It feels like yesterday. The greatest manager ever to grace modern English football bidding goodbye to the club he built with his own hands. Very able hands they were, for Manchester United were far from the club they are today, when Sir Alex Ferguson took charge of a club aiming to reach greater heights.
All things come to an end, and the good things only end sooner. Fergie had to leave. He had to get up from his seat one last time, and he was departing a winner, having won Manchester United their 20th first division title. That year, was 2013.
Fast forward to 2017, and Sir Alex is long gone, but not forgotten. The man is seated at the famous stand in Old Trafford named after him, as he looks at his team. His team is barely a shadow of what it used to be. Barely a shadow of what he’d built. The bespectacled man puts on a glum face as he tries to hide the agony that yet another poorly attempted attack gives him.
He’s not the most disappointed man in the stadium, though. Downstairs is another mastermind, who desperately tries to save his rather tarnished image, and save the famous Stretford club in the process. David Moyes had tried, and failed. Louis van Gaal had tried, and hadn’t done much better. But this was José Mourinho. He’s not one of the many. He’s the one. He’s a history creator, creating history with teams like Porto, Chelsea, Inter Milan, and Real Madrid. He was at yet another glorious football club, but his job was not to create history. It was – to save it.
He’s done all he can. Ed Woodward, the man behind the transfers, has done all he can. They’ve managed to get a born winner in Zlatan Ibrahimovic. They’ve managed to capture the signing of a player who’s an inspiration to his entire nation, Henrikh Mkhitaryan. They’ve gone the distance by smashing the world record by bringing back Paul Pogba. It should be a happy camp. But José is far from happy. He has won the league cup earlier in the season, but his team is not quite up there. Goals are hard to come by. The Theatre of Dreams hard to electrify. It all seems a little too difficult.
But if anyone can, it’s José Mourinho. And José knows it.
He’ll fight for yet another title on Wednesday – the Europa league – against the once-upon-a-time giants Ajax. It’s not the trophy he longs for, though. It’s instead an alternative route to make their way into the UEFA Champions League. That’s what his and the club’s standards are supposed to be.
Irrespective of how their season ends, they’ll need to be preparing for next season from the word go, because the base has been prepared to rebuild good, ol’ Manchester United.
So here’s what Manchester United would need going into the next season…
1. Centre – Back
United seemed to have made a bargain signing when Eric Bailly penned a deal. However, it’d be insanity to expect him to marshal the back line all by himself, and he needs someone beside him. Phil Jones and Chris Smalling have been far from ideal, and they really need another.
2. Central Midfielder
To be fair to Mourinho, he hasn’t had much support from his players on the upper half of the pitch, and a lot of blame must go to the midfielders for it. Pogba struggled initially, and is gradually getting used to it, but he’s far from a player who’d cost £89 million, and the United faithful will hope he can show the form he displayed at Juventus week in week out. Their midfield three needs two other midfielders with all round capabilities, and if Ander Herrera is one, they’ll need a third, with Michael Carrick not getting any younger, and Marouane Fellaini not getting any better. They’ll hope it is James Rodriguez.
It’s a game of goals, and you can’t win without the people who get them. Zlatan Ibrahimovic is a veteran goalscorer, but his long term injury, age, and reported unwillingness to continue does not help their cause, and United will be looking for more flair and pace. Read – Antoinne Griezmann. The Frenchman has been on United’s radar for a long time now, and looks set to wear the red of Manchester come August. He needs the move, and United need him. It’s almost inevitable.
Wing play from United has been somewhat non – existent in recent years, and failed signings like Memphis Depay hasn’t helped them change it. They seemed to have found a young star in Anthony Martial, but he has been somewhat like a hit-or-miss. United have been linked to a world star in Gareth Bale, and though two galacticos departing to the same team in a single window looks audacious, it’s not impossible. Even if a deal fails to materialise, United would look at other options, because they really need it.
The game of football is a tough one, and it gets really ugly when it’s not going well for you. Sir Alex’s departure wouldn’t have had such a devastating impact had the post-Ferguson era well planned, but it wasn’t and the consequence is a time consuming rebuild. That requires patience on the part of the board and the supporters, because it is difficult to get out of such tricky situations, and it might even need another half decade before United seriously challenge for the Champions League.
Therefore, it seems as though United are headed towards the right direction, and though it may take more time than some supporters speculate, it’ll be an excited period to look forward to, nonetheless.