Jose Mourinho’s PR-heavy revelation at Manchester United seemed a bit clumsy and poorly judged. It felt like the club was adjusting to a (second) fall.
Following his appointment as the club’s new manager in May 2016, with the engraving of United’s name on the FA Cup won by his predecessor still fresh, Mourinho was shown around Carrington’s training ground by a smiling Ed Woodward, both beaming in open jackets in the Manchester sun.
They lined up for photographs and looked out at the Carrington rug, as if the future was bright. It was going to be a new dawn.
We now know, in retrospect, that the summer of 2016 – just like the summer of 2014 in Van Gaal’s beginning United period – was another United False dawn.
United spent heavily both summers, a £ 175 million outlay in 2014 largely matched two years later, with Marcos Rojo, Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao among those bought under Van Gaal, whose signings quickly went wrong. United also signed Morgan Schneiderlin, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Matteo Darmian and Memphis Depay (among others) under the Dutchman; all came for significant fees, offered little of substance and were subsequently sold for less.
If the Mourinho era were to be an improvement on what went before, 2016 looked set to start well. Bringing Paul Pogba back to the club in 2016 was a statement transfer – despite the club record fee – while Eric Bailly for £ 30m was seen as a response to United’s defensive games. Zlatan Ibrahimovic on a free transfer was reportedly the icing on the cake.
Ralf Rangnick is well underway with his role as Manchester United’s interim manager and is trying to turn around the club’s season after some sad months.
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Still, the transfers from the Mourinho era would have a similar result to those under Van Gaal, and the common denominator was clear – Woodward.
United had a finance and commercial specialist in charge of their football operations, with his University of Bristol colleagues Matt Judge and Richard Arnold in supporting roles.
Meanwhile, their rivals Manchester City and Liverpool made wise managerial appointments (Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp were appointed in the 2015/16 season) and smart decisions in the transfer market. It was soon to turn out. City and Liverpool have won all league titles between them since 2017.
United went very wrong with transfers between Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement in 2013 and the arrival of two football directors in Darren Fletcher and John Murtough in 2021. They made fewer mistakes with Ole Gunnar Solskjær at the helm, but it is only now that the club has the opportunity to to wipe the board clean.
Still, the chance may slip past United.
They can sell Pogba this month or allow him to leave on a free in the summer. They can sell Anthony Martial – another expensive and inconsistent Van Gaal signing – this month if they really want to. They can sell Bailly, Phil Jones and Jesse Lingard – who all had their United tops under Van Gaal and Mourinho – if they choose.
Still, inactivity when it comes to broadcasts in January annoys fans.
Ralf Rangnick inherited a jump from a team filled with signings made by Ferguson, David Moyes, Van Gaal, Mourinho and Solskjær. It is no wonder that there has been no coherent philosophy or style with this United team, or that Rangnick has struggled to impose one in a matter of weeks.
United need to move on from past mistakes to proper progress.
Still, so far this month they have not seized the opportunity. Rangnick, the transfer guru, and his two football-focused directors must begin to correct the injustices of the Van Gaal and Mourinho eras.
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