Barring a late change of heart or - more likely - a complete balls up of the situation, José Mourinho will be the next coach of Manchester United. If he does sign, it will be at least six months too late, but at least the failed Louis van Gaal reign will soon draw to a close. Mourinho is a bitter pill to swallow for some fans, but he's the best option available, and as loathsome as he can be, he will at least be far more competent than the washed up charlatan who he is succeeding. After three straight years of failure, United cannot afford another season of "transition," so Mourinho will be expected to hit the ground running. Here are five things that he needs to sort this summer.
Ah, this old chestnut again. Wayne Rooney is United's club captain, best paid player, and least exciting striker. Mourinho was a known admirer while at Chelsea, and getting Rooney onside would be an obvious way to capture dressing room loyalty. On the other hand, Rooney is a fading force who tends to slow the team down when he plays. If Mourinho has been paying attention to United this season, he will have seen for himself that Rooney's reputation now outstrips his contribution. Relegating him to the bench will likely only unsettle the squad, so Mourinho will need to be decisive.
Mourinho is one of the few managers in the world with the cache to push Rooney into the open arms of the Chinese Super League, and have it be seen as him laying down a marker. Getting rid of United's soon-to-be record goalscorer in the same summer when he's due a testimonial will not go down well with many fans. But replacing him with, say, Harry Kane, is sure to reduce the blow.
Statistically, United have one of the stingiest defenses in the league. But it should also be noted that the league is bobbins. Of all United's defenders, only Luke Shaw has briefly shown himself to be an excellent player, and he will be coming off of a broken leg. In the past twelve months, Chris Smalling's form has gone from good, to very good, to "Are we sure he's good?" Smalling has shown enough to be worth seeing what he can do under a good manager, but the rest of the senior defenders wouldn't be missed if they were all released on free transfers.
Marcos Rojo is either good or rubbish or both or neither, often all in the same of the ten minutes of a match. I had genuinely forgotten about the existence of Phil Jones, and he can barely board the team bus without hurting himself. None of Antonio Valencia, Matteo Darmian, or Daley Blind are of the required standard. It is too much to expect that all of them will be upgraded in a single window, but at least two quality signings that can go straight into the first team should be prioritized.
The idea that Mourinho only knows how to play boring football is largely a myth, but he does tend to build his teams from the back. His expertise, along with some smart spending in the transfer market, will be needed to give poor David de Gea (if he's still around) the help he deserves.
The Underperformers in the Squad
On top of the aforementioned rubbish defenders, there are a number of players in the current squad that have no business near a United team. Van Gaal may have gotten rid of much of the deadwood from the latter Ferguson years, but he's managed to add some rubbish players of his own. Marouane Fellaini is worse at football than a cupboard, and even though he is not van Gaal's signing, he is the embodiment of the frustration of the van Gaal era. But in even greater supply than the obvious clowns like Fellaini and Sergio Romero are the members of the Ángel Di María Club: Good players from whom van Gaal has been unable to extract regular good performances.
Mourinho is famed for his man management, and he will need it to get more from those players who have played below their ability: namely Juan Mata (if Mourinho doesn't sell him off a second time), Ander Herrera, Morgan Schneiderlin, Memphis Depay, and the shamefully out of shape Bastian Schweinsteiger. Some of those names may turn out to busts eventually, but we deserve to see what they can do under a proper manager.
Whatever "The United Way" meant once, it is decidedly less meaningful today. The mythos of Manchester United is mostly a tool used to attract Official Agricultural Vehicles Partners while the owners leech the fans and so-called club legends happily go along with it as long as they get some good coin. But even in these diminished times, the appointment of Mourinho comes with a risk of sullying the club's reputation further. Mourinho was always arrogant and brash, but sometime during his stint in Madrid, he turned joyless and overly paranoid. Towards the end of his messy divorce with Chelsea, he drummed up feuds left and right, and largely came off looking like an ass in all of them.
Alex Ferguson was a bastard in his own right, but Mourinho will need be mindful of his image to keep much of the fanbase on side. He's still in the middle of a legal wrangle in which he's accused of being a sexist bully, the outcome of which may not be resolved until after his appointment. If he can't keep his unedifying behavior in check, many Reds will wonder whether he was even worth the trouble.
Mourinho's first order of business should be to get the duplicitous Giggs out of the dugout before he has a chance to stick the knife in the back of a third successive boss.