Manchester United: A Few Scattered Thoughts

Jose drowning in elation.

Jose drowning in elation.

Adding to the noise of United opinion pieces was something I had no intention of doing. Every thought I have about this has been covered by one writer or another. However, I’ve decided to go ahead and invalidate my original position and collate a few scattered takes on some broader issues. The main reasons I’m doing so can be reduced to not wanting to waste a decent caffeine high on a Sunday and because I’m tired of thinking about world politics. As an aside, thank you Dave Chappelle and ATCQ for helping us cope with that last point (I have no ads here, don’t wave that SEO finger at me, buddy).

First off, let’s all hold hands and cozy up around the inviting camp fire of Ander Herrera’s revival. Lawyers messed with the kindling, the club got the matches wet, a Dutchman stacked the wood the wrong way, but finally we have our blaze and it’s oh so beautiful. Ander’s an eager tackler, a dynamic presence able to affect the game at both ends of the pitch and best of all can form a balanced partnership with Paul Pogba. Nothing further needed.

As it pertains to the most infectious smile in the United dressing room since Patrice Evra, it’s been a mixed bag, but it’s so early in his second stint at United patience should not be demanded but assumed. He’s already added elements to our midfield play that had been absent for years. Come August 2017, there will have been a year of reintegration, a summer of proper recuperation and, one hopes, a supporting cast adequately altered according to the requirements of football Mourinho is aiming to play. With these things in mind it would not be a bold suggestion to think that Pogba’s best days at the club are well and truly ahead of him.

On to the dark overlord himself. I still can’t believe that America actually elected him. It’s almost like all the...wait, I’m getting sidetracked here. Jose Mourinho. Yes, that’s the one. To put it all out there I wasn’t enthusiastic about him joining the club when rumours first surfaced. Neither his character nor his brand of football were particularly attractive. The biggest attraction for myself was that his resume and experience were potent enough to smack any player dissention away in a manner not available to David Moyes. While van Gaal had the aggression, conviction and trophies to do so himself, he chose all the wrong hills to die on. At least we got Marcus Rashford and an FA Cup out of the whole [someone from the crowd stands up and screams: “don’t you dare”] process.

Mourinho has improved the style of play to some extent, that’s hard to deny. The problem is that both him and van Gaal play a style of football that can be countered in fairly straightforward ways but to varying degrees of difficulty.

There was a moment in time where you could see how van Gaal wanted to play and it wasn’t ominous and frightening. You just hoped that it would speed up, become more fluid, that clear cut chances would increase without guaranteeing leaking goals at the back. At its most extreme iteration van Gaal’s style shares similarities to Guardiola’s: playing from the back, midfielders manning the defensive line, a tendency to press (albeit far from the cohesive and intensive manner of Klopp or Pochettino), close proximity of player quartets with a winger or inside forward dutifully sticking as far away as possible waiting to be released. It all becomes problematic when you throw positional rigidity and pragmatism-induced conservatism into the mix. Not to mention player quality but that’s another story altogether.

Zlatan also drowning in elation.

Zlatan also drowning in elation.

I won’t attempt to analyze Mourinho’s style. Not only has that been done to death before by clearly more educated people but it’s also of no big concern to me. What I will say, however, is that his talk about ‘the profile of player we want’ during the summer is something that I’m still very much in agreement with. If we accept that him wanting to be at least able to field a solid defensive line and counter in a rapid and effective way then that’s what the transfer policy must try to facilitate.

Bailly and Pogba are transfers that patently fit that profile. Ibrahimovic is a short-term addition. Mkhitaryan is where things become a bit more vague. Actually, that’s an understatement. Mkhitaryan is where things dye their hair orange-red and put a green suit with black question marks [another person from the crowd preemptively chucks an egg] riddled all over the fabric. Add the Luke Shaw and Chris Smalling man management concerns and you begin to worry that he might be using the pimp hand a tad too often.

Returning back to the player profile argument, one player who does not fit the desired style of play (or any modern style for that matter) is Marouane Fellaini. Yes, there’s Ashley Young who’s earning a ton of money to offer not much in return but at least he’s able to control the ball and isn’t slower than an audio recording of paint drying. An audio recording of paint drying chopped and screwed, rather. Please Napoli, you know want to buy him off of us. Do it for the culture.

There’s other players that should make way for one reason or another. Some for their own careers’ sake (hallo Memphis). I assume the club will be moving to make that happen in January and during the next summer transfer window. Beyond player exits it’s been pleasing to see the board make tangible improvements to the youth setup as well as the scouting department. It’s hard to get excited by that when you’re being held at home by a Louis CK lookalike from a universe with only sharp angles but still. Things are generally moving towards a positive direction. Whether Mourinho will still be here in two years’ time to see his vision through is an unknown. Will the manager after him benefit from Mourinho’s tenure? Well, does Rooney’s manager live off the cowardice of a Glaswegian manager currently making a lazy jog away from the ravenous mandibles of relegation?

Kyriacos Nicolaou