While signing a 29-year old Toby Alderweireld would represent a signing for the here and now – the kind of move that Mourinho often makes to ‘hyperspeed’ his way to league success, the pursuit of Harry Maguire, should it come to fruition, would add more meat to the idea that Jose Mourinho sees himself at Manchester United beyond his current contract which expires at 2020. Staying at Manchester United for the length of his existing contract would be quite a novelty in itself given the peculiar ‘third season syndrome’ that he has experienced at the likes of Real Madrid and Chelsea – where, often the writing is on the wall from the very beginning.
Worryingly enough for Manchester United, the familiar signs are showing once again, in Mourinho’s displeasure at United’s preparation hampered by injuries and a lack of signings, not to mention, the draws and defeats in otherwise innocuous pre-season fixtures, not helping the mood one bit.
But to be fair to the Portuguese, in a summer when one of the Premier League’s main title rivals have strengthened significantly to mount a title challenge, Manchester United – with all the financial power in the world, have been relatively unimpressive and borderline unambitious – which warrants a degree of disappointment and questioning.
In any case, United’s interest in Harry Maguire may be genuine – although it is hard not to feel – that the desire to sign him for as much as £65-million, a sum total that United were willing to part with for the defender, may be heavily influenced by his good showing in the World Cup more than his displays for Leicester, which have been solid but rarely stellar.
That is not to say that – Harry Maguire is not a talent worthy of having a punt. But to spend close to a world record fee for a centre-half when there are clearly better and more experienced options available for a lesser price – only reeks of panic and haste, the two hallmarks of Manchester United transfers under the administration of Ed Woodward.
All the more, that United, under Mourinho alone – spent close to £65-million to bring in the likes of Eric Bailly and Victor Lindelof to shore up the back four for years to come, makes the signing of another 25-year old with bags of potential but uncertain future – an admission of defeat on the manager’s part.
United have youth and promise left, right and centre – with their average age of the squad standing at 26 – while that of the starting eleven is perhaps even lower. What they need and currently lack is an experienced head in the middle of their defence – someone who can play 35 games a season at centre-half without significant fluctuation in performance levels; that of a seasoned professional.
Matic’s arrival and seamless integration into United’s midfield and David De Gea’s general David De Gea-ness have been incredibly key to papering over the cracks of what is an ordinary Premier League back four susceptible to basic errors, for the last 12 months.
To only come away with conceding just 28 goals in 38 games with a back four comprising two full-backs over 30 and a centre-back partnership that cannot last half a season, is a commendable feat which suggests that if there’s something that Mourinho is still good at: it is setting up a defensive framework and making it work. Signing one more able centre-half with leadership traits and experience will elevate this team to a stage where a title challenge could be close to a guarantee this season.
In that vein, while the signing of Maguire surely means an increase in the overall quality of United’s defence, it does not engender a whole lot of confidence to call that a ‘game changer’ in the grand scheme of things, given the current state of their back four. Instead, Manchester United need to be making signings that can alter the landscape of the competition – instead of taking tiny, incremental steps towards winning the Premier League again.