Back in September 2015, in a moment of retail serendipity, I found a brand new Manchester United home kit on sale for only $60 — despite the season being less than a month old.
We were in the midst of that final Louis van Gaal season, and I was unsure which name to get on the back of the jersey. We were excited about Memphis Depay at the beginning of the season, but my friend Jalen already purchased a Memphis kit in anticipation. I like to think I had the foresight that Depay would flounder (in his first stint?) at United, but, honestly, I just didn’t want to be a copycat.
So the question remained, do I get Rooney on the back and join the masses? Do I get Schweinsteiger on the back in honor of my support for Die Mannschaft?
I chose not to hightail it to my local soccer shop — shout outs to Strictly Soccer — and ponder on my kit dilemma some more.
Then, an “overpriced” French teenager scored THAT goal in his North West Derby debut at the Theatre of Dreams. I headed straight to shop, dropped my jersey on the counter and said, “I need Anthony Martial’s name on the back of the jersey.”
“Who?” was the response from the otherside of the counter. He was a Tottenham supporter if I remember, so I didn’t hold it against him. He shuffled to the back to look for the name plate, and, luckily, I had “Martial” and a “9” on the back of my jersey an hour later.
As we all know, that overpriced teenager that wasn’t given a chance by the English press and was £50 million down the drain came from French talent factory, AS Monaco. Martial’s manager in France’s southern coast was none other than current managerial free agent, Leonardo Jardim, who is the focus of this piece with 16-1 odds according to SkyBet.
I’ll start with the baggage first. Jardim was sacked a month ago after Monaco started the season poorly in both Ligue 1 and Champions League. He hasn’t stayed at clubs for any particular length of time with his four years at Monaco being the longest. Finally, some strident fans will knock Jardim for never playing high-level professional football.
I’ll start with that final knock first. From my perspective, as an American sports fan, many of the greatest coaches in the four major leagues never even played at the professional level. Many of their playing careers petered out following their college graduation — if they even played collegiately. However, no one is knocking the likes of Bill Belichick or Gregg Popovich for never cutting it as a player before building dynasties as coaches.
From a footballing perspective, we can also point to the likes of Arrigo Sacchi who managed AC Milan to major titles and a runner-up finish to Brazil in the 1994 World Cup. It should also be noted that Brazil’s manager in 1994 was Carlos Alberto Parreira who also didn’t play professionally.
With that proverbial elephant removed from the room, addressing Jardim’s managerial tenures since 2009 is up next. Frankly, looking at the current culture of football — the culture that sees clubs parade managers through revolving doors — it’s disingenuous to knock Jardim for jumping from S.C. Beira-Mar to Braga to Olympiacos to Sporting CP to Monaco inside this decade. Jardim proved at Monaco that he can hang with the big boys in a league that was outputting four Champions League teams a year at the time and even top the Qatari Oil Empire’s crown jewel, Paris Saint-Germain, that was juiced with every financial steroid possible.
Finally, let’s acknowledge Jardim’s time at Monaco. From the time he joined the club in the summer of 2014 to when he mutually agreed with the club to part ways back in October, the club had sold €750 million worth of talent.
Again, for those in the back. €750 MILLION WORTH OF TALENT. In U.S. dollars, that’s over $855 million dollars. For reference, AC Milan was purchased in 2017 for $828 million. You know, the second most successful club in all of Italian football and one of the most famous clubs in the world.
One last fun number stat.
Monaco’s wunderkind, Kylian Mbappé, was transferred to PSG for €135 million. Estimates show that at its lowest cost during production, Lockheed Martin’s F-22 Raptor fighter jet cost the American taxpayer $137 million per plane. Therefore, Monaco’s owner, Dmitry Rybolovlev, could have transferred Mbappé for one of the most advanced war planes in the history of the world and got change back. Either way, Mbappe or an F-22 makes your attack sick AF, am I right?
But I digress.
It’s unrealistic to expect Jardim to continuously replicate the title-winning success of the 2016-17 season when that much quality is leaving during the transfer windows, especially to domestic title contenders.
Pour one out for the starting XI that usurped the financial-José Cansecos in Paris to win Ligue 1 and finish as Champions League semi-finalists.
The starting XI was pillaged by bigger clubs as PSG toed the financial fair play lines to get Mbappé while Thomas Lemar went to Atlético Madrid, Tiémoué Bakayoko to Chelsea before going on loan to Milan, Fabinho went to Liverpool, and Bernardo Silva and Benjamin Mendy went to Manchester City.
When Jardim took the above starting XI to the UCL final four, he ran a 4-4-2 system that, by modern football trends, is verging on archaic, despite the system’s former dominance in world football. However, according to TIFO football, the team ran it to great success because Jardim’s style required unabashed aggression and pace, and his lineup of teenagers and 20-somethings featured those qualities in spades.
The base 4-4-2 shape was dynamic in the attack as it morphed into a 2-4-4. The fullbacks often pushed high and overlapped the wingers to help overload the opposing side. The back end was covered by two competent central defenders and Fabinho’s heroics as a dominant central defensive midfielder.
Jardim’s 4-4-2 at United would have the potential to reinvigorate scoring for the Reds. Martial is already comfortable in the system and his performance under Jardim is what landed him in Northern England in the first place. Martial playing the Mbappé role with Rashford playing the Falcao role would place a ton of pressure on the central defenders while a combo of Lingard, Mata or Sánchez(?) could fill the winger roles held by Lemar and Silva.
Lukaku is an enigmatic option to possibly fill the Falcao role. He obviously has the physical tools and veteran presence necessary to be solid target man while Martial free roams across the opposing backline like an insurgent assassin. However, with his head firmly stuck in his (sizeable) posterior — incapable of making the starting XI against Young Boys — Lukaku may find himself on the transfer market as United tries to recoup costs.
Another potential attacker would be the aforementioned Depay who may return to United after the Red Devils learned their lesson with Pogba’s free transfer to Juventus and inserted a buy-back clause in Depay’s move to Lyon. Based on his performances in Ligue 1, Depay appears to have matured as a player and has been lethal against the teams of farmers across France. A second coming at United under a manager willing to facilitate Depay’s skillset could be the headiest transfer available.
In the midfield, Pogba can take the Bakayoko role as a box-to-box midfielder with an emphasis as a creator on offense. Free of Mourinho’s incessant defensive instructions, Pogba could finally feel comfortable getting up the field without getting chewed out later on. Matić probably would struggle to fill the Fabinho role now that he is past his prime and lost a step so an upgrade at the position would be required. Fred and Ander Herrera are both players that thrive on effort and could at least be stopgap options in the midfield anchor role.
Fullbacks are crucial when the 4-4-2 morphs to the 2-4-4 in the attack. On the left side, we can feel encouraged after a solid start to the season for Luke Shaw. The embattled left back — knock on wood — has remained relatively healthy, and he is starting to flash his quality with consistent playing time.
The right side is in desperate need of an upgrade as Antonio Valencia and Ashley Young would be Jardim’s options. Whatever is going on between Valencia and Mourinho right now aside, Valencia will be 34 at the start of next season; Young will turn 34 before next season too. However, Jardim may lean on his countryman, Diogo Dalot, to takeover the right side. At 19 years old, he needs playing time and Jardim has specialized in facilitating teenage talent.
Jardim may look to lean on youth again in the center of his defense. The current crop of veteran central defenders continues to disappoint at every turn. Chris Smalling is okay but he’s on the back half of his career and would be better served playing for a West Ham United than Manchester United. Phil Jones is a comedy of errors interspersed with a good match or two every so often. Marcos Rojo simply gets the guy shrugging his shoulders emoji.
Ironically, Mourinho’s two centerback signings could make a difference for Jardim. Victor Lindelöf was starting to come into his own with some consistent playing time, then, like every other player showing promise, he picked up a significant knock that will see him miss multiple matches at minimum. However, if he can get healthy, he has potential. Eric Bailly — aka Mr. 50-50 Chance This Tackle is Cardable — was once going to be the anchor of the defense. There must be a disconnect somewhere in Bailly’s relationship with Mourinho now, but we can hope that, if he comes around under Jardim, maybe Bailly returns to form.
It would be wise, with the arrival of any new manager, that 20-year-old Timothy Fosu-Mensah and 21-year-old Axel Tuanzebe return to the fold from their loan spells to see what they will produce. Fosu-Mensah has been playing first division football with Fulham while Tuanzebe is showing promise at Aston Villa in the second division. Considering what Virgil van Dijk’s move to Liverpool did to the transfer market, it’s time for our young defenders under contract to develop with the first team again.
Finally, all of us here at The Busby Babe would be remiss if we didn’t mention that the most important roster decision this club will make under Jardim or any other manager is SIGNING DAVID DE GEA TO A LONG-TERM CONTRACT.
There really isn’t another side to the argument at this point. Manchester United wouldn’t have been competitive with the rest of the big six teams during LVG and Mourinho’s tenures without the talents of DDG. I know he had a couple of off-color moments in the World Cup, but for every howler that he’s committed, he’s got 15 saves like this one.
Every keeper of DDG’s quality or the potential to achieve DDG’s quality already play for our direct rivals in England and in Europe. So, in short, sign that man, Ed Woodward.
Ultimately, Jardim’s potential increases exponentially with the addition of a competent Director of Football. Manchester United has proven that it spends money like a drunk person at 2 a.m. shopping on Amazon which makes you wonder what random purchases currently sit in Woodward’s attic. It’s time for the club to scout young talent and reclaim the glory of its youth system. Rashford is unfortunately the exception and not the rule of what our academy is producing.
Monaco took Europe by storm with players that were fresh out of the academy or on their second senior career team and bursting at the seams with talent. It was Jardim who guided those players to the Champions League Semi-Finals and Ligue 1 glory. If Monaco was able to replenish a starting XI’s worth of world-class talent inside a season, Jardim wouldn’t be on the market right now.
Therefore, Jardim will succeed at United where he failed at Monaco because Manchester United, with all of its financial might, is not a selling club. A refreshed scouting department that can stock the United first team and academy system with talents even half the quality of Mbappé will reinvigorate the club because United won’t be looted by mega clubs run by crooks. With Manchester United’s resources, Jardim will have the opportunity to sustain his success and build the winner that Monaco was never going to have.