What a difference a couple of weeks make. There we were, incensed at Louis Van Gaal’s continuing ‘leadership’ of the club and fearful at what the summer would bring, both in terms of arrivals and departures, and suddenly we’ve been enveloped by a blanket of calm. Jose’s got it. Almost overnight the concern that David De Gea may depart for pastures white and satanic has almost entirely receded, whilst the prospect of sending Ed forth into the Wild West that is the transfer market no longer brings an expectation of a comedy outcome.
Take Jose’s reported list of positional targets for example. It’s been clear over the last month or so that the Mourinho camp has been feeding a number of UK journalists on first his employment and then his player requirements. In the case of the later it appears to be agreed from those hacks that United are in the market for one, maybe two centre backs (an experienced one and a younger one with potential) a central midfielder, a right winger and a striker. Well knock me down if those aren’t things which Louis Van Gaal needed to address two years ago, weaknesses that the fans have long since identified. Then, on Saturday evening, it became apparent that United were close to securing a deal for 22 year old Villarreal and Ivory Coast defender Eric Bailly. Now I’m not going to pretend for a minute that I’ve seen him play football more than 4/5 times and certainly have no idea how talented he is, but the noises from those who have watched him seem to suggest that whilst raw he has immense potential. Frankly, if Jose wants him I trust him.
However, if Van Gaal were still manager it is doubtful we’d be so far down the line with Bailly. After all, the Dutchman had two whole transfer windows to address the centre back issue and appeared to have a shortlist over that period that contained two names: Thomas Vermaelen and Sergio Ramos. There were, after all, no defenders in the world better than Phil Jones or a small, slow midfielder not called Vermaelen or Ramos. “We looked for quality in central defence but it ish not so easy.” The missus is currently making me sit through The Biggest Loser Australia on Now TV. It’s actually quite compelling. There’s a contestant called Mary who is HUUUUUGGEEE. Right from the beginning, every training session or challenge is met with Mary wailing, “I can’t do it, I just can’t”, before collapsing to the ground and pretending to have fallen unconscious. In life Mary won’t do ‘it’ because she’s already decided in her head that she can’t, allowing her to avoid everything. For Van Vaal every facet of his job became the same. “We can’t challenge for the title. Expectations are too high. I can’t sign the centre back we so desperately need because it is difficult.” It’s not difficult at all, as Mourinho is set to show us. Van Gaal’s rhetoric fed sections of the fanbase on social media, who would argue until they are blue in face that there are no high quality centre backs in the world that United could buy and if you can’t get better than Chris Smalling then it’s better to go with a midfielder in that position. Will Bailly be great? I don’t know. But if you don’t try to you don’t get. It’s a bloody good job Fergie didn’t assume there was no point in trying to strengthen with anything less than an established world class centre back when he signed that Vidic lad from Spartak Moscow. Very few of us had a clue who he was either. Makes you think…
It looks like Mourinho is set to sign a striker too, which United desperately needed last summer and failed to address then too, leaving them in a position where they recorded a quite frankly pathetic total of goals in the league and needed an 18 year old to score a few to keep matters even vaguely respectable. Ibrahimovic, if he comes, is ideal. He’ll add some much needed swagger, has huge p*ss boiling potential and will temporarily fill a hole whilst Marcus Rashford develops.
The summer is far from over yet and there is still plenty of time for Woodward related mishaps, but you get the impression that Moyes and Van Gaal enabled and fed his ineptitude, providing an easy ‘can’t be done’ attitude to signing high quality players in the transfer market. Mourinho, on the other hand, has the gravitas and strength of character to either drag his Executive Vice President through deals or bring the players to him wearing nothing but a little bow and a price tag which, in his current state of thrall, Woodward is inclined to pay. Mourinho knows what he wants and isn’t willing to settle for third or fourth best or nothing at all because “it ish difficult”.
Come the beginning of the season we can confidently predict that United will have signed players for those positions identified. There is also a new found positivity about their ability to perform under Mourinho. It became a source of some embarrassment for Van Gaal that he couldn’t even get his own signings to consistently excel, or excel at all. It’s doubtful that United will suddenly become all conquering, as the issues at the club are significant, but they will be competitive once again. As Mourinho said in his first interview in the job, the past is forgotten and, by implication, cannot be used as an excuse for future failure. For the Portuguese (as was the case for Sir Alex), second is nowhere. You got the impression with Van Gaal that he was happy to keep finishing top four whilst criticising our expectations. Ultimately his utterances were as bad as Moyes’, although it took a while for the fog to clear and for the fans to see through his nonsense. If United perform poorly under Mourinho expect no excuses or insulting of the fans’ intelligence. He’ll know it’s not good enough and will say so.
Hopefully that won’t be necessary if United get what their manager wants in the transfer market this summer. Under Van Gaal that would have been impossible. Under Mourinho the obvious will no longer be avoided or left unaddressed. United may fail on the pitch next season. After all, no manager can guarantee success (although Mourinho comes as close to that aim as any), but you can be sure that his club will enter next season with a more balanced and talented squad than it currently has right now, free of round pegs in squate holes. United will probably also start the season without Juan Mata. He’s wonderfully gifted and a super lovely human being, but has he been consistently good enough? No. If Mourinho wants him out I trust his judgement and so should you.