dortmund’s energetic attacker Henrikh Mkhitaryan.
And despite failing to finish within the top four, the Red Devils ability to lure players of the quality that the likes of Mkhitaryan represent signify the colossal progress the club has made in the last twelve months.
This summer’s transfer activity has made it evident Manchester United are far ahead of Liverpool, for example. Yes, the Reds will soon complete Mane’s signing and it is a relatively impressive one. But the Senegalese managed eleven goals and six assists in thirty appearances last season in the Premier League. Mkhitaryan scored eleven and assisted fifteen in twenty-eight games for Borussia Dortmund in the Bundesliga. The difference is little between the two divisions.
The fact also that United are not only loosely linked with a player of Paul Pogba’s calibre but that there are concrete suggestions the club are readying a bid for the Juventus superstar is another example of the rise of a once gargantuan club.
Louis van Gaal did not have any fear to use money to improve the club, but often chose to exuberantly splash finances at problem positions in the hope that a purchase would solve the gaping hole left by a departure or retirement, instead of carefully calculating what player would be the right fit.
For example, although Marcos Rojo is not a poor footballer, there is little evidence to suggest that van Gaal became interested in the defender’s availability due to an impressive performance here and there during the 2014 World Cup for Argentina. Certainly, there were no rumours linking United to the then Sporting Lisbon player prior to the tournament.
Such rash decisions sometimes work out in the long-term, but van Gaal’s impatience and impulsiveness resulted in the Dutchman losing a job he never really seemed that motivated to succeed in after a long managerial career.
Replacing him is a controversial figure in Jose Mourinho who, quite simply, failed at Chelsea during his second spell. In contrast to van Gaal, though, the former ‘Special One’ now has a point to prove and is ready to show the world he is not afraid to be ambitious in the market. Such signings as Mkhitaryan illustrate as such.
In many of United’s current crop, looking at Morgan Schneiderlin and Marcus Rashford, are players who have an abundance of ability yet who both need to be nurtured. Schneiderlin undoubtedly suffered as a consequence of having van Gaal as a manager, but Rashford succeeded in spite on the former Barcelona managers’ brusque tactics.
With Rashford, despite a rise similar to Wayne Rooney’s with Everton, the club and fans over-reliance on a man so young could lead to his undoing. It is important, therefore, for Mourinho to find a balance between his powerful form of man-management and his emphasis on strong-willed players. His failure to do so cost him his job at Chelsea, and lost the club individuals such as Kevin de Bruyne, who was evidently mismanaged before his move to Wolfsburg.
There is a lot of deadwood and inadequacy in the Red Devils ranks. Of that, there is no doubt. But with carefully structured transfer strategies and reevaluated thinking into the importance of finding both an equilibrium in the team coupled with a potent attacking threat, the future is bright for Manchester United under Jose Mourinho.