Given José Mourinho’s treatment of Juan Mata last weekend, it became eminently clear that the Portuguese has not arrived at Old Trafford to make friends. His stern expression ever since his appointment was announced suggests that he is a man on a mission.
As with all of his previous roles, Mourinho has a definitive plan that he will seek to implement. If a player cannot adapt or abide by his instructions, then there will be only one place for them – Manchester Piccadilly train station.
It seems certain that several players will pass through the exit door in the coming weeks. Paul Pogba’s expensive acquisition requires it. While David Moyes performed meekly in the transfer market, Louis van Gaal stepped up the game in signing the likes of Angel di Maria, Ander Herrera and Marcos Rojo for considerable sums. Meanwhile, several stalwarts of the Ferguson era found themselves on the scrapheap. It was a substantial turnover of playing staff.
Van Gaal adopted the same approach the following year. Memphis Depay, Morgan Schneiderlin, Matteo Darmian, Bastien Schweinsteiger and Anthony Martial all became Red Devils, whilst Tom Cleverley, Robin van Persie, Nani, Rafael, Jonny Evans and Di Maria were excused.
Of those who were plying their trade in red when Pogba was last at the club, only five senior players remain: David de Gea, Phil Jones, Wayne Rooney, Chris Smalling and Ashley Young. The landscape of Manchester United has been changing for the past number of years and more will surely come to pass through the exit door.
Widely regarded as one of the best goalkeepers in the history of Barcelona, Valdes joined United following his rehabilitation from a knee injury in January 2015. While the Spaniard was never expected to oust David de Gea from the number one jersey, he was a most capable deputy. However, after refusing to play in a reserve fixture, Valdes was banished from Louis van Gaal’s first team. A loan spell at Standard Liege soon followed, before Jose Mourinho finally signed off on his departure to Aitor Karanka’s Middlesbrough in July.
One of ‘Louis’ Lads’, Love made a promising debut albeit in the 2-1 defeat to Sunderland last February. While he started in a depleted side against FC Midtjylland in the Europa League the following week, the simultaneous development of Guillermo Varela hampered the young Scot’s first-team prospects. Love is set to follow Paddy McNair to the Stadium of Light for a fee thought to be £1 million, while Varela is now at Eintracht Frankfurt on a season-long loan.
Another to have been promoted by Van Gaal, Borthwick-Jackson prospered on account of Luke Shaw’s unfortunate injury last season. While Mourinho has claimed that he has given 49 youth players their first-team debuts, there is a sense that he will continue put his faith in those he feels are ready to do a job. Borthwick-Jackson, despite signing a contract keeping him at the club until 2020, is not quite at that stage yet. With Shaw’s return, allied to the ability of Darmian to cover the left-hand side of defence, it is likely that the youngster will be offered out on loan this campaign.
An unlikely hero at the outset of Van Gaal’s tenure, McNair suffered a sudden fall from grace after a disappointing first-half performance at Southampton in December 2014. The Dutchman later claimed that it was McNair’s lack of confidence thereafter that precluded him from the first team for the rest of the season, and he has only made a handful of appearances ever since. Nevertheless, his contributions to Northern Ireland’s journey to Euro 2016 have ensured that he was not going to be forgotten entirely. He is set to make a £5 million switch to David Moyes’ Sunderland for the coming season.
Eternally linked with a move away from the club, Rojo’s off-field antics have not endeared him to the Old Trafford hierarchy. Signed by Van Gaal for £16 million from Sporting Lisbon, the Argentine has struggled to hold down a place in the starting XI. Last year, Rojo failed to appear for United’s pre-season tour following his international commitments at the Copa America, prompting Van Gaal to offer him to AS Monaco as a makeweight in the Anthony Martial deal. Mourinho would appear to carry a similar opinion of the defender and was apparently left incensed when Rojo recently turned down a £12 million move to Shanghai SIPG, who are managed by Sven Goran-Eriksson.
Once hailed as the new Duncan Edwards, Jones has fallen far short of the future that beckoned when he first emerged on the scene at Blackburn Rovers in 2009 at 18 years of age. Given his no nonsense approach, Jones is the type of defender that Mourinho arguably requires. While Eric Bailly is a tremendous athlete and Chris Smalling an ever-improving defender, the loss of Nemanja Vidic has been keenly felt by the Old Trafford faithful. However, Jones badly needs to stamp out the errors that have strewn his game time in recent years and must shift the liability tag that has consequently followed. There had been suggestions that Steve Bruce was keen to offer him a shot at redemption at Hull City, but whether Mike Phelan, as his likely replacement, chooses to explore that option is unknown.
As Germany’s fourth-capped player of all-time, Schweinsteiger’s recent demotion to the reserves suggests that the World Cup winner will not be at Old Trafford for much longer – provided a suitor can be found. Schweinsteiger’s injury troubles have been well documented to the point that Pep Guardiola claimed that he has not been fit enough for several years. Last season, the veteran managed just 18 appearances for Van Gaal’s team. Bayern Munich have reportedly expressed an interest in taking their former captain back, but significant wage demands may prove to be a stumbling block.
A loyal servant throughout his time in Manchester, Young’s ability has often been a divisive point of conversation in the Stretford End. Arriving with aplomb in 2011, Young’s United career reached stratospheric heights following his role in the 8-2 demolition of Arsenal. However, neither Young nor the management have managed to find a full-time position for the 30-times capped England international. Indeed, more often than not Young has been asked to fill a void on the pitch and has appeared as a makeshift right-back, left-back, central midfielder and striker during his time. Rumours of his impending departure have intensified in recent days when he was spotted on the train to London, with Alan Pardew’s Crystal Palace believed to be his destination.
Having suffered the ignominy of being overlooked last season when Van Gaal was shorn of a strike force, a further nail in Wilson’s Old Trafford coffin arrived when the promising youngster failed to receive a squad number for the coming season under Mourinho. As United faced an uncertain period at what was a crucial juncture of the season last February, there were widespread calls for Van Gaal to recall Wilson from Brighton & Hove Albion. With only Anthony Martial and the inexperienced Will Keane at his disposal, it seemed like a wise decision. However, Van Gaal, as is his wont, went in a different direction, promoting the unknown Marcus Rashford to the first team. Rashford, of course, quickly became a revelation and nobody spoke of Wilson again. Now, with Rashford, Martial, Wayne Rooney, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Memphis Depay all being employed in the central striking areas, Wilson must finally say goodbye to Old Trafford for good.
There are contrasting views on Juan Mata’s situation in Manchester. While José Mourinho sold him to David Moyes in 2014 under somewhat acrimonious circumstances, there is a belief that the Portuguese may be willing to hold onto the fans’ favourite on this occasion. Yet, following his introduction and swift hooking by Mourinho at Wembley last week, it is hard to deny that Mata remains under scrutiny. With Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s arrival, allied to the likely deployment of Wayne Rooney in a deeper position, Mata – who was recently omitted from Spain’s Euro 2016 squad – may have to take things into his own hands and prompt a transfer. At almost 29 years of age, he will know that time on the Old Trafford bench will not be something he will look back fondly upon.
Having endured a difficult time during Van Gaal’s first season, Januzaj looked set to redeem himself in the following campaign when he scored his first goal for over a year to defeat Aston Villa in August 2015. However, just two weeks later the Belgian found himself on his way to Borussia Dortmund. Over the course of the next five months, Januzaj only managed to start three games in the Bundesliga and was recalled to Manchester in January 2016. Having made such a promising impact upon his introduction to the first team under Moyes, Januzaj’s stuttered career has disappointed many. Nevertheless, his potential has not deserted him. While Mourinho may have already decided that the Belgian’s career lies elsewhere in the future, he maybe given one more chance to prove that he is of some economic value in a temporary arrangement.