Jose Mourinho has a lengthy to-do list after taking over at Manchester United.
England’s most prestigious club is still experiencing turbulence in the post-Alex Ferguson era after the short spells of David Moyes and Louis van Gaal.
The team has deficiencies in key areas notably up front and in central midfield and Mourinho must decide what the future holds for captain Wayne Rooney, a striker now seemingly more at home in midfield.
Other questions for Mourinho: Will he continue United’s long-held tradition of giving youth a chance, or does he scrap “potential” in search of immediate success? And will a pragmatic coach adhere to the attacking style craved by United fans?
A look at the challenges facing Mourinho at Old Trafford:
United is chronically short of out-and-out strikers. Marcus Rashford, an 18-year-old Englishman, finished the season as the team’s No. 1 forward but there is little competition for him if Anthony Martial remains on the left wing and Wayne Rooney continues playing deeper. Will Mourinho even keep faith with Rashford? There is talk of Zlatan Ibrahimovic moving to Old Trafford, reuniting with Mourinho after their spell together at Inter Milan, and he would clearly be the kind of big-name player United is looking to bring in. Even if, at 34, he hasn’t got long left in his career. Converting Martial to become a central striker could be a target for Mourinho.
Mourinho twice tried to sign Rooney when he was manager of Chelsea, and now he has his man. But where does he play him? The England captain’s days as a main striker appear to be behind him, so will Mourinho start him as a No. 10 or as a central midfielder? Mourinho may even want more power and pace in those positions, which would leave Rooney’s future uncertain. The Portuguese coach’s arrival could also impact heavily on Juan Mata, who was sold by Mourinho at Chelsea in 2014, while United’s one-paced central midfield containing the like of Bastian Schweinsteiger, Morgan Schneiderlin and Michael Carrick may need revamping.
Even Mourinho’s fiercest supporters will concede that bringing through youth players has never been his priority at the clubs he has managed. However, that policy has long been regarded as a must at United and Mourinho will be under pressure to keep the conveyor belt of academy prospects moving. Youngsters like Marcus Rashford, Jesse Lingard, Cameron Borthwick-Jackson and Timothy Fosu-Mensah have not looked out of place in United’s first team this season and deserve more chances. Will Mourinho look beyond the short term?
Van Gaal paid the price for his risk-averse, defensive style of play at United. And in Mourinho, the club isn’t exactly getting a coach who preaches beautiful soccer. Mourinho is undoubtedly pragmatic and is a win-at-all-costs type of manager who has been known to “park the bus,” but some of his teams have entertained over the years. His Chelsea teams that won the Premier League were devastating attacking forces at times, and Real Madrid’s league-winning team of 2011-12 under Mourinho scored 121 goals. United supporters will surely accept brief lulls in entertainment, provided Mourinho brings success to the club.
“I don’t want to win the Europa League,” Mourinho said after beginning his second spell as Chelsea manager.
So at United, it will be interesting to see if he takes seriously a competition that can play havoc with a team’s domestic schedule.
The Europa League offers a direct route to the Champions League for the winner, but a Thursday-Sunday schedule has proved difficult for English teams over the years. And Mourinho believes his true home is in the Champions League, which he has won with FC Porto and Inter Milan. Expect him to play his reserves of youth-teamers in Europe next season.