After three summers of discontent at the 20-time English champions, the Red Devils seem to have finally found the players to lift them back to the heights of previous eras
If one team’s spending has come under more scrutiny than most in the past four years it is Manchester United. With Sir Alex Ferguson famed for, among other things, his ability to add the right player to his squad at the right time, the lack of success in the transfer market by the Red Devils since his retirement has been a source of much embarrassment at Old Trafford. That is until now.
With Jose Mourinho through the door and placed in charge almost as soon as Louis van Gaal had lifted the FA Cup aloft at Wembley in May, there has been a clarity within United’s transfer strategy not seen since the Ferguson era. Mourinho’s own success is often mirrored by how decisive he is during the summer window, and much like the pre-season of 2014-15 in which he got his business done early before going onto walk away with the Premier League title, there is a feeling he has got United back on the right path through the signings he has made.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Paul Pogba and Henrikh Mkhitaryan all represent the showpiece signings the club have always been associated with while the signs show that Eric Bailly has what it takes to replicate the likes of Nemanja Vidic and Patrice Evra in arriving as a relative unknown and eventually leaving as a legend.
United have, of course, been burnt before in recent years when it comes to headline-grabbing arrivals. Angel Di Maria, Radamel Falcao and Bastian Schweinsteiger all failed to live up to either their pricetag or prior reputation – or in some cases both – and it is right for some supporters to be nervous when they see someone like Pogba arrive back at the club for a world-record fee.
But Mourinho appears to have signed each player with a definitive role in mind rather than having a player forced on him like his predecessor and great friend Van Gaal. At 34, Ibrahimovic is showing no signs of slowing down while Pogba is still in the development stage of his career despite being in the public’s consciousness for the best part of half a decade. Throw in Mkhitaryan’s encouraging substitute performances as he gets up to speed with English football and these are players who will undoubtedly improve United.
As is the way in modern football, there will always be fans who are left without total fulfilment from the window, and those who frequent the Theatre of Dreams are no different. An experienced centre-back seems to be the only piece missing from the jigsaw, though the fact last season’s Player of the Year, Chris Smalling, cannot get a game suggests they remain well stocked in that area for the time being.
The departures of a host of academy products will also leave a sour taste in the mouths of some, though the fact that perhaps the two most talented – Marcus Rashford and Timothy Fosu-Mensah – have been retained suggests they will continue to get their chances, particularly in the Europa League and cup competitions where Mourinho has the squad to play a totally different XI from the Premier League should he so wish
It is hoped Cameron Borthwick-Jackson and James Wilson will both return better players from their loan spells in the Championship while the likes of Will Keane, Paddy McNair and Tyler Blackett have not proved their worth when given their own chances to shine under Van Gaal and have subsequently been sold on. It may seem ruthless and a touch upsetting given United’s traditions of bringing through their own, but those youngsters have to be good enough to challenge for first-team spots and, in reality, very few coming through around the Premier League are.
The only blemish from the window on Mourinho’s part is his failure to offload Schweinsteiger and free up the funds that are currently taken up by the German’s wage packet, though that is unlikely to keep the former Chelsea boss awake at night. He has managed to do exactly what he set out to do when he arrived in terms of bringing players to the club – now it is down to them to bring the good times back to the red side of Manchester.