Assessing Jose Mourinho’s transfer activity at Manchester United
Jose Mourinho was his usual barbed self this week, scorning Manchester City’s lavish spending to deflect from his own side’s failings. Yet, as bravely pointed out to him by one reporter, United have themselves spent an awful lot of money while remaining a distance behind the quality of Pep Guardiola’s City.
A lot of money spent but still a considerable gulf between red and blue. Let’s assess how Mourinho’s investments have fared.
Eric Bailly - £30 million
The Ivorian has endeared himself to the United faithful with a stoic defending that gives licence to hearty challenges and unflinching duels. Calling Bailly brave would be an understatement. The centre-back is fearless.
The best player Mourinho has at the position, he has been dearly missed. It is not just his aggressive style,. His ability to play the ball out of the back, acting as the first line of attack, is something neither Chris Smalling nor Phil Jones possess.
Henrikh Mikhitaryan - £30 million
United fans were rightly excited by the Armenian's signing. He had set the Bundesliga alight with his invention and enterprise. He appeared to have the attacking ambition that would dovetail with United's rich history of offensive play.
A torrid first season followed. Mkhitaryan struggled to adapt to the Premier League's pace and Mourinho’s demands. Then he began this season in electric form, threading together the Red Devils’ attacking play as Mouirnho’s side stormed to goal-laden victories. A downturn in general form for the Reds coincided with the decline in his performances. Mourinho cites a breakdown in trust. The future doesn’t look bright for United’s ‘midfield Armenian’.
Paul Pogba - £90 million
The transfer saga of the summer. The prodigal son returned. Pogba was, and still is, one of the best central midfielders in the world. Despite the hefty transfer fee, his arrival was greeted with optimism.
Although he endured an inconsistent first season, the Frenchman has seemingly become indispensable when you compare the club's results with and without him this season. Domineering and technically very gifted, Pogba can trample through the middle or elegantly shimmy this way around defenders; there is an enviable versatility to his game.
He will thrive in years to come.
Victor Lindelof - £31 million
Lindelof began his United career in ominous fashion, making a series of errors which led directly to goals. The signs didn’t look good. Mourinho showed faith in the youngster, though, determined to give him opportunities to learn and evolve. Fans remembered Rio Ferdinand's early struggles and crossed their fingers.
While he is by no means the finished product, the Swede has certainly progressed since his introductory calamities. Confident with the ball at his feet and blessed with good vision, Lindelof is key to the transition between defence and attack. He has also become more reliable in the tackle, and tactically aware.
Bailly and Lindelof appear to be the future pairing at the heart of United’s defence.
Romelu Lukaku - £75 million
Fourteen goals in 26 appearances do not make for grim reading. In fact, it is a healthy return. On the other hand, he began with 10 goals in nine matches, meaning he has just four in the last 17. Yet many of the doubts expressed about the forward surround his performances in big games. He has done little to squash such criticism.
A heavy touch plagues his game. Frustration at not starting his United career as prolifically as he would like is showing. Though he played well against Bournemouth and Leicester City recently, he has not cut the figure United fans expected.
Whether or not he will become the world class striker Mourinho covets is still very much in the air.
Nemanja Matic - £40 million
At 29-years-old, which is apparently the new 34, Matic’s price tag seemed questionable. His performances have more than justified his fee, however. United look discernibly loose--erratic, uncontrolled, and ill-disciplined--without the Serbian organising.
His physicality coupled with astute spatial and positional awareness have improved the United midfield immeasurably. He has been well worth the 40 million United paid Chelsea.
Pep has endured a mixed bag with his recruiting, as well. Claudio Bravo was a complete bust. John Stones remains a work in progress. Sergio Aguero is becoming distant. On the other hand, Kevin de Bruyne and Raheem Sterling have improved immensely, and Ederson has proved the correct solution in goal.
Is the difference that Guardiola's best results have been in attack whereas Mourinho's have been at the back? Or is it the money?
United's numbers? In '17-18, £147.96 million was invested in new players, the previous season £166.5 million, for a total of £314.46 million.
City has therefore invested 32% more than United during the two seasons their current managers have been in-house.
During that period, the Citizens have accumulated 133 Premier League points to the Red Devils' 112, or 19% more overall. Mourinho also won two trophies to Guardiola's none in their Manchester debuts. This season, with 55 and 43 points taken, the difference is 28%. According to those figures, Mourinho has been doing slightly more with less, although Guardiola has quickly narrowed the gap.
You can see why the Portuguese is frustrated. Regardless, complaining isn't going to change reality. Mourinho certainly holds a huge financial advantage over Sean Dyche, yet had to scramble to split the points with the Burnley boss on Boxing Day. At Old Trafford, no less. Money is a wonderful resource. In the end, however, it is tactics and man-management that win games. The United boss needs to focus on what he can control.