Why did Jose Mourinho want two centre backs in the summer? Revealed
This past January, Manchester United extended manager Jose Mourinho’s contract through July 2020. Everything else that happened [or didn't] in the summer transfer window reaffirmed how erratic and fleeting football life can be. Rather than backing his manager, the club Chief decided to make the call.
United finished last season second in the Premier League, although a 19-point gap between them and champions City was too much for fans and critics. A dozen points were lost to lower-table and newly-promoted sides. At the least, those points would have put pressure on City, who cruised to the title without it. Finishing on 93 points earns the title in most Premier League seasons.
When Mourinho asked for two central defenders this summer, supporters fantasised about Phil Jones and Chris Smalling's departure. Too bad Mike couldn’t stay. Then Ed Woodward exercised his vast football experience to decide all three should remain with the club. In his view, United's defenders could win the title.
There are two distinct and diametrically opposed arguments to be made.
- If Mourinho could make United best of the rest last season, just an adjustment or two, a tweak if you will, should deliver the trophy.
- Nineteen points is too much of a difference. Mourinho needed to invest further in the squad.
In reality, both are off the mark, wide to either side.
Sir Alex Ferguson created some iconic teams during his 26-year tenure. He also won the title with makeshift squads when there was ‘no value in the market’. While Mourinho did not win the title, he emulated Fergie by squeezing so much blood from the 2017/18 stone.
Jose set his teams in a low-block to absorb pressure before releasing the combined power and pace of Romelu Lukaku, Anthony Martial, Marcus Rashford and Jesse Lingard on the counter. When United did press aggressively, they did so in front of a five-man defence. Paul Pogba, Nemanja Matic and Ander Herrera intercepted opponents in midfeld, allowing the defence to breathe. United's quality and depth didn't rate a second-place finish. That’s why Mourinho rated the campaign among his personal best. The Portuguese required more than a tweak for his squad to contend.
He wanted a major overhaul to his squad and coaching staff. Assistant Rui Faria had been with the Portuguese for over 17 years, but wanted to strike out on his own. His decision must have been in the works for quite some time. Mourinho announced Michael Carrick's transition into the backroom staff early last year. As like as not, Kieran McKenna's promotion was planned at the same juncture. While Jose may seem reactionary, he's far from it.
Everything is planned well in advance. Players, staff, tactics. The boss doesn't like to be caught unprepared. His intent wasn't to simply buy the best defenders out there. He had a specific trait in mind: centre-backs who could play out from the back.
The United manager intended to play a more possession-based, attacking football that would build from the back with his fullbacks overlapping the forwards, overloading the final third. Ball-playing defenders meant a quicker transition to stretch opponents to the breaking point.
Smalling, Jones and Eric Bailly cannot do this. Victor Lindelof was brought in to play this exact role but has yet to find his best form, perhaps because his partners don't understand how to cover him.
Two more centre-halves in Lindelof's mode, albeit preferably more physical, would free Paul Pogba for an advanced role while Matic and/or Marouane Fellaini protected the defence.
Without those transfers, Mourinho experimented with Scott McTominay and Ander Herrera at the back. Their technical ability would suit Mourinho's tactics. Unfortunately, their inability to defend nullified any advantage. Never one to give up, Mourinho threw Paul Pogba into the role late against Newcastle with the Red Devils were so far behind, defending wasn't a priority. It worked, but Pogba didn't stay in the role, moving up when United took control.
If you're wondering why Mourinho is acting like he's been hung out to dry, it's because he has.