No manager in football history has had as much spent on their team as Jose Mourinho. A grand total of £883 million (€1.08 billion) has been lavished on his Chelsea, Inter Milan and Manchester United teams, and this summer United will add even more to the total.
This is the summer Mourinho and executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward must deliver a set of players good enough to compete for the Premier League title. Can Mourinho build the team he says his current crop is incapable of being? It is by no means certain, even if the likes of Antoine Griezmann, Andrea Belotti, Michael Keane or Eric Dier, to name some of those who have been linked with a move to Old Trafford, come in.
“We’re approaching the end of a compelling season — our first with Jose Mourinho as manager — and I believe we’ve made tremendous progress both on and off the pitch,” Woodward told investors in United’s quarterly conference call on Tuesday.
But that granted Mourinho considerable leeway. Woodward was speaking with Chelsea 25 points ahead United and before Arsenal and Manchester City’s Tuesday victories confirmed Mourinho’s men will finish sixth in the Premier League, as opposed to fifth last year under Louis van Gaal. United must beat Ajax in the Europa League final in Stockholm or suffer a 30 percent reduction (£21 million) in the following year’s payment of their Adidas kit deal as penalty for not reaching the Champions League.
Mourinho has spent a season in barely concealed contempt for the squad left him by Van Gaal. United spent £151.77m last summer on Paul Pogba, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Eric Bailly, and gave free transfer Zlatan Ibrahimovic a contract worth a reported £19m. Yet the addition of some of the top stars in Italy, Germany and France did not convert United into title contenders.
Beyond winning the EFL Cup and reaching Stockholm, Mourinho’s greatest success this season lies in a management of expectation. Using the excuses of injuries and a heavy fixture list, referred to by Woodward as the “second busiest season in our history,” Mourinho has dialled down United’s preseason title hopes to focus on a Europa League trophy he once derided Rafa Benitez for winning at Chelsea.
Europa League glory, and the Champions League group stage place it brings, would sign off the season as a relative success for United fans, but there cannot be nearly as much room for rationalisation and evasiveness when the 2017-18 campaign comes around. There, Mourinho must revive the team-building expertise with which he won the Champions League with Porto, dominated the Premier League with Chelsea, won his second Champions League with Inter and, with Real Madrid, wrested La Liga from Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona during their golden era.
Mourinho cannot see similar possibilities in his current United squad. “Of course we don’t have enough,” he said in February when asked how many born winners were at Old Trafford.
“There is an empty space there and I have to fill that space with lots of work, with another transfer window in the summer.”
Spending is seen as the answer but is Mourinho the right man to spend an amount reportedly set to exceed last summer’s record outlay? Recent years do not spell him out as the dead-eyed dealer of his Porto, Chelsea (first time around) and Inter days.
In his second spell at Chelsea, Diego Costa, Willian and the return of Nemanja Matic were astute additions, but premature sales of Romelu Lukaku and Kevin De Bruyne, as well as misfit signings like Mohamed Salah and Juan Cuadadro, must be added to the debit side.
Mesut Ozil played the best football of his career under him at Real Madrid; Luka Modric blossomed, as did Angel Di Maria before his ill-fated spell in Manchester, but players like Nuri Sahin, Jose Callejon, Hamit Altintop and Fabio Coentrao all struggled to assert themselves at the Bernabeu.
Not since his Inter Milan days has Mourinho exhibited a truly golden transfer market touch. Cashing in talisman Ibrahimovic in the summer of 2009 as part of a swap deal that brought in Samuel Eto’o was a stunning piece of business; as was the further addition of Diego Milito and midfield playmaker Wesley Sneijder, as Inter won the Treble in 2010.
Each arrived at San Siro with clear roles in mind, something that did not look to have been the case when Mhkitaryan and Pogba were purchased last summer. At United, Mourinho did not inherit a class of player like Chelsea’s John Terry, Frank Lampard and Petr Cech; Maicon and Javier Zanetti at Inter; Cristiano Ronaldo and Sergio Ramos at Real. He has instead been forced to build a team from what he depicts as near-scratch.
The season’s gripes and groans suggest that United’s manager is struggling with that new discipline. A summer of spending lies ahead, but as more money is spent on the players he wants, Mourinho will find less room for excuses.
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