Every season, there’s a sense of optimism among the Mancunians about a new, effective season after the horrible nine months that they have usually endured in the lead up to it in the past few years. There’s also feeling of progression ahead of the new season, unlike Anfield’s ‘This year is our year", of course. But eventually, as the sun sets, the optimism dies a slow, painful death.
So, where is the club heading? What about the fans who brought their season tickets on the promise of a new dawn?
Manchester United are not the driving force it once were under Sir Alex Ferguson. The club has been on a downhill slope since the post-Fergie era, at least on the pitch, as a string of poor results has put the Old Trafford outfit’s elite status in tatters.
“Everything is really bad,” coach Jose Mourinho had said in one of his pricky media conferences. Don’t call it Mourinho’s third season syndrome just yet.
Paul Pogba, for all his technical abilities, showboating and dabbing, was often pictured having frustrating conversations with Mourinho on the touchline last season. Mourinho and Alexis Sanchez dampened Anthony Martial’s hopes of becoming the next superstar winger. Only Romelu Lukaku, Nemanja Matic, and Jesse Lingard appeared to have completely settled down under the fervid yet vexed manager.
But on Friday, Old Trafford was surprisingly buzzing once again. Pogba wore the captain's armband. Andreas Perriera, back from his loan spell in Valencia, made his full Premier League debut. Luke Shaw scored his first ever professional goal. Mourinho smiled and celebrated with one of his assistant coaches Michael Carrick. After all the sullenness of pre-season and the complaints about the club’s transfer business, United began the new campaign with a victory over Leicester City.
Only a week ago, Pogba was linked with a move away from United, with Barcelona's interest piqued by the Frenchman's frosty relationship with Mourinho after he was repeatedly dropped last season. But with a Man-of-the-match performance on Friday, Mourinho was left in awe of Pogba's commitment. "Pogba was a monster. We thought maximum (he could play) 60 minutes, but he managed 80. He was fantastic, his contribution was amazing but the fuel was disappearing. We were in trouble," said Mourinho after the game.
However, this victory did not provide much evidence that United are genuinely equipped to improve on last season's second-placed finish. They played Leicester, who have not won an opening day away fixture for 75 years. It was evident that Mourinho, like the fans, demanded more from his players. Well, he has all the right to complain as the board failed to add quality players in the squad. Mourinho demanded, the board vetoed.
After United's 2-1 win over Leicester, Mourinho took a veiled dig towards the club’s hierarchy – his latest line being that perhaps he should be known as a head coach, rather than the manager, if the club did not want to go after his transfer targets.
United CEO Ed Woodward managed to wrap up the services of Brazilian Fred Rodrigues, Diego Dalot, and Lee Grant, apart from a plethora of commercial deals in the summer transfer window. However, it wasn’t enough.
Before the start of the window, it was reported in the British Press that Mourinho wanted five players but he only got three, making life miserable for the 55-year-old. But the question is: would he be better served trying to get the best out of what he has already got? Just like he did against Leicester?
Mourinho’s priority should be to steady the (sinking) ship and get the best out of his core squad. But looking at how rivals Manchester City and Liverpool have invested to bolster their squad, any manager would feel insecure. Losing the title by 19 points to City was nothing short of an embarrassment.
Fumes of desperation rose from United’s office as the club dealt a heavy blow in their pursuit of Toby Alderweireld, Yerry Mina, Diego Godin, Jerome Boateng and Harry Maguire in the final week of the summer window. For all their big club identity, the Red Devils were shown the door everywhere.
Mourinho couldn’t get a centre-back. But it isn’t the end, after all. There's still time for that to happen.
They say good managers make good sides. However, under one of the greatest man-managers of football, the greatest team in England pulverized. His antics on the touchline, swearing at the referee and opposition coaches and that grumpy face at the end of the match said a lot about his relationship with the club.
United finished a lowly sixth in the 2016-17 season, Mourinho’s first as Red Devils boss, and he still hasn’t sorted the back four. With Chris Smalling, Phil Jones, Victor Lindelof, Eric Bailly and Marcos Rojo, United are just inviting pressure. Well, they must thank David de Gea for saving face every season since 2015.
Apart from the centre-backs, Mourinho has struggled to replace Antonio Valencia and Ashley Young, who are nothing but failed wingers turned into full-backs. Luke Shaw has his own battle with fitness. Matteo Darmian can’t cope up with the physical needs of the Premier League. Mourinho clearly does not have any options left. United only conceded 28 Premier League goals last season but it would have been a lot worse if it wasn't for De Gea
Meanwhile, United’s midfield looks strong but only on paper as Nemanja Matic, Pogba and Ander Herrera’s inept combination couldn’t muster the strength to prove their worth on the field. Marouane Fellaini, who recently signed a new contract, was used as a Plan B for late goals. Scott McTominay impressed Mourinho and deserved all the plaudits for exceeding expectations regularly.
Still, they managed to finish second. Thanks to Romelu Lukaku, Lingard and Marcus Rashford. The trio, along with De Gea, carried United throughout the nine torrid months. For that, Mourinho has blatantly blamed the board for not backing him in the transfer market.
Fred showed that he could solve United’s midfield conundrum, alongside Perriera, Herrera or Matic as Pogba excelled in a free role. He is not your midfield industry but he can make things tick. Dalot could be pivotal in defence but he’s still 19 and needs time to settle down.
However, despite the win on opening day, the current situation is still a mess and Mourinho has to ensure that the season doesn’t go the similar way. There are high chances of the board losing its patience in Mourinho by Christmas. While the other half of Manchester looks set to defend their title, it's time for the red half to make their presence felt.
Updated Date: Aug 11, 2018 14:39:34 IST