The season of redemption begins for Jose

Addressing members of the press after Manchester United’s impressive 4-0 win against West Ham United, José Mourinho chose to be more Daedalus than Icarus when responding to questions about his side’s thumping win. If anyone knows about flying too close to the sun it is Mourinho after experiencing a rough departure at Real Madrid and, more painfully, a ruthless sacking during his second tenure at Chelsea.

“For me, years and years of experience and experience in the Premier League, my feet are on the ground and I am calm, Last season we were also top of the league in the first match and we finished sixth so this means nothing. It just means we played well and confidence levels will be high and now our challenge is to keep this confidence level.”

All the talk centers on José and his second season record; from Porto onwards the 54-year old has won the domestic title in his sophomore campaign. It’s a remarkable statistic.  That said, it feels a bit different this time around as Mourinho still needs to attend a somewhat dented reputation.

The scars from his second stint at Chelsea still linger. After all, It was his first real spectacular failure. While Mourinho’s time at Real Madrid may have come to a difficult end, he was allowed to see the season out before departing the Bernabéu.

Mourinho ahead of United’s Premier League opener said

“I want to play West Ham a difficult match, then go to Swansea for another difficult match.  I want the Champions League to start. I want, I want, I’m on fire. But I will behave on the touchline, even if the goals are offside,”

The water bottles were the main beneficiaries of Mourinho’s Zen as he gently repositioned them on the sideline, but that competitive fire won’t be far from the surface and for good reason too.  If the stars align this season could be the one that helps rehabilitate his reputation.

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“Rehabilitation” may seem like an odd description to use given Mourinho’s trophy-laden CV – and that his first season at Old Trafford saw him bring back two pieces of major silverware – but every achievement does seem to come with a caveat.  For example, winning the League Cup and Europa League was all well and good, but celebrations were kept to the bare minimum.

Indeed, prior to the Europa League final United refused to contemplate holding an open-top bus parade in the event of victory. Completing the European collection was nice, but the club is in the business of competing for the top domestic and continental prizes not those of a lesser stature.  That’s not to mention United’s sixth place finish in the Premier League last season, playing some frustrating football in the process.

There were also whispers about whether Mourinho is passing his sell-by-date, that somehow his methods, though not quite outdated, were being slowly confined to the past, while more progressive coaches emerged.  This kind of talk doesn’t sit well with Mourinho, who is far more comfortable setting the agenda for himself. If he has his way at Old Trafford he’ll enjoy a 15-year tenure at the club.

Sunday’s match against West Ham was the first of what he hopes are many ripostes. United swept aside the Hammers with ease.  Last season Mourinho may have chosen to protect his side’s one-goal lead, but this time around the intent was there to kill the game off and not to hold what he had.  It was a display of speed, verve and skill of which the Old Trafford crowd has craved.

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It would not have escaped Jose’s attention that Arsenal displayed familiar frailties despite beating Leicester City on Friday. Nor that Liverpool once again looks vulnerable at the back, not to mention experiencing frustrations in the market, and perhaps most pertinently that Chelsea looks threadbare after a curious summer window.

The Champions opening day defeat to Burnley at Stamford Bridge was a shock, but arguably one of the club’s doing. If Antonio Conte feels constrained by the sporting structure at Chelsea, he probably won’t receive any sympathy from his Portuguese counterpart.

If one were to extrapolate the results of the opening weekend, a dangerous exercise at the best of times, then the main challenges to Mourinho will come from Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur.

This isn’t just a season for the United boss to reunite the Premier League title with the Old Trafford trophy cabinet though. It’s an opportunity to re-write the narrative.  Mourinho can still prove his way is effective, while instilling a sense of adventure that United’s traditions demand. There’s the chance to show that at the very least he’s the equal of Pep Guardiola, from a purely coaching sense, Mauricio Pochettino. If, and it is a big IF, Chelsea disappoints, leading to the departure of Antonio Conte, the United boss can point to the sporting structure at Stamford Bridge and claim that there’s a systemic problem at his old club.

In a sense this season is tailor-made for Mourinho as it provides a platform to prove his doubters wrong.  It’s a scenario he’ll relish and if there’s a trait the Portuguese shares with Sir Alex Ferguson it’s the desire to stick two fingers up at his detractors.

United’s aim this season is to challenge for the league. The result against West Ham was a statement of intent and should José maintain his second season record then the title will be back at Old Trafford for the first time since the Sir Alex’ halcyon days.

If the stars do align for the United boss then come the middle of May he’ll be lifting the Premier League trophy in front of Old Trafford, winning it for the club he always wanted to manage while restoring his reputation in no uncertain terms.

He could well view the title as his most satisfying in his coaching career. This could be José’s season of redemption.

 

Roy Keane : The man behind those red misty eyes

The relationship has long been uneasy; once hero to the massed hero-worshipers, now the cynic and the increasingly cynical. But Manchester United supporters have not yet fallen completely out of love with Roy Keane, the player who remains the finest all-round midfielder in the club’s modern history. Indeed, the player – and man, some might say – that United has not genuinely replaced since the Irishman was forced out of the club by Sir Alex Ferguson in 2005.

Roaring tyrant or inspiring leader? Aggressive hothead or driven talisman? Dramatic is not a word that Keane would enjoy using to describe himself, but it would fit the path of his career. For many, the images of Roy Maurice Keane that endure are of the sinew-busting approaches to referees or him towering menacingly over fallen opponents. They fit the character that has been built up over time so easily – he’s an angry man, right? The pantomime villain that others hate but his followers love, if only because they are not facing him.

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Everyone and their grandma knows how the Champions League concluded in May 1999. That balmy night in Barcelona, when Ole Gunnar Solskjær won it for Manchester United. What some fans — not United fans, mind you — may forget is that United’s road to that final was perhaps even more dramatic than their late comeback to win the tournament. Their resurrection from 2-0 down in the semi-final second-leg against Juventus in Turin was perhaps their greatest moment of all.

Therein lies the paradox of his success. A born winner, ruthlessly determined and free from the distractions of celebrity and an almost religiously private family man, but needing the grandest stage of all to feed his thriving potential. His infamous comment about the corporate atmosphere of fans eating prawn sandwiches showed a disdain for the glitz and glamour of the theatre in which he found himself, but without the very essence he was against he could never have achieved everything he had in the game.

Titanic battles between the Irishman and his arch-enemy Patrick Vieira – and by proxy between Manchester United and Arsenal – characterised the late 1990s. In a face to face encounter broadcast by ITV three years ago, Keane stared deep into the Senegal-born giant’s eyes as the reminisced over their era on the pitch.

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“It was almost my job to keep you down there,” Keane said to Vieira.

“It was an important role for me that I didn’t feel you were going to get the edge on me. I needed to dominate even the players at Man Utd; I think if I’d let you beat me in these rivalries in the middle of the park it don’t would have cost me long term.”

Their last ever league clash in 2005 epitomised the depths to which the battle was as much a mental struggle as a physical or tactical one. On his way back from the dressing room to collect his forgotten captain’s armband, Keane overheard Vieira threaten Gary Neville with a direct confrontation if he went near Robert Pires, and his switch flipped.

“We’ll see you out there,”

Psychology has always been central to his style, but whereas others in the game would use modern theories to direct and inspire them, Keane’s version was much simpler: never, ever, accept anything other than your best.

While playing for Nottingham Forest, a sloppy back pass from Keane led to a Crystal Palace equaliser in a 1991 FA Cup tie, which infuriated Brian Clough so much he punched the young midfielder in the face. Nearly two decades later, Keane reflected on his former manager’s attack:

 “Cloughie was dead right, absolutely. It was the best thing he ever did for me. It’s good to get angry. It’s an emotion and it’s part of the game. If people upset you and you don’t get angry, I’d say you’re in the wrong game.”

If emotion is part of football – and few could argue with that statement – one would assume that elation and pride would rank pretty highly on Keane’s mind when reflecting on his career as a player, given the sheer volume of trophies and adulation he earned. That would be too simplistic a view, though; there were much darker sides to the mental aspect of the game that Keane battled with.

 “A lot of my preparation would be fear; fear of losing, a fear of letting people down, a fear of letting my neighborhood down, a fear of letting my family down. Fear played a big part of my sporting career. The enjoyment was very, very brief I’m afraid. Too brief.”

The attitude towards overcoming negative emotions, as opposed to exalting in the positive ones, was infinitely more central to his way of thinking, however. When he was brought in as assistant to Paul Lambert at Aston Villa, he was told that the squad had a policy of not dwelling on bad results for more than a day.

“Obviously Villa were used to it but I wasn’t,” he was reported as saying. “At United we had a culture where, if you were beaten on a Saturday – people talk about bouncing back and moving on quickly – but Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, the lads would be fuming, and I loved that.”

In one of his most iconic matches in the red of Manchester, Keane faced what could have been one of the most crushing moments of a player’s career, but showed his character in turning it into his most memorable and inspiring moments through sheer brute force of will. The sublime Juventus side of Edgar DavidsZinedine Zidane and Paolo Montero had raced into a 3-1 aggregate lead in the second leg of the Champions League semi-final when Keane rose to head hhi-res-e2a1afb8f2156f8ea47b7d81003d34a8_crop_exactis side back into contention. Eight minutes later, however, he was booked for a late stretch to tackle Zidane, which would prevent him from playing in the final if his side got there.

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When he wasn’t captain of Manchester United stretching every sinew to the cause, when he was just another man walking his dog through the leafy suburbs, he was anything but the growling pit bull that many choose to remember him as. That petrified young boy standing nervously on his doorstep believed every powerfully terrifying image of the man, but what few people know about, or care to recall, is the softly spoken man who would stop for a cup of tea with the octogenarian dog walkers who shared his peaceful strolls across the hidden parks of Cheshire.

One such route would take him past a low house surrounded by trees with a large garden overlooking the fifth tee at Hale Golf Club, a few hundred metres from his old front door where the media camped out to catch a shot of him with his beloved Triggs after Saipan.

A red mist of rage? Not a bit of it. In the world of Roy Keane, everything was measured – but by his standards and not anybody else’s.

But if there is one thing that sums up that night, or even one thing that sums up the Manchester United of 1999, it’s that goal from the Irishman. Raising his teammates alongside him as he flew in the air, showing them how it’s done, whilst simultaneously crushing the spirit of his opponents. That’s Keano.

Fergie said after:

“I don’t think I could have a higher opinion of any footballer than I already had of the Irishman, but he rose even further in my estimation at the Stadio delle Alpi. The minute he was booked and out of the final he seemed to redouble his efforts to get the team there. It was the most emphatic display of selflessness I have seen on a football field. Pounding over every blade of grass, competing as if he would rather die of exhaustion than lose, he inspired all around him. I felt it was an honour to be associated with such a player.”

Performance counts for everything in football. Teams and players are judged on results, not character traits. The soldiers of the game are disappearing and in their place is the football mercenary, the glory-hunting, heavy-earning, often responsibility-shirking player with more talent at their disposal than many of the on-field generals could ever hope to muster.

The game has never seen more skill across the broad spectrum of players that step across the white lines every match. The game has never been faster, more fitness-focused, and more dependent on money than it is now. There is a saying that natural leaders are born, not made, and judging by the modern game, the role of the on-field general looks consigned to fade.

PS: tft and image credits :gettyandunitedwebsite

Profiling Eric Dier : Manchester United’s midfield Target

The time for excuses, it seems, is over. After what had gone before him, Mourinho was always going to be given time to get things right, but expectations remain as high as ever at English football’s most successful club.

Three trophies in 2016-17 have helped to lift the post-Sir Alex Ferguson mood and get United back into the winning habit, but more is demanded rather than merely longed for. Mourinho has to push his side back into Premier League title contention, and that has to happen in 2017-18. His track record suggests that one season is normally enough for him to get his eye in and know what is expected to challenge for domestic dominance, with the immediate success enjoyed during a first stint at Chelsea and with Inter in Serie A complemented by league crowns in his second year at Real Madrid and after returning to Stamford Bridge.

He knows what pieces are required to complete the jigsaw and has made the powers that be at Old Trafford aware of where to find them, stating immediately after a Europa League triumph in May:

 “Ed Woodward has my list, what I want, what I would like for more than two months. So now it’s up to him and the owners.”

United are working their way down said list and have arrived at the section titled ‘holding midfielder’.

The need of a DM:

Manchester United fans were left largely underwhelmed by the news that Michael Carrick had replaced Wayne Rooney as captain. While it’s true he has been a loyal servant for the past 11 years and has done well for the club, it’s hard to look past the fact he will turn 36 in the next few weeks and only featured in 18 Premier League games last season.

Carrick’s playing time is likely to be limited further next season if Jose Mourinho gets his wish of signing a defensive midfielder. Nemanja Matic was long-hailed as the most likely new arrival, but chances of that happening took a hit after United beat Chelsea to the signature of Romelu Lukaku, the striker that Antonio Conte had at the top of his shopping list this summer. This has lead to talk of Eric Dier making the move to Old Trafford, with reports suggesting that the Tottenham Hotspur midfielder would be keen to make the move to Manchester.

While obviously not a candidate to be captain, Dier would likely take more minutes from Carrick, and the reaction from United fans is likely to be mixed.

In English football, describing a player as a ‘utility man’ often infers that he’s good in a number of positions but not good enough to make one of those his own. Manchester United have already had a bid of just under £25m for Eric Dier turned down, as per The Independent understands, and it is likely to take more than double that to even tempt Tottenham Hotspur into the idea of a sale. Just about every area of the field is being addressed by Jose Mourinho, with the Portuguese eager to ensure that no stone is left unturned.

There is also the fact that Mourinho wants a player who has proven Premier League experience for the defensive midfield position, as he sees it as a key role for the quick functioning of the team from the start of the 2017-18 season, and would prefer that to someone who has to adapt. There is still interest in Fabinho of Monaco, but he is seen by the Portuguese as a right-back.

Roy Keane – Michael Carrick – Eric Dier

When Carrick arrived at the club in 2006, taking Roy Keane’s No.16, there were plenty of supporters who were disappointed. Throughout his time at the club, there has been a section of fans who have been indifferent, at best, to Carrick’s presence at United. He was never going to be in the Keane mould, but that was the sort of player the fans were desperately craving — in fact, they still are — so his signing was seen as fairly anticlimactic.

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While it would be wrong to claim Dier is the next Keane, he certainly resembles him more than Carrick ever did. The former United captain would have been proud of the performance Dier put in the season before last on the night at Stamford Bridge when Tottenham Hotspur conceded the league title. He threw himself into challenge after challenge, somehow avoiding a red card while allowing his emotions to get the better of him. Keane would have been guilty of exactly the same in that situation.

One thing that did amuse United supporters last season was Dier’s veiled threat toward Ander Herrera. The Spaniard is immensely popular at Old Trafford, so fans didn’t take too kindly to Dier having a pop following a clash on international duty.

Dier claimed he was elbowed in the face during England’s draw against Spain, a game in which Herrera made his national team debut. Dier labelled Herrera’s action “ridiculous” before adding, “I’ll see him soon,” in reference to Spurs’ upcoming game at Old Trafford. It hardly carried the same menace that Keane’s statement to Patrick Vieira in the Highbury tunnel did, but it showed a bit of fire in his belly.

However, the day before the game, Dier gave an interview in which he downplayed the whole incident, claiming he was just joking. United won 1-0, Dier was an unused substitute, and Herrera was named man of the match.

Case of Daniel Levy :

Still, while such silliness won’t put United off the midfielder, the club still has to overcome the hurdle of dealing with Tottenham chairman Daniel Levy. He has been a thorn in United’s side on a number of occasions and was embarrassed in the summer of 2008 after putting Dimitar Berbatov on a plane to Manchester to discuss terms with City — only for him to be collected from the airport by Sir Alex Ferguson and taken swiftly to United’s Carrington training ground.

David Gill and Ferguson have both left the club since then, meaning there is the opportunity for an olive branch to be offered. But even if the Spurs are to sell Dier, they will demand a large fee.

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Dier made 48 appearances for Spurs last season in all competitions and formed a budding bromance with Dele Alli, much to the delight of the supporters. Losing Dier would be viewed as a step backward for the North London club, who will be hoping it’s lucky the third time in their bid to be crowned Premier League champions next season, after coming close in their last two consecutive campaigns.

Carrick didn’t get the fans buzzing, but his arrival coincided with three title wins on the bounce for United. If Dier could play a similar role, supporters would be more than happy regardless of the overinflated transfer fee.

Portuguese Education

“I play with my head up, unlike you Englishmen.”

Iconic quote by Michael Laudrup but the fact is it is the basic for any midfielder. Watch the man ahead of you so that you can get through. the softly spoken 21-year-old would be far too self-effacing to admit it, his Portuguese upbringing does appear to have imbued in him the same European qualities that Laudrup referred to during that on-pitch conversation all those years ago.

He was eight when he first came to the club, a shy English boy with little grasp of the language being spoken by his peers. As would be the case in England – in the playground or on the football pitch – those two realities initially left him on the outside looking in. Those first six months, as a foreigner with his new hometown club, were some of the toughest of his young life.

According to those who saw him play in those formative years, among Dier’s greatest gifts were his composure and precious ability to keep the ball – a trait that Sporting’s coaches ingrained in their charges from an early age.

In an interview with Four four two one of his footballing coaches said

“Unlike on the park pitches of England on a Saturday and Sunday morning, there were no coaches balling at the youngsters, Players were told things once and expected to learn from it. Likewise, the first question on the return to the Sporting clubhouse after an away match wasn’t ‘did you win?’ but ‘did you play well?’.”

That notion of keeping the ball, being patient and waiting for your chance, would have been foreign to most English players of a similar age. In Portugal, however, it was as natural as breathing.

The way United are going about their business this summer it is unlikely that he would be the final piece of the puzzle, but he – or any alternative that operates in a similar role – would be another sensible signing and a step in the right direction for a club looking to put down several sizeable summer markers to their rivals.

Think about this for once :

This is the manager who had Claude Makelele at Chelsea, Esteban Cambiasso at Inter and Sami Khedira at Real Madrid. No-one appreciates the value of a defensive midfielder quite like Mourinho, yet at Old Trafford he has been forced to choose between wrecking ball Marouane Fellaini and 35-year-old Michael Carrick for the holding role. So, it is evident we are signing a defensive mid but the question comes will it be him or Fabinho or someone else.

The Portuguese is shrewd enough to know that signing a player like Dier has the dual effect of strengthening his own team while weakening a side who have finished above United in three of the four seasons since Sir Alex Ferguson retired. 02.jpgMauricio Pochettino could replace Walker, who has four years to run on his contract, with Kieran Trippier and the Spurs manager could use the fee from the sale to strengthen his squad. Pochettino would be less willing to cash in on selling Dier.

In a transfer market that is quickly threatening to lose its proverbial head, Dier represents genuine value. He is a key cog at Tottenham, central to everything positive about the side’s fresh-faced resurgence, while Mourinho had lost faith in Matic by the end of their time together. Make no mistake, were United to sign Dier, it would be a bigger coup – and more damaging blow – than even their record deal for Lukaku.

 

Juan Mata : The survivor who adapted to Jose Mourinho’s Tactics

01Moving to the London club from Valencia in 2011, Mata had amassed 18 goals and 25 assists in his first two seasons of Premier League football. Needless to say, he took to the English game well.

In part, that’s because Mata’s footballing ability transcends the often insurmountable differences that distinguish the Spanish and English game. He is so malleable because he is so gifted, and his individual accolades at Chelsea came as no surprise following such consistently brilliant performances. It didn’t matter that he shared the changing room with the likes of Lampard, Terry, Drogba, Torres, Hazard and Essien. In those two seasons, nobody came close to Mata.

What’s next for Juan Mata? It’s only worth asking this question because the Spanish midfielder has been the most surprising survivor of Jose Mourinho’s stint at Old Trafford — even more so than Marouane Fellaini.

When Mourinho arrived at United last year, the prevailing wisdom was that Mata would immediately be sold, just as he was shortly after the manager returned to Chelsea in 2013. If someone had said then that he — not Oscar — would have the more promising future at the highest level of continental football, most people would have laughed.

Oscar joined Chelsea from Internacional as an attacking midfielder, drawing comparisons to Gerson by none other than fellow Brazil legend Carlos Alberto. In 2011, he scored a hat trick in the Under-20 World Cup final as Brazil defeated Portugal 3-2. A year later, he was beating Juventus’ Gianluigi Buffon from 25 yards out in the Champions League.

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Popular wherever he has played (his thoughtful blogs were a regular highlight during several otherwise dour seasons at United), Mata has always taken responsibility when his performances — or those of the team — have been below par.

Yet here we are. While Mata celebrates a triumph in the Europa League and United’s return to the UEFA Champions League, Oscar is in China, where he has scored just one goal in 13 games and is best known for starting a fight. Life, as they say, comes at you fast.

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Mata was sold by Chelsea because he was the wrong type of player for Mourinho’s plans, while Oscar departed because he failed to become what Mourinho wished him to be. Maybe there’s a moral in there somewhere about staying true to yourself.

Oscar joined Chelsea from Internacional as an attacking midfielder, drawing comparisons to Gerson by none other than fellow Brazil legend Carlos Alberto. In 2011, he scored a hat trick in the Under-20 World Cup final as Brazil defeated Portugal 3-2. A year later, he was beating Juventus’ Gianluigi Buffon from 25 yards out in the Champions League.

Yet by the end of Oscar’s time at Stamford Bridge, many of his compatriots seemed bemused by the lack of imagination in his play, and his transformation into a functional, hard-running midfielder. He is still only 25, but it seems as though his most exciting football might be behind him. Meanwhile, Mata grinds on, confirming there is strong resolve beneath his affable exterior. His career is the classic example of someone whose kindness has often been mistaken for weakness.

Popular wherever he has played (his thoughtful blogs were a regular highlight during several otherwise dour seasons at United), Mata has always taken responsibility when his performances — or those of the team — have been below par.

Consistent man in a team marred with Inconsistency

Last season, some people in Social media had started a debate which roughly concludes as

“​Even in the current inflated transfer market, £37.1 million is a lot of money. Juan Mata, Manchester United’s record signing at the time of transfer in January 2014, has not yet justified the fee. While Mata’s class is clear, the Spanish midfielder has failed to become the star man so many expected.”

He should benefit from the summer transfer window and Mourinho’s apparent plans to sign younger, faster players. But the million dollar question would be does Mourinho see him as central to his plans?

Mata completed 90 minutes just once in the Premier League last season. He was frequently taken off at around the midway mark of the second half, when the game is most in need of decisive play. Meanwhile, might Paul Pogba be pushed further forward, occupying some of the space where Mata does most of his best work?

For the time being, Mata can safely say that he has Mourinho’s confidence in the biggest matches. Though his greatest gift lies in his attacking ability, he has good discipline in possession and still rarely loses the ball in areas that would endanger his team.

Big game Player

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In order to discern Mata’s discipline and growth, one need not look further than United’s Europa League final win against Ajax. Mata was the very picture of mature, restrained distribution, retaining the ball astutely and always providing an outlet for teammates. Perhaps this adaptability and willingness to limit the natural range of his game have allowed him to survive, and even to prosper, under Mourinho.

For United to see his best, they will have to invest more heavily in the full-back positions, particularly on the right. Mourinho has often used Mata as an inside-right and allowed Antonio Valencia to overlap beyond him, but though he covers an impressive amount of ground, Mata’s combination play is one rung below elite level.

If United add a playmaker in the right-back position — someone who can not only receive quick, clever passes but also offer them — then Mata can thrive. He is at his best when playing in tight triangles, which is why he suffers when played on the same wing as Matteo Darmian. The Italian is often given a conservative set of tactical instructions, meaning Mata has few opportunities to build play.

For now, it is good to see that such a skilled operator still has a place in Mourinho’s thoughts, given how unlikely that seemed a short time ago. As United attempt to capture a league title, Mata might yet have a compelling role to play.

For the meanwhile, Mata finds himself having to compete for a place in Mourinho’s starting line-up once more. The introduction of Mkhitaryan, Lingard, Martial and Rashford further congest an already busy attacking midfield and with fans hoping Andreas Pereira should be given a run in the first team it seems that Mata will be used sparingly yet again.

The conclusion is that while Mata is undeniably a good player, he is one with clear limitations – and the focus Jose Mourinho may be elsewhere. But it goes back to the topic of debate. After all, he was essentially a panic buy to soothe United fans unsatisfied with David Moyes.  After two years it is hard to escape that assessment.

Andreas Pereira ‘s Quandary

Andreas Pereira has returned from a loan spell at Granada, and the signs are he will be given a chance to win a role in Jose Mourinho’s plans for the coming season. Given United’s lack of depth in midfield, this is a welcome development.

With Manchester United’s transfer activity stuck in limbo, somewhere between frustration and anticipation, José Mourinho may yet look towards his returning loanees to breathe some fresh life into his squad. Of the six United players who left the club on a temporary basis last season, it is likely that only one can force his way into Mourinho’s plans for the coming Premier League campaign: Andreas Pereira.

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Cameron Borthwick-Jackson suffered a confusing season at Wolverhampton Wanderers. Under new Chinese ownership, Wolves started the campaign with Kenny Jackett in charge. The 55-year-old took a liking to the loanee, with Borthwick-Jackson starting seven games under Jackett’s tutorship, scoring an impressive 7.32 rating on WhoScord, before the now Portsmouth manager was replaced by Paul Lambert. The former Norwich City and Aston Villa manager rapidly discarded Borthwick-Jackson and failed to offer the youngster another outing at the Midlands club, commenting disapprovingly on both the player’s fitness and mentality.

The United academy product, who broke into the first team under Louis van Gaal, returned to Old Trafford in search of game time with the under-23 squad. He has not enjoyed senior football since. Despite Mourinho’s ongoing tussle with Luke Shaw over the player’s fitness and attitude, it seems unlikely that Borthwick-Jackson will be involved in the first team squad during the coming season.

Similarly, Guillermo Varela is unlikely to squeeze his way into Mourinho’s plans, especially given the player’s now infamous behaviour at the end of the 2016/17 season. There have been a few humorously embarrassing injury stories in modern football, but not many top the young Uruguayan’s. Prior to Eintracht Frankfurt’s DFB Pokal final against Borussia Dortmund, Varela got a tattoo against his manager’s wishes. This tattoo got infected, ruling the loanee out of the final. Frankfurt’s sporting director Fredi Bobic issued a statement slamming Varela’s behaviour and the German club abruptly ended his loan-spell.

Like Borthwick-Jackson, it is unlikely that Varela will play for United’s first team again, especially with Mourinho attempting to shape the mentality of the club into one that is much more serious – and winning. Unprofessional personalities are likely to be cast aside.

The same goes for the trio of English-based loanees. Adnan Januzaj is the most high-profile case. The Belgian’s unimpressive season under David Moyes at Sunderland was probably his last affiliation with United after too many campaigns of stalling development.

Meanwhile, James Wilson made a total of four appearances for Derby County’s first team, scoring one goal in the EFL Trophy for what was essentially Derby’s reserves. Despite scoring a brace on his début for United under Ryan Giggs’ management, the exit door is looming, especially with Mourinho chasing a number nine as one of his primary transfer targets.

Sam Johnstone is also likely to leave the club. Having made nine separate loan moves since 2011, the Englishman does not have a future at Old Trafford, particularly since David De Gea, Sergio Romero, Joel Pereira and probably even Dean Henderson are ahead in the pecking order of the now journeyman goalkeeper.

Pereira, by contrast, may stand a chance. Of all United’s loanees last season, his club suffered the most, although the Brazilian regularly featured for Granada side that won just four from 38 La Liga games, theatrically crashing out of the Spanish top division.

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It is all the more welcome given Pereira’s success in Spain. Playing in a side relegated with a goal difference of -52, he nevertheless distinguished himself, scoring five goals in 35 league matches — a sixth of the team’s total. That he went to La Liga at all speaks volumes for his character — rather than remain at Old Trafford, he took the risk of going elsewhere for regular football, choosing Granada specifically for the style of football they played. Unlike another of United’s recent young talents, Adnan Januzaj, Pereira had the fortitude to flourish on loan. In doing so, the Brazilian resumed the positive path he had been on a couple of years before, when he won the club’s Under-21 Player of the Year award and made his first team debut under Louis van Gaal.

Pereira was also involved in more goals than any other player at the club, including five strikes and three assists. While that is not overly impressive on it’s own, in a hugely disappointing season for Granada, Pereira played in an astonishing number of positions. The Brazilian started 10 games on the left of a midfield four, seven in the centre, six in an attacking midfield role, another six on the left of a 4-2-3-1 system, two on the left of a 4-3-3, two as a defensive midfielder and even one as a solo striker. It is a positive sign of the player’s ability to perform even amid the chaos, and he perhaps boasts greater mental strength than many thought.

There may even be a space for Pereira in Mourinho’s squad. It is safe to assume that Mourinho will recruit a holding midfielder in this summer’s transfer window – a move that should free up some of the defensive burden placed on Paul Pogba and Ander Herrera. Nemanja Matić now the most likely player to form a three with two of United’s better performers last season, with Herrera deployed in a box-to-box role and Pogba as the most attacking of the trio. Should Pereira prove his worth to Mourinho in preseason, he will alleviate some of the burden on Paul Pogba and Ander Herrera in central midfield. Pogba, in particular, showed signs of fatigue over the last 12 months, during a return to Old Trafford that may have been as taxing mentally as physically, while Herrera got through such a prodigious amount of work that it made many fear it was unsustainable.

Marouane  Fellaini and Michael Carrick are set to be retained, most likely a cover for Matić and Herrera. With Wayne Rooney leaving the club, and Mourinho generally preferring Juan Mata in wider roles, Pereira could provide a rotation option when Pogba needs a rest. The youngster has demonstrated that he is more than capable of performing in the role.

Mourinho needs the depth. United fought hard on four different fronts last season, with the lack of squad depth becoming an issue towards the end of the campaign. This coming season, Mourinho’s team will again be fighting in four separate competitions, although with even more intensity in the Champions League. The manager needs all the quality replacements he can get – and Pereira will surely be a useful tool in what will be another busy season.

A statistical look at Andreas’s Season at Granada

Looking at Pereira’s statistics from last season, he would be best deployed at the front of a midfield three. Per 90 minutes, he made 1.66 passes and 1.56 key passes, numbers which are all the more impressive given the limited amount of the ball that his team saw each match — he made only 34 passes on average, less than half of Herrera’s 74.6. He also showed a surprisingly combative streak — he won 44.4 percent of his duels, only slightly less than Herrera’s 46.0 percent. If there are any question marks, they might arise over his difficulty in retaining possession — he completed 76 percent of his passes. However, this figure must again be viewed in the context of a team whose midfield and defence was continually under siege from rivals with far greater resources.

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Pereira’s eye for goal and sharp turn of pace should be a great asset to a side that struggled to score too often last season. If he can return such notable figures in a struggling team, it is exciting to think what he could do in a team with the vision and movement of players like Henrikh Mkhitaryan. He may also be better at linking up the attack than Jesse Lingard was during the previous campaign — though the England international was always industrious, he too often failed to execute passing moves at the kind of tempo that would open up opposing defences.

Pereira has showed signs of having that elusive quality, and he should also return to Old Trafford battle-hardened by an exacting 12 months at Granada. It is thus that, while many of millions of pounds are being spent elsewhere, Pereira’s move back to Old Trafford could be one of the more intriguing — and maybe even important — elements of United’s squad this year.

 

 

Manchester United’s graveyard of Potential

There are few things more exciting than watching a youngster showcase sky-high potential. Take Monaco’s latest prodigy, Kylian Mbappé, who injected fresh interest into the Champions League last season – a competition that has become stale in recent years given the domination of the continent’s biggest clubs, including Real Madrid, Bayern Munich, Barcelona and Juventus. Young players bring unpredictability and excitement. Few outside France knew of the Frenchman’s talent before he burst onto the scene at the turn of the year. They know him now.

Opposition teams could not plan for Mbappé as they had little prior knowledge. First, Mbappé showcased his exquisite finishing. Then came the turn of pace. As Mbappé’s confidence grew he begin to demonstrate those brilliant touches of skill that took everyone by surprise. The youngster may have been perceived as a poacher, but by the end of the season he was viewed as one of the most complete footballers in the competition, at the tender age of 18.

Manchester United, of course, is no stranger to blooding talented youngsters. The world-renown Class of 92 stands apart as one of the most extraordinary narratives in modern football. Never before – and given football’s globalization probably never again – had six footballers matured together to help their boyhood club win the ultimate prize: a Champions League, Premier League and FA Cup treble in 1999. For that story alone, United commands an aura of respect for giving youth a chance.

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Nostalgia is beautiful. Unfortunately, the club hasn’t been able to replicate that since the class of 92. While the academy continues to produce talent, the club has failed to build on young promise in recent years. There is no longer a regular stream of players making it to the first team. Just two weeks back, United announced that Josh Harrop will be joining Preston North End when his contract expires at the end of the month. Harrop leaves having scored a beautiful solo goal versus Crystal Palace on his club debut on the last day of the season, but his chances of making the first team permanently are limited.

Perhaps, more pointedly, Adnan Januzaj is off to Real Sociedad in an attempt to relight his career after years of stalled progress. The Belgian youngster burst onto the scene as one of the only bright spots in David Moyes’ disastrous season at the club. Louis van Gaal distrusted the mercurial winger and then Borussia Dortmund boss Thomas Tuchel expressed public disappointment with the player’s attitude and sent him back to Manchester. It should have been the perfect opportunity to develop at one of the world’s most youth-friendly clubs. Frustration, anger, and a touch of sadness describe the emotions felt about a player who many believe holds the natural ability to reach the top. It just won’t be at United.

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The broader picture is not positive either. Januzaj is far from alone as a promising youngster that has failed to make it at United. The list of highly talented players to have left with talent unfulfilled is too long for a club that has lacked exceptional quality since Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement. United’s results declined only after Ferguson’s retirement, but the youthful talent pool had dried up long before the Scot called it a day. In the past five years alone, Ravel Morrison, Paul Pogba, Federico Macheda, Danny Welbeck, Tom Cleverly, Tyler Blackett, and Paddy McNair each offered United fans a glimpse of talent, yet all left with a sense of potential unfulfilled. Even youthful acquisitions such as Wilfried Zaha, Nick Powell and Memphis Depay departed having failed to turn talent into performances.

This is not all on the club, of course. Many factors play into development and progress of talent, many of which are out of United’s control. Morrison’s personal issues, for example, made it seemingly impossible for the player to dedicate the required focus on his career. Pogba has proven to be Ferguson’s most costly misjudgement, and with hindsight, maybe the hype afforded to Macheda, Cleverly, Welbeck, Blackett and McNair was unjustified.

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Yet, there is also a sense that with the right coaching at least some of these players could have progressed to reach the standards they were once touted to possess. Zaha, for example, was not afforded the chance to showcase his mercurial talents despite the £15 million fee. United fans might look at the player’s outstanding season at Crystal Palace as an opportunity missed. Powell and Depay were each accused of demonstrating a poor attitude, although if the former is able to focus and the latter carries on his good form for Lyon, United may rue not holding a little more patience.

The result is a graveyard of youthful potential. There are too many ‘what ifs’ – players discarded to the wind when the excitement of youth was exactly what the club needed. Today, supporters are right to be concern that youngsters such as Marcus Rashford and Antony Martial might not fulfil their potential at the club. Each enjoyed superb seasons under Van Gaal, but neither truly built on those foundations during Jose Mourinho’s first campaign at the club. The duo enjoyed ample game time last season, but there is a sense that Mourinho’s more conservative tactics have stunted the pair’s growth. Potential is not yet lost, but neither enjoyed featuring on the left wing and being asked to perform defensive duties even if it is beneficial to the team. If Mourinho captures Alvaro Morata, neither will appear at number nine much next season either.

 

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In more defensive areas, Mourinho can choose from a plethora of talented youngsters waiting for a chance. Timothy Fosu-Mensah, Axel Tuanzebe, Luke Shaw, Cameron Borthwick-Jackson and Guillermo Varela have each offered assured performances for the senior team. Fosu-Mensah looks like the beefy, all-action defensive midfielder that the team has lacked in recent years, while Tuanzebe epitomised composure when he was thrown into Mourinho’s first team plans towards the end of the season. Shaw is a complicated case, but his ability is unquestionable. Shaw will hope that Mourinho places more trust in the former Southampton player, although that trust may only come with the hard work his manager demands.

Borthwick-Jackson and Varela looked like capable attacking full-backs under van Gaal’s tutelage, although with so many options in front of them it seems unlikely that either will make the senior squad in the coming season. Departure is likely.

Mourinho has much to do if he is to dispel the assumption that he fails to give youth a chance. Last season Rashford, Martial, Shaw, Tuanzebe, and Fosu-Mensah enjoyed time in the first team. Mourinho offered more minutes to teenagers than any other manager in the Premier League, albeit a stat skewed by Rashford’s impact. Yet, none is guaranteed first choice for the coming campaign.

The sense that Mourinho’s conservative ideology hinders talented youngsters persists. Few will argue that the Portuguese prefers the fickle world of potential – one that can be full of surprises, good and bad – to proven talent and experience.

Still, the current crop of youngsters at United is more exciting than in recent years. Now the club and manager needs to find the right environment to stimulate that talent.

 

Au Revoir Adnan

Stretford end sang about him in his debut season and the chant was pretty catchy too

I want to tell you,

I might as well do,

about a boy who can do anything.

He comes from Belgium, his name is Adnan, Januzaj,

Januzaj, Januzaj

It’s pretty safe to say that Adnan Januzaj’s United career can be filed in the ‘not quite good enough’ drawer. There’ll be a sense of bitterness, if there isn’t already, that a highly talented academy graduate will be moving on to pastures new, and perhaps a justifiable sense of anger that the Belgian didn’t kick on after his breakthrough season. Yet, perhaps the most appropriate feeling is one of sadness. Sadness that he didn’t build on his good start when the path was there to succeed. Januzaj “burned out then faded away,” to paraphrase Neil Young’s My My, Hey Hey. But for a few months in the 2013/14 season he burned bright and shone, providing a light in the darkness of the Moyes error.

It can be argued that United’s mediocrity under the former Everton manager made Januzaj stand out that much more because fans were desperately looking for something – or someone – positive on which to latch. Quite the burden for a player who was just a teenager at the time.

It’s tempting to dive in and dissect everything that went wrong for Januzaj since his break-out season. He was marginalised by Louis van Gaal, told-off by Thomas Tuchel during an ill-fated loan at Borussia Dortmund, and made an underwhelming impact in a Sunderland side that wasn’t exactly brimming with quality. Januzaj’s time at Wearside was made to look all the more worse as it ran in parallel Andreas Pereira’s impressive campaign for struggling Granada.

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Odd statement as this may be, but for all this to go wrong, Januzaj must have done something very right to begin with to be in a position to fall from such a height. His breakthrough season was a breath of fresh air and the Belgian seemingly possessed the hallmarks of a classic Manchester United player; skillful, quick and fearless, Januzaj was courageous when his side was at its most timid.

There was the grand announcement, scoring a brace against Sunderland at the Stadium of Light to turn a one goal deficit into a 2-1 win.

Gary Neville famously said

“We are watching someone special here,”

and in that moment the former United full-back was right. His first goal at Old Trafford against West Ham United was a picture in confidence coupled with technique as Januzaj bamboozled James Collins before slotting the ball home.

All told he made 27 appearances in the Premier League that season, scoring four goals and making four assists. More telling that season was the level of responsibility Januzaj was given with each passing game – he seemingly took it all in his stride. The Belgian’s performance in United’s 3-1 loss to Chelsea at Stamford Bridge showed off his strength of character when he was effectively handed the sole burden of creativity with both Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney missing.

Such was Januzaj’s rise there were fears that he’d be poached by other clubs as his initial contract was up at the end of the season. Rumour of a £25 million move to Real Madrid surfaced. When the Belgian put pen to paper for a new five-year deal more than a few sighs of relief could be heard as the young prodigy committed his immediate future to the club.

There were also debates as to whether he could represent England on the international stage – he qualified for up to four international teams before picking Belgium. Januzaj was even shortlisted for the BBC Young Sports Personality of the Year. The starlet’s rise was meteoric.

Januzaj’s last meaningful contribution that season was his goal against Newcastle United, capping off a fine team move. The youngster was relegated to the bench the following as United lost 2-0 at Everton. That result spelled the end of Moyes’ tenure, but symbolically it perhaps drew a line under Januzaj’s time at United too.

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He would never quite hit those heights again. Maybe too much came too soon and his attitude – if stories are to be believed – was highly questionable. Questions may be asked about how the club allowed him to fail. Only Adnan and those closest to him will fully know how and why his stock has taken such a tumble. Now the 22-year old is the subject of fun and a move to Moyes’ old haunt at Real Sociedad is on the cards.

If Januzaj is to fully realise his potential it won’t be at Old Trafford and there’s a danger that his career will drift aimlessly unless he arrests the slump. It is genuinely sad that such a gifted academy graduate didn’t make the grade because United fans glimpsed, if only for a short period of time, the talent Januzaj holds.

One of my favourite bands has been Jim Morrison led “The Doors” and one song which makes perfect sense for Adnan here is

“This is the end, beautiful friend, my only friend, the end” – The Doors.

 

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