The summer of 2016 could be looked back on in the history of Manchester United as one of the most significant that the club has ever had. The changing face of the Red Devils is one that will be etched in United’s history for years to come and be looked back on as a defining period in the clubs’ history.
Jose Mourinho has arrived, as has Eric Bailly from Villarreal, Zlatan Ibrahimovic from Paris Saint-Germainon a free transfer and now Henrik Mkhitaryan is on his way to Manchester, as Borussia Dortmund confirmer earlier on Saturday. Bailly’s arrival signals the intent Mourinho has to bolster the Premier League’s best defence and is one for the future at 22 years-old. Mourinho, like his predecessor Louis van Gaal, prides himself on a strong defence and United fans will expect to see the return of formidable partnerships at Old Trafford.
The ‘Special One’ is slowly making his mark on United, something that van Gaal struggled with during his ill-fated two years at Old Trafford. Spending in excess of £250 million, the Dutchman could never find a formula for his system that harvested both the attacking and defending talents of a very strong squad. Barring a few new additions, the United board are of the opinion that Mourinho will have to make the most of an expensively-assembled squad for the time being.
The former Chelsea boss looks set to revive United and with big names arriving already to a team without Champions League football, the allure of Mourinho is clear for all to see. Ibrahimovic and Mourinho have previous, with the pair working together at Inter Milan and winning Serie A during the 2008/09 season. During his unveiling at Old Trafford on Friday, the recently-retired Swedish captain said: “From being a cat, I felt like a lion. He was amazing. He dragged out of me things that no other coach has done before. When I played I felt like a Terminator.”
Such gushing praise is likely to reinforce Mourinho’s opinion in that he has acquired a lieutenant in Ibrahimovic. As for how this ‘changes’ United, it illustrates the shift in the attitudes of the fans and powers that be at Old Trafford. It is widely accepted that Sir Alex Ferguson, the last manager to bring a title to Old Trafford, didn’t want Mourinho to take over from him once he retired. Instead, his touting of David Moyes has led to near-irreparable damage to the dressing room at United and discontent within a fanbase almost immune to the feelings of failure. Mourinho looks set to change all that in his own unique way, which the United hierarchy understand must be his own.
United’s fans could be forgiven for appearing concerned at the prospects of one of the breakout stars of last season in Marcus Rashford. The 18 year-old burst onto the scene towards the second-half of the season, netting five goals in 11 appearances to earn himself a call-up to the England squad for their ill-fated Euro 2016 campaign. Again, will Mourinho make a radical change in farming Rashford out on loan to gain more playing-time? It is highly unlikely that Mourinho will see Rashford as a more potent attacking threat than Ibrahimovic, Anthony Martial or Wayne Rooney. Much has been made of Mourinho’s perceived ‘distrust’ of youth players, preferring to sign big-money names from abroad.
Whilst it is true that Mourinho does indeed favour experience, he gave debuts to 20 academy players during his three-year tenure at Spanish giants Real Madrid and over the course of his two stints at Chelsea, handed out debuts to 11 academy players. There have also been doubts raised about his judgement of players, with Mourinho infamously moving on both Kevin De Bruyne and Romelu Lukaku during his second spell at Chelsea, with the Belgian duo going on to prosper at Wolfsburg and Everton respectively. It is up to Mourinho to debunk these common myths associated with him and it will be interesting to see what the outcome of his Old Trafford stay is.