With José Mourinho now officially in the door at Manchester United, attention will now inevitably turn to who will be following him to Old Trafford.
The links have started already, with Spanish daily Marca producing a list of 16 players that UK sources have claimed are on Mourinho’s radar. Manchester United are undoubtedly going to be different next year – both in terms of style and appearance – but when the dust settles, how will the actual starting eleven look?
Wholesale changes are not necessarily required, but a few tweaks to the starting lineup (plus a manager who can motivate them) would make this side far stronger than the 15/16 incarnation.
Here’s one potential lineup.
Goalkeeper: David de Gea
Man United’s saviour on more than one occasion last season, De Gea’s failed transfer to Real Madrid last season was thought to just postpone the inevitable and the keeper would be off to the Bernabéu this summer. Indeed, had Louis Van Gaal stayed, then the 25 year old would almost certainly have departed.
However, he is now far more likely to stay. It’s by no means guaranteed, of course, but the lure of Mourinho may keep him where he is despite the lack of Champions League football.
Right Back: Matteo Darmian
If Van Gaal had remained, then it seems almost certain that 18 year old Timothy Fosu-Mensah would have been his first choice right back going into this season. As it is, Mourinho is likely to favour the greater experience (i.e. older) of Italian international Darmian.
However, the £12.7m signing from Torino did not enjoy the best of seasons last term, and while his position might not be a priority in this window, it would not be a surprise to see a new right back signed in January or next year.
Centre Back: Chris Smalling
FA Cup final red card aside, “Mike” was Man United’s standout defender last season. Now 26, the England international is growing into the role of Manchester United centre back, and will only improve with a manager like Mourinho guiding him next year.
Was hampered by having an out-of-position Daley Blind next to him last season, so needs a strong partner.
Centre Back: John Stones
21 year old John Stones is still very raw at the top level, but given Mourinho’s determination to bring him to Chelsea last year he definitely sees something special in the England international. Trusting someone so young to be a vital cog in a squad rebuilding would be atypical of José, but it would be indicative of how highly he rates the young player.
Stones is likely to leave Everton this summer, and while Manchester United are likely to bid for his services, so too will Pep Guardiola and Manchester City. Real Madrid’s Raphael Varane and Kostas Manolas of Roma hav been mooted as possible alternatives.
Left Back: Luke Shaw
Having been sidelined for most of last season through injury, 20 year old Shaw will be raring to go for the next campaign.
Though, like Stones, Shaw is still very young for a defender, he is another player whom Mourinho tried to bring to Stamford Bridge before his £30m move to Man United in 2014. Shaw will therefore surely feel that he is to play a big role in the new manager’s plans.
Will potentially be the club’s first choice left back for the next decade.
Centre Midfield: André Gomes
Though Michael Carrick is apparently now set to stay at the club, Mourinho is believed to be on the lookout for a new central midfielder. A playmaker in the form of André Gomes would certainly fit the bill.
Portuguese international Gomes has appeared on the radar of several top European clubs this year after a series of eye-catching displays. The Valencia midfielder has been linked with a €40m move to Juventus, but given the faact that the player is represented by Gestifute (owned by one Jorge Mendes), should Manchester United establish their interest, there would appear to be only one likely destination for the 22 year old.
Centre Midfield: Morgan Schneiderlin
With André Gomes in midfield, Manchester United would also need a holding, commanding player next to him.
Though Morgan Schneiderlin did not have the best of debut seasons – resulting in his omission from France’s Euro 2016 squad – following a £24m move from Southampton last summer, the 26 year old’s athleticism, tackling and concentration can be invaluable in the right setup. There’s a reason he cost £24m in the first place.
Man United have been linked with a £25m move for Chelsea’s Nemanja Matić, but the truth is that they don’t really need him when they have a player like Schneiderlin already on the books.
Attacking Midfield: Wayne Rooney
Wayne Rooney’s days as a striker appear to be over, and a career in midfield appears to be in the offing. Though Van Gaal began to use the captain in a deeper role in the latter part of the season, Mourinho may see him more as a number ten type, in behind the striker with a playmaker and tackler behind him.
Though he is past his best, José is a big fan of the player – having tried to sign him for Chelsea in 2013 – and will undoubtedly value the experience that the 30 year old can offer to the younger players in the team.
Should Rooney occupy this role, however, it would put serious doubts over the long term future of fan favourite Juan Mata.
Right Wing: Sadio Mané
Manchester United have tried – and failed – twice in their bid to lure Mané from Southampton to Old Trafford, bu it may be a case of third time lucky if they come calling again. Though Southampton were not keen to do business in January, they may be more willing to listen to offers for their unsettled forward if they have enough time to replace him. Man United would, however, face strong competition from Tottenham and Liverpool were they to reignite their interest.
Mané finished the season on top form – including scoring a hat-trick against Man City – as Ronald Koeman’s side secured a top six finish. Equally adept on the right or in a number ten role, Mané possesses the speed and power that would make him a valuable asset to almost every team in the country.
Left Wing: Anthony Martial
The fortunate unearthing of Marcus Rashford aside, the £36m (potentially rising to somewhere past £55m) signing of Anthony Martial will be Louis van Gaal’s true Man United legacy. The young French international was thrown in at the deep end but has not looked back once.
At just 20 years of age, Martial was the team’s most impressive outfield player last season, scoring 17 goals despite predominantly playing on the wing.
That same wing position can be solidified under Mourinho in the coming season. He may ultimately end up as a striker done the line in his career, but in the meantime his ability on the left side of Man United’s attack is absolutely vital.
Striker: Zlatan Ibrahimović
At the age of 34, mercurial striker Zlatan Ibrahimović is coming off the back of his most prolific season as a professional, scoring 50 goals in 51 games as Paris Saint-Germain won the domestic treble and reached the quarter finals of the Champions League.
Zlatan and José have had a long-standing desire to work together again following their time at Inter, and with Man United in the market for a striker, it seems all the pieces are in place for the pair to join forces once again.
As an added bonus, it would massively annoy Pep Guardiola at Man City to see two of his biggest enemies working together at his new side’s major rivals.