Two games into the pre-season in the US, Manchester United are already in the middle of a monumental crisis – or so it would appear if you came across Jose Mourinho speak to the cameras in a sunny Los Angeles, where Manchester United have their training base located.
After drawing 1-1 against Club America, a patched-up United side fell flat again in a 0-0 stalemate against San Jose Earthquakes, who are languishing at the bottom of the MLS.
Ahead of the annual International Champions Cup – where Mourinho’s side take on the likes of AC Milan and Real Madrid – before the all-important opening game against Leicester City on the 9th of August, the Red Devils look not just unprepared but also quite unwilling to prepare.
“One thing is what I would like, but another thing is what is going to happen”, said a dejected Mourinho in an ESPN interview – almost foreseeing life after August 9th, beyond which, according to the new rule, Premier League teams cannot sign new players. It only begs the question, what is actually happening on the transfer front – right now? And who decides the final shortlist of players, the club would ideally need for the new season – let alone who is in charge of actually bringing them to the club.
If Mourinho believes he is only two players away from where he wants his squad to be – up there, challenging for the league title – then it does indeed baffle the ordinary fan why Manchester United and Ed Woodward, the Chief Executive Officer – have not been able to deliver the pair already, given the assumption that ‘the list‘ was mentioned by the Portuguese as early as May.
Surely, even Woodward – who is clearly not a football man – and evidently, many of whose previous player signings have either already been replaced or are going to be replaced very soon by Mourinho – must have been aware that the World Cup in June was only going to make negotiations with other clubs increasingly difficult – what with the volatility in perception and price – fluctuating at will.
The alternative hypothesis is Ed Woodward not placing enough emphasis on Mourinho’s player demands or estimation for that matter, which makes the 1-year contract extension offer in January, in the middle of a troubled period – not to mention, nothing more than a wasted PR stunt.
While this is entirely plausible, the truth may lie somewhere in the middle. A disagreement at the core, between the manager and CEO – in a club where responsibilities are shared; lines are murky and where there is a lack of a concrete structure across various different levels of decision making, is quite simply a recipe for disaster.
With Woodward seeming to more readily whip the chequebook out to sanction deals of either ready-made world class superstars or promising young footballers with guaranteed resale value than he probably would – relatively older and less flashy names, his recruitment philosophy stands in the way of two of the Portuguese’s likely targets – Ivan Perisic of Inter Milan and Willian Borges of Chelsea; both of whom could bring elements to Mourinho’s United that they lack in their forward line.
For an outsider, it is hard not to give the benefit of doubt to the manager – in a situation like this, which is why it may be time for United to address the bigger issues slowing down their progress, in parallel to the ongoing transfer activity – which has been, in recent years, a vehicle for short-term, incremental gains.
Manchester United – now after installing a women’s team after facing years of scrutiny for not having one – have shown that they are not afraid to make good and refreshing decisions at the top level. Maybe all they need now is a similar leap of progress forward on the men’s side – by bringing in a middleman – a Director of Football, to work alongside the manager and the scouting team to oversee player recruitment and squad building, with a long-term plan in place.