Every club has its moments – good and bad, in a football season. Manchester United are not an exception to the rule and while the Premier League campaign was largely uninteresting and uninspiring, there have been some interesting narratives and flash points that have featured across the 62-game slug-fest as Mourinho saw off his first campaign with two trophies (he could argue 3) and Champions League qualification.
I would like to share my top five in two parts – this is part one and as always, let us agree to disagree in the comments.
5. The transfer of Paul Pogba
It’s hard to deny the fact that Paul Pogba was, and still is, one of the most sought after central midfielders in Europe – for he comes with an abundance of talent and athleticism, a fashionable hashtag to go with a trait that is almost equally valued as the former two these days, marketability. The signing of Paul Pogba was something of an event, not only did it involve a sum of money that dwarfs many other high-profile transfers in comparison, but also generated the amount of coverage on social media which is quite unparalleled, yet.
Whether we like it or not, football is moving in this direction where finances are a measure of strength, and there are very few clubs in the world that can compete with Manchester United on a commercial playground, with this transfer only reinforcing that idea.
Paul Pogba has had a mixed season for United, but again, his influence on a side, both on and off the pitch, that has been able to win the trophies they did, with Champions League football to look forward to and from where they finished last season, cannot be argued with. There is no doubt that Pogba has been one of the best players for United in 2016/17 despite what a seemingly ordinary return on an extraordinary investment – of 9 goals and 5 assists in 49 starts would suggest.
With a deserved rest and a proper pre-season tour under his belt with Manchester United, he will be under even more scrutiny in the future, if that was possible, but it is something the 24-year old should only relish.
4. EFL Cup win
Silverware to Mourinho is the footballing equivalent of Spinach to Popeye. It invigorates him and often helps him reinvent himself to scale new heights. Manchester United had won the FA Cup in the season before – which was their first major trophy in three years, to gloss over another disappointing league campaign where they would miss out on the Champions League qualification for the second time since the retirement of Sir Alex.
And Mourinho, unlike many other contemporaries in English football, is known to take the EFL cup or the English League Cup very seriously in order to cultivate a winning mentality in a new squad which would normally need it, if they were to be a success under his high-pressure man management. Having already won it thrice with his former employers Chelsea, it was little surprise that he played full strength sides to navigate a tricky group including the likes of Manchester City and West Ham United along the way.
In the final against Southampton in Wembley, United’s fourth trip to the national stadium in under a year, the Red Devils opened up a 2-0 lead despite Southampton’s domination in terms of energy and possession and looked in cruise control at one point in the first half. But the Saints inspired by the Italian centre-forward Manolo Gabbiadini, rose to the challenge as he scored two quick-fire goals to restore parity and the momentum had firmly swung in Claude Puel’s way.
As Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored in front of the United end, three minutes from normal time to make it 3-2, United secured their first piece of silverware under the Portuguese, who had also equaled Sir Alex and Brian Clough’s record of four titles in the competition.
Something that day felt right about United, and more importantly Mourinho, whose face lit up with nothing but relief in the post-match celebrations as much as it suggested that he was on his way back to what he was, for an overwhelming majority of his managerial career: a trophy-winning machine, who had just won his 24th pot across Europe.