Transition. The excruciating, inevitable, dentist visit phase of a modern football team. Michael Carrick and Wayne Rooney may have completed their trophy set with the FA Cup but the completion of Manchester United’s transition period looked, for most, further away than ever. That was until, of course, the appointment of Jose Mourinho, the shiny in our Panini pack.
When Sir Alex Ferguson retired three years ago, nobody could have predicted what a monumental collapse David Moyes would subsequently bring to the club. The Scot had the best of intentions but left the an overwhelming failure. Louis van Gaal left United a man defeated by the enormity of the task only few could handle – delivering the Premier League back to its adopted home, Old Trafford. But the retiring stalwart will not leave the club a failure, quite the opposite.
Two years back the squad handled by Moyes was in a horrible mess. Behind an underperforming forward line lay a plethora of talented, inconsistent attacking midfielders whose defensive minded compatriots were extremely thin in numbers. As for the backline, Chris Smalling and Phil Jones looked lost hopes, Rio Ferdinand, Patrice Evra and Nemanja Vidic were discontent and on their last legs and David de Gea was a rare shining light.
In the summer and winter windows that followed, van Gaal cleared the decks. Vidic left under Moyes, Ferdinand followed as did Evra along with fading hopes Danny Welbeck, Tom Cleverley and Wilfried Zaha. Anderson followed suit as well as Bebe, Macheda, Buttner and Darren Fletcher – among various other stagnating youngsters.
Ander Herrera, Luke Shaw and Daley Blind made up the signings key to United’s current side and signalled the building of a strong, dynamic core. A solid improvement in 2014/15 saw a respectable fourth place finish and another summer of clear-outs came soon after – Javier Hernandez, Robin Van Persie and Luis Nani the biggest names to go during another busy few months.
Unfortunately, the problems in 2015/16 will stain the memories of van Gaal in the minds of United supporters. The football was, on the whole, incredibly dire, results that weren’t convincingly earned turned into results that were just plain terrible and even the arrivals of Anthony Martial, Matteo Darmian, and Morgan Schneiderlin (to name a few) could not overshadow a train wreck footballing season. But what remains upon his departure is a young squad bled with experience, circumstantially provoked or not, and a core of players that seem incredibly dedicated to Manchester United football club.
There is no doubt the football wasn’t the only dark spot on Louis’ section in the United history books. Angel di Maria, Memphis Depay, Victor Valdes and Sergio Romero make up part of a group of signings who simply were either not good enough, dedicated enough or strangled of any freedom by the Dutchman.
These mistakes happen. Even Mourinho’s blushes are being felt right now as Romelu Lukaku and Kevin de Bruyne have become top class players after previously being discarded by the Portuguese manager. The big picture must be considered in these years between greatness; van Gaal was not the man to deliver the big, title winning nights under the Manchester sky but there should remain an air of gratitude for the seeds he has planted en route to them. He’s passed the baton to Mourinho in a better condition than when he received it – in that sense, he can be considered a success.
And from that soil will rise Jose – the man to nurture and, hopefully, the man to harvest. What he is capable of is obvious but his so called flaws do not seem as obvious as his critics suggest. ‘He doesn’t play the kids, so yell the folk in the shadowed section of Manchester’. A claim which lacks in credibility is one that will be tested at Mourinho’s new home.
Clearly he has not relied on youth at any point in his career but at Porto, the team which delivered his first Champions League, Mourinho did not possess the academy he will at United. At Chelsea the same tune rings true for both reigns, with the possible exception of Ruben Loftus-Cheek in his latter spell. Real Madrid made it very obvious to the world that they wanted success and they wanted to buy it – there was neither the talent in the Bernabeu’s youth ranks nor the licence to use them should Mourinho have desired. Inter Milan hardly harnessed their academy and attempts to do so post his treble winning era have been mute. The man from Setubal may well hate the idea of using youngsters like Marcus Rashford and Timothy-Fosu Mensah at United, he may love the idea. The point is – do we really know? Has he ever been gifted a talented set of youngsters like the ones waiting for him in the dressing room this summer?
The tactician to beat all others has now taken his seat on the iron throne in the red half of Manchester. He will bring with him the overlooked scorching football from Madrid, who outscored Barcelona in two out of the three seasons he was there. He will bring his cultured mix of defensive masterclass and attacking flexibility which brought such incredible success to Inter Milan and Chelsea. He will win. God knows he will win – he has done it his entire life. And if nothing else that is what United need right now because we are walking a tightrope between a canyon of spiralling, Liverpool-esque mediocrity and a staircase to the footballing heavens so greatly missed in Manchester.
In short, the future looks bright for United. Though it will be inevitably ignored, the past two years under van Gaal have provided the candle and the matches for the lantern that will be lit and held next season by the best manager in the world. Van Gaal should rest assured knowing he is appreciated for feats aside from the FA Cup – but Jose Mourinho, welcome to Manchester.