Transfer season is weird. Occasionally fun, often draining and persistently tedious. The current trend of sagas lasting a week definitely has some merit, the current market value devoid of reality. Meanwhile, Manchester United are putting some trousers on for the second summer in succession letting fans focus on lolling around outside rather than sweating over Twitter. In theory.
A single transfer season is difficult to dissect before it has even finished, before players have been bought and, more importantly, before players have been given a chance – but there is one picture gradually developing. José Mourinho is operating with relative freedom and consequently is starting to show his hand.
The average age of Mourinho’s first choice centre-backs since Porto in 2002-03 is ~29. It’s actually slightly more than that but decimals suggests my working is up to further scrutiny. Regardless, in contrast, Eric Bailly recently turned 23 and Victor Lindelöf is 23 next month. In any other outfield position on the pitch it wouldn’t be as stark, for Mourinho, who has built sides on experienced pairings at the back, it’s at odds with all his previous. Whether that is the intended immediate partnership as expected remains to be seen – what reinforces the intention is Mourinho has brought these two players in, rather than been obliged or lucky enough to have them at the club already.
We are told Mourinho distrusts youth. Along with other misgivings of the serial winner, flatly shunning the future for reliable experience might be about to get debunked. Short-termism makes sense if you envisage a short-term project, and you get the impression Mourinho is at least sticking around for the medium-term at United. Mourinho has spoken with warmth and patience about his task throughout the dating period, his signings so far speak louder than any of those soothing gestures. It is Mourinho’s strategy too – he has no Director of Football, nor does he have any real budget constraints, only player availability. As such, transfer activity gives further credence to Mourinho’s planning for the future. We are told that Mourinho leaves his clubs in a mess, so that’s evidently a good few seasons yet.
Paul Pogba, although only 24, has been bought for now and the future. United have the capability to buy more of these players, particularly up front, all parties willing, yet Mourinho has apparently told Mr Woodward not to be enticed and consume his efforts with chasing unrealistic targets. Marcus Rashford seemed to impress Mourinho more than anyone last season, and it will be interesting to see how the forward line takes shape following a year of Zlatan and building up Rashford’s game. A ready replacement for Michael Carrick in midfield is critical. Nemanja Matić, while initially appearing uninspiring, would be a better age with the likes of Timothy Fosu-Mensah coming through. Defensive midfield has been a constant stretch for United and there is no reason to fret over Fabinho, also versatile at right-back, filling more gaps.
As Mourinho shapes his team, soon to be bolstered by the man behind Juventus’ scouting successes, Javier Ribalta, we will get a glimpse of where this marriage is headed. Recruiting Ribalta is a progressive move that points towards growth. In the meantime if, as told, it will eventually end in acrimony, we may as well enjoy the ride.