Evolution is a part of life. Adapt, change or become obsolete. It is the gradual development of everything, including the natural change in a football squad. Manchester United was always heading this way once José Mourinho took charge at Old Trafford. The Portuguese has already begun moulding the squad in his own image. More is to come this summer.
As far as arrivals go the recreation of the world’s biggest football club is underway. Eric Bailly, Zlatan Ibrahimović and Henrikh Mkhitaryan are three high quality arrivals, and Paul Pogba – barring a disaster – seems set to join once his world record transfer from Juventus is completed.
Mourinho has already added quality and physicality to a squad in dire need of it. This is the Mourinho way. Many thought in the last two summers that Louis van Gaal’s signings would add a bit of dynamism, but it wasn’t to be. Now most of those players’ futures are unclear.
In 2016 the environment is very different at United, with the club finally flexing the financial muscle Ed Woodward bragged about two years ago. United is the most powerful commercial force in football, and Pogba’s signing, if completed, is not only what the squad needs, but a statement of intent.
That is part of the evolution that has taken place since Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement, although Mourinho must clean up the mess of the past three years, and strip out the remaining deadwood. It is no easy task to sell a player, but the new manager has enjoyed plenty of time to scout his new club, and appears to have known that he would become United’s manager long before it was officially announced.
Watching from the training pitch and not the stands will have offered José a fresh perspective on his squad. Not all will have a long-term future at the club. So who might be on the chopping block? Rant investigates…
The English defender appears safe for the season, but that is by no means secure. Jones has made no progress since Ferguson’s departure; there is little evidence that he is deserves a career at Old Trafford. Recent media reports suggest that he could be Chris Smalling’s preferred partner under Mourinho, although Jones was not in the starting line-up against Wigan Athletic. Jones will likely survive the summer cut, but he needs a good pre-season if he going to impress enough to make the most of a career that has stalled.
The Argentine should be gone, and stay gone – and it has been widely reported that Mourinho has already cast him aside. A move on loan to Villarreal has been mooted – a series of reckless and inconsistent displays since joining the club from Sporting Lisbon have done him no favours. #RojoIsRed – but not for much longer it seems. Rojo is the most likely to depart this summer.
The Dutchman is one of the United’s more curious players. The prodigy that arrived from PSV Eindhoven early last summer had his confidence eradicated under Van Gaal. Memphis’ ability at free-kicks is now feeble, his confidence on the ball has all but gone. There are flashes of talent, but the player is in dire need of revitalisation. Mourinho could provide that.
It has been a difficult pre-season already. Mkhitaryan set up an excellent chance for Memphis to start pre-season strongly, but a push from a trailing Wigan defender resulted in the chance being missed. The United number seven will likely survive any summer cull, but his new manager does not allow room for passengers.
The enigmatic Mourinho-Mata relationship has been one of the fascinating side stories of the Portuguese’s arrival. Quite how the new boss perceives his former Chelsea playmaker is open to interpretation. Mata is now a different player with a better defensive work rate, but that does not change everything in the Spaniard’s favour.
Mata can change his habits, but he cannot become quicker, more agile or stronger – the qualities that Mourinho demands from his attacking players. It’s hard to believe that Mata will not follow Rojo out of the Old Trafford exit, despite the positive noises Mourinho has made about the player. The real question is how much United can recoup of what was a club record purchase. Many supporters would be devastated at a favourite’s departure, but Mourinho has little room for sentiment.
Januzaj came to prominence under David Moyes – one of very few shining lights during a dark time for the club. Since then the Belgian has produced little, and concerns about application and attitude seem to ring true after a poor spell at Borussia Dortmund was mercifully cut short. Many fans do not want to see Januzaj go, but realistically he has promised much and produced little.
The Belgian could find a renaissance under Mourinho, though it is unclear how much of an opportunity he will have to do that. There’s interest from clubs at home and abroad, but Januzaj is one of the many younger players in the squad who will get a brief chance on tour while stars take a rest after summer tournaments.
[blockquote who=”” cite=””]The recreation of the world’s biggest football club is underway. Mourinho has added quality and physicality to a squad in dire need of it. Eric Bailly, Zlatan Ibrahimović and Henrikh Mkhitaryan are three high quality arrivals.[/blockquote]
Blind was one of United’s better performers last season, mostly excelling in a central defensive role that showcased his ability as a multi-functional player. Yet, like Mata, the Dutchman does not fit the Mourinho archetype. That is a serious problem.
In his opening press conference Mourinho stated that he likes one or two multi-functional players in his squad, which offers Blind some hope. It would seem that the Dutchman is significantly down in the midfield pecking order though and will not feature regularly in the middle of defence or in Luke Shaw’s slot at left-back. An auction for Blind’s services may await, with a raft of Premier League clubs surely keen on his talents.
The veteran winger’s future will be a point of interest, with the Englishman on a deal running through to 2018 with an option to extend it further. Young’s wages aren’t significant in contemporary terms at £110,000-per-week, but if he doesn’t command a regular role there is an incentive to remove the 31-year-old from the wage bill.
Young’s future may hinge on what decisions Mourinho makes on Januzaj, Memphis and Mata, who could all eat away at his opportunities to play. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see Young retained though, as his high work rate, speed and ability on the counter-attack fits into what Mourinho typically wants from his attacking ranks.
It appears Valencia may be safe at United. The Ecuadorian captained United in the second half against Wigan, but will have to earn his future on tour. Valencia can play a similar role to Young, but his lack of versatility may play against him unless Mourinho uses the veteran at right-back as his predecessors did.
Valencia’s future is not confirmed either way, but it would be a surprise to see both Valencia and Young survive the cull in the medium term. Neither contributes much statistically or, as squad older players in the squad, true leaders.
In one of the bigger surprises, club whipping boy Fellaini is likely to stay for a fourth season at Old Trafford – his physicality and versatility enabling him to find a role under Mourinho. Fellaini’s methods are unpopular, but so are Mourinho’s, and perhaps the Belgian’s tactical discipline is what sealed the decision to retain him.
Fellaini has worked under two disastrous regimes at United, and perhaps Mourinho sees the potential for redemption in the Belgian that he seeks to gain for himself after an embarrassing finish to a second spell at Chelsea.
The German star has spent his career dictating from midfield since moving from the right-wing under Van Gaal at Bayern Munich. Yet, he’s also spent it battling injuries. United has been no different.
Schweinsteiger enjoyed some wonderful moments controlling play in his early days at Old Trafford, but he there were also some shockers too – such as United’s disastrous loss at Arsenal last October. Logically, one of the older heads in central midfield could go – Schweinsteiger or Michael Carrick. Mourinho looks like he made that choice when extending Carrick’s contract for a further year. Yet, with a salary exceeding £200,000 per week, could the Red Devils find a willing suitor for the German captain?
Paddy McNair/Tyler Blackett
McNair and Blackett are good young players, but neither has shown enough consistently to guarantee opportunities at Old Trafford. Blackett performed no better than average on loan at Celtic last season, while McNair failed to earn Van Gaal’s praise in his sophomore season. Blackett appears all but gone, certainly on loan. McNair is not too far behind, with another defensive signing likely to make it impossible for the Northern Irish international to make it into Mourinho’s plans.
James Wilson/Guillermo Varela
Varela has joined Eintracht Frankfurt on loan, and it appears Wilson is also heading out the door this summer. Both will need to impress on loan if there is any chance of returning to the first team squad. Despite Mourinho’s reputation opportunities will not be scarce for youngsters this season, but only if they make it into the elite bracket that the Portuguese demand. That isn’t very different from how Ferguson approached youth.
Beyond the youngsters there will be a few brutal departures this summer. Some fans’ favourites might go, while players for whom we once had high hopes might well be told they haven’t made the grade. It’s time to adapt or die United. Who’s going to evolve to survive?