The World Cup was good to Jose Mourinho
Whether from the comfort of his Moscow hotel suite or the confines of the RT studio where he is serving as a guest pundit for the World Cup, one might well forgive Jose Mourinho for smiling to himself as the tournament draws to a close. Russia 2018 has gone about as well for the Portuguese as any tournament could go for a club manager. Many of his young stars went deep into the tournament while playing starring roles. Players he was maligned for supporting validated that faith. Others demonstrated why they were bought. One revealed why he should not be sold. Mourinho even had a wish granted. All in all, the Manchester United boss has many reasons to be cheerful.
Despite scoring 27 goals last season, many still questioned Lukaku. His first touch wasn’t good enough, he lacks football intelligence and he’s a flat track bully. Lukaku has answered all those questions and then some.
Yes, his first touch can still be wayward but technical masters like Dimitar Berbatov, Dennis Bergkamp and Robin van Persie, who had first touches to die for, are rare. For the most part, Lukaku’s first touch has been more than adequate. See his second against Panama.
Lack of intelligence? Watch Belgium’s late winner against Japan. Lukaku creates that entire goal without ever touching the ball. His run then his dummy combine to open space. It's brilliant work that doesn't show up on any stat sheet.
Flat-track bully? Yes, he only scored against Tunisia and Panama, but his performance against Brazil was still brilliant. His run and pass created Kevin De Bruyne’s goal. His constant running, pace and power never allowed Brazil’s defence to settle.
On top of it all, he displayed leadership qualities that could mark him out as captain material. Lukaku’s all-around performances and run to the last four should see him return to Old Trafford with renewed confidence.
Another who has seen his performances questioned. Pogba has been France's MVP at this tournament. Robbed of a goal against Australia by a deflection, Pogba has been directly involved in virtually every goal France have scored from open play. He won back possession to play in both Griezmann and Mbappe when they won penalties. He played the pass to Olivier Giroud that resulted in Mbappe’s second against Argentina. He was totally dominant against both South American opponents. Pogba has shown exactly what it is he has to offer. He is another player likely to return from Russia with his confidence sky-rocketed.
Lingard has plenty of critics, especially on social media, because if his energetic, fun-loving attitude. In Russia, he's shown those critics and everyone else, exactly what he can do. He was directly involved in two of the three goals England scored from open play, scoring against Panama and crossing for Dele Alli against Sweden. But it’s his non-stop running, knack for finding space and shifting defences that catch the eye.
Lingard was key to England’s unexpected run to the last four. That will serve to boost his confidence even more. Twelve months ago it was unthinkable to consider Lingard for the national team. Now he is a core element. This might be Mourinho’s greatest triumph.
How does Rashford make this list when he isn't playing much? Well, he’s still a part of the squad, living the journey with the rest and he played a big part in England defeating Colombia. Remember England hadn’t won a knockout match for 12 years and had almost thrown it away against Colombia. At 20, Rashford nervelessly stepped up to take the second penalty and dispatched it effortlessly. It highlighted his confidence. Rashford has played more minutes than any outfield player under Mourinho. That moment demonstrated why.
Insurrection was the word of the day when United announced Fellaini would be staying with the club after all. But Fellaini displayed just what he has to offer and why Mourinho is so desperate to keep him.
After coming on against Japan to turn the game, Fellaini earned a start against Brazil. He made the most of it. The king of split ends turned in a dominant performance against a midfield containing Philippe Coutinho and Fernandinho. Fellaini was a threat in both penalty areas. He harried the Brazilian midfield all game. His performance as a dangerous player who can carry out a manager's orders vindicated Mourinho’s wish to keep him around and sent a clear message to his critics.
Another player the boss should have shown the door ages prior, the 33-year-old winger turned left back had a fantastic season for United and became an important weapon for England.
His set pieces have been crucial for both club and country. According to the Manchester Evening News, his work led United to delay its plans to sign a left-back, most likely Alex Sandro. United allegedly remain interested if Juventus lower their asking price but Young has allowed the club to bargain from strength.
Young’s performances have apparently lit a fire under Luke Shaw, who seems determined to do everything he can to take that spot. His last post looked like his head had been photoshopped onto the "world's strongest boy". A fit, motivated Luke Shaw plus Ashley Young in this form are a blessing for Mourinho.
Chosen ahead of Michael Keane as Mourinho’s defensive signing last season, the 23-year-old Swede endured a torrid start at United. His first game was the 2-1 loss to Huddersfield. He was culpable for the opening goal.
Lindelof improved as the season went on without establishing himself but, as predicted, Lindelof showed his full capability in Russia. Composed in possession, able to carry the ball out of defence and play a pass, Lindelof also unveiled a positional sense that covered for his slight lack of pace. Lindelof offers qualities no other United defender can. For Mourinho, it’s an opportunity to translate those skills to the Premier League.
Reaching the quarterfinals far exceeded Swedish expectations. Lindelof's interaction with his clubmates in the England squad afterwards bodes well for the new season.
De Gea had a poor World Cup. You're not imagining that. Oddly, it could be a blessing for Mourinho.
The malicious criticism levied towards the keeper in Spain could work in Manchester United’s favour. De Gea has now witnessed first-hand the treatment top players too often receive in his homeland. Even Cristiano Ronaldo was booed. De Gea has no such worries at United. He is loved by the fans, his teammates and manager. He was supported unconditionally throughout his early struggles at Old Trafford. His treatment following Spain's exit may finally convince him to stop entertaining advances from a certain Castillian side.
Matic and his Serbian teammates exited the World Cup at the group stage and that is exactly what Mourinho wanted. Matic featured in almost every game for United last season. At times, it showed.
In his World Cup preview for Russian Television, Mourinho picked Serbia to be eliminated early because he wanted Matic to go away and have a holiday and a rest. The Special One has his wish. Matic and United should be better for the big Serb enjoying some extended R&R.
He wasn’t even at the World Cup and that is precisely why Mourinho will be happy. It’s the Chilean’s first summer off for five years. The forced vacation afforded Alexis a proper chance to rest and recuperate. Now, he can spend a full pre-season integrating with the squad. January signings notoriously struggle to bed in, as Nemanja Vidic and Patrice Evra proved. A full pre-season to familiarise himself with teammates and learn his role within the team should be a massive boost for Mourinho.