By Adam Joseph
After last summer’s transfer window, it felt like Manchester United wouldn’t be here again. The club had signed Morgan Schneiderlin and Bastian Schweinsteiger, who were supposed to be what ailed the club’s midfield.
It turns out United’s engine room would consist of a blend of midfielders who didn’t do just that; they were misfits. By the end of the season, Schneiderlin had been dropped; Schweinsteiger had been on the sidelines for months and players like Ander Herrera couldn’t nail down a first team spot.
Players like Marouane Fellaini and Wayne Rooney (two Van Gaal favourites) had cemented regular spots in the middle of the park, with Michael Carrick directing traffic behind them.
Van Gaal’s reign of terror is now over, and Jose Mourinho has taken his place. Whilst the aim is to steady what has been a sinking ship, the Portuguese won’t settle for anything less than the best. That’s exactly why United chose him as the club’s new manager.
Now all the work is ahead of him though, as he sorts out his backroom staff and a hard summer of nonstop work is underway. Who is going to run Mourinho’s engine room on the pitch? Let’s take a look at the current staff:
The midfield’s long term elder statesman, who many thought would depart the club this summer for an easier challenge abroad or perhaps returning to his Geordie roots in Newcastle.
Now it appears though with Van Gaal’s removal a change of heart is on the way, with the Englishman set to sign a one year renewal according to reports in the press. This sets up a potential fairytale finish in Manchester, and it might be his last professional campaign.
His experience and know how will be vital off the pitch, as the club re-establishes a winning mentality. If United do end up signing a younger long-term replacement, his mentorship may come into play as he takes a lesser role on field. A potential coaching role waits?
Yes believe it or not, the Dutchman is still a midfielder despite a season spent in central defence. It is a testament that he filled that role so admirably next to Chris Smalling, but his best position remains in the middle of the pitch.
It is intriguing to think what a trio of Blind, Schneiderlin and Herrera could do tactically and perhaps that vision comes to life under Mourinho. Blind originally did not seem thrilled at Van Gaal’s departure, but his tune has changed quickly this week.
At this point it’s unknown whether the Portuguese sees him at the club long term. Whilst his adaptability is important, he faces a nervous summer. Mourinho should keep him, though if the new manager feels he is not his sort of midfielder it may be time to go.
The fan favourite has had a frustrating two years in Manchester. Seemingly unable to break into the first team with any regularity, the Spaniard has enjoyed his share of highs and lows since joining the club.
His tactical indiscipline can be costly, but his endeavour and eye for a goal have won him many admirers amongst the fanbase. However Herrera strikes as a Mourinho type of midfielder, and is likely to stay under the regime.
Patience seems like it will pay off with the player, who has a future at International level if he can iron out certain facets of his game. If his consistency improves as well as his defensive work, he can have a fine career in England. He will almost certainly stay another year.
The pariah of the fanbase, not many will shed a tear if he does not survive the cull this summer. Many feel he shouldn’t. Whilst he may fulfil a role as a squad player, Fellaini simply does not possess the technical skill to be part of a creative and well-drilled Red Devils side.
His discipline or lack there of is a whole other issue, and he represents the failures of not one but two managers of the club. There is no need for a long explanation here; the Belgian has got to go.
United’s new defensive midfielder has a weird first campaign in Manchester, in and out of the side and finished it mostly on the bench. But the Frenchman shouldn’t be judged against what he did under Van Gaal as all of last season’s signings shouldn’t be.
At Southampton it was seen what he could be capable of when unleashed. Under Van Gaal he was strictly defensive, rarely advancing forward. Schneiderlin needs more faith, and he will get that under Mourinho.
Fulfilling a similar role to Nemanja Matic, Schneiderlin could be revitalised as a potentially key player next season. It’s hard to imagine him leaving, and it would be a mistake to do so.
The German superstar arrived to much fanfare as Ed Woodward captured one of the great midfielders of his era. Unfortunately the Bayern Munich legend is on the downside of his career, and his knee worries followed him to Manchester.
In terms of off field influence and know how Schweinsteiger’s impact can be vital. On field he must simply get fit, because at his best he controlled games like nobody else could in last season’s squad. The difference though between his best and worst performances was vast, and a sign of the times.
It’s been shown that Carrick and Schweinsteiger cannot play together and there is no way Mourinho will do so. He likes dynamic midfielders, and those do not fit the bill. Schweinsteiger likely lasts the summer cull (and should) but will need to spend it getting his body right if he wants to continue his English adventure.
Manchester United’s number 8 is a source of controversy this summer. Deeply loved by the fans, he has been a square peg in a round hole for much of his Manchester United tenure. His production hasn’t matched that of his peak Chelsea days, and now he is managed by the player who sold him.
This creates a problem for the Spaniard. Does Mourinho have a long-term future for Mata? It’s likely that he doesn’t. Realistically the Portuguese likes speedy inverted wingers.
Mata is a natural ten, and isn’t a natural fit playing wide. Although it might be painful for fans, it may be best that he is sold and that money is used to reinvest in a better fit.
This summer creates decisions that might be tough to get used to. Sometimes that’s the price of progress, and that’s what United need to do. A cull is going to be necessary, and that might include players adored by the fans. It can’t always be the whipping boys like Fellaini.
Who replaces them might make it worth it however. Miralem Pjanic has been spoken of this week, and he is a perfect fit for the role Wayne Rooney was pigeon holed into late in the campaign. He would be a fine addition.
Paul Pogba is a pipe dream as the price being thrown around is far too low (£60 million), but anything is possible now that Mourinho has taken charge. When he wants a player he does tend to get him, and his full control of transfers gives him powers he never had. Not to mention finances, which is backing he might have never had.
Radja Nainggolan is very possible, and reports state he prefers a move to Old Trafford over a long rumoured switch to Stamford Bridge. His all-action midfield play is what the club has needed for years and his price at around £30 million is more than fair. The links to Roma midfielders makes all the more sense considering their need to make sales before the end of June to meet Financial Fair Play compliance.
There are tough decisions ahead at Old Trafford. But who comes in to replaced the departed will make it all worth it. Hopefully that will mean this is the last time the club’s engine room needs a full revamp, and will only require fine tuning from here on out.
Adam Joseph is a freelance writer from Australia. Manchester United fan from back when they were the only team on Australian TV and it was love at first sight. Manchester United, Oklahoma City Thunder, New England Patriots and Carlton Blues fanatic. If it’s sport related, I’ll talk about it.
Follow him on twitter @AdamJosephSport