Henrikh Mkhitaryan wore a broad grin upon his face as he proudly held aloft his new Manchester United jersey in front of the waiting press at Old Trafford yesterday.
Unbeknownst to him, the moment he touched down on English soil, his new manager Jose Mourinho gleefully rubbed his hands together.
Perhaps it was because the Portuguese had just acquired one of his finest signings as a manager to date in the form of the Armenian, but quietly, the mischievous one was surely laminating his final list of which players he could grab by the short hairs and boot out of the door.
When Mourinho arrived at Chelsea after infamously winning the Champions League with Porto in 2004, there were to be no misconceptions in what was his first encounter with the English media, who were salivating upon every word that the charming ‘Special One’ chose to speak.
“I hate to work with big squads. I want a small squad – 21 players plus the goalkeepers and no more.”
In truth, the gargantuan heights that Roman Abramovich yearned to take Chelsea after his takeover of the club in 2003 had plans to encompass a large squad, with the idea that a manager would have a large roster of players to select from in order to compete in both the Premier League and in Europe.
However, being forced to operate with a large number of individuals, many of whom had big personalities, was never to Mourinho’s liking. A growing ego would never allow it, nor did it fit his ethos of fighting for victories with a small set of players that he knew and could trust.
In 2007, despite a growing injury crisis, it was inconceivable that Mourinho would replenish his depleted stock of players, insisting that he would struggle on with a 24-man squad.
During the 2014/15 season, in which Chelsea romped to the title, the Blues were happily perched upon the top of the tree at Christmas. It had been cleverly noted at the time that Mourinho had used just 20 players at that point.
At the start of what would be Mourinho’s last season at Chelsea, he had decided to send almost 30 players on loan.
Chelsea’s youth academy constantly churned up promising talents and Mourinho never failed to send his young charges around the world, placing undeveloped players on the back burner, favouring his tested, albeit expensive stars.
And now, Mourinho has taken the helm at Manchester United, an unprecedented and simply astounding appointment to even consider a year ago.
Whether you adore or detest a man who is one of the Premier League’s most iconic figures, there is little argument amongst the masses that Mourinho will not only steady a creaking ship in Manchester United, but completely accelerate what has been glacial progress since Sir Alex Ferguson retired.
After stepping off a train from London to begin his first week in a fresh and exciting era, he nonchalantly declared ‘I am here. United we can.’ For a man who works tirelessly to orchestrate his thoughts into a bold and often dramatic rhetoric, his words were an accurate portrayal of the huge statement of intent he had issued with his signings.
‘I am here’ says Mourinho. Well, so are Manchester United.
The signing of Mkhitaryan has taken Mourinho’s squad total to 24, if you include fringe players. Should United add Paul Pogba, or acquire another world-class performer, what looked like a quiet exit for a select few will be transformed into a mass exodus.
As it is, there are several within the camp whose place in Mourinho’s plans are under threat. Inconsequential players, such as Marcos Rojo and Adnan Januzaj, will surely find alternative clubs. One imagines Januzaj’s ultimatum to the club would have amused many within the Old Trafford set-up ahead of Mkhitaryan’s arrival.
But it is quite easy for any ordinary manager to relinquish the bench warmers. It takes an individual with a shrewd perspective of what player will truly boost his team to know what first-teamers need to leave the club.
Many suggest Jose Mourinho’s seemingly imminent sale of Juan Mata is just a continuation of an apparent vendetta, but in truth Mata will never make the United first team now. Mourinho has already stated that Wayne Rooney will not play in midfield, with an advanced number 10 role suggested by many journalists and fans, which means there will be no place for the Spaniard.
If Mourinho decides to utilise a popular 4-2-3-1 formation, the attacking element of the team are already set in stone. Anthony Martial on the left, Rooney in the centre, with Mkhitaryan being deployed on the right of the attacking three in a position he flourished in with Borussia Dortmund.
Elsewhere in the team, the likes of Bastian Schweinsteiger, Daley Blind, Maraoune Fellaini and James Wilson may have numbered days in Manchester. There is no room for bit part players or inconsistency in this new era at Old Trafford. Only the best will suffice, and that means Mourinho will thrive in eradicating many unnecessary luxuries.
The departures that will come from Old Trafford in the next month may not go with the general consensus of who should leave, but Jose Mourinho is swinging that axe, and the deadwood he eliminates will be forgotten as a new era begins.