When the confetti settled after the 2017 Europa League final, all signs pointed towards a revival for Manchester United. No more would the club face one stagnant period after another. Much to the dismay of their fans, the club would reach lows they could have never imagined.
Winning the three trophies in his first season as manager should have stabilized the club around Mourinho. A successful project had just borne its first fruits of success.
Looking at it objectively, United’s season was a great one even if they had disappointed in the Prem. However, warning signs had started to appear throughout the season. From the lack of player development to the over reliance on a few key players, the foundation was sturdy.
Just as United seemed on the come up, their rivals were building juggernauts. City and Liverpool were putting together sides that would eventually dominate club football. All the while, the Mourinho era would start to die.
This was truly the last time hope existed in the theater of dreams. Since then, it’s just been misery while the club refuses to come up with any real plan.
Mourinho’s time at United was really built on the back of a strong defense. No matter who manned the backline, it was an impenetrable wall. David de Gea was still excellent in goal and hadn’t really begun his decline.
However, while the backline was excelling, the offense was stagnant outside of Zlatan. The Swede was the only player to notch more than 10 goals in the Prem. Perhaps, he was the striker that United had been spending years trying to find.
All the hope United fans had in him ended against Anderlecht where a knee injury would sideline him until November 2017. In a moment the collective hearts of United fans across the world broke.
Even now, six years later, United have tried to plug in different players up top to varying success, but none were like the Swede. Mourinho’s system played perfectly to his strengths and unlike his successors, Zlatan understood his part in the revival of United. Robin van Persie and Zlatan remain the last two strikers the club has had that pushed them to the heights fans desired.
Another rather disastrous consequence of the Mourinho era was the lack of development of youngsters, primarily Martial and Rashford. For all his flaws, van Gaal had done a tremendous job at developing a revival of the academy pipeline for United.
While he wasn’t a product of United’s famed academy, Martial had gone from a joke to a budding star under van Gaal. Rashford was a product and his surprise rise to the first team was perhaps the best move United had made since the van Persie signing.
If one was to describe Mourinho’s managerial style, youth development doesn’t come to mind. Under the Portuguese, both players were moved across the field to little success. It’s no surprise that once he left, both players would go back to showing off the promise they showed under van Gaal.
Outside the managerial realm, the club’s suspect recruitment started to show as the season went on. United’s summer was highlighted by star players who joined the Prem, not by players who had shown an ability to impact play in the Prem beforehand.
Bailly was a more intriguing prospect and if it hadn’t been for injuries, who knows how high his potential could have been. Additionally, he was coming off a promising but not dominant at Villareal. Looking back at it, Bailly could have benefitted from another season in Spain.
With that said, could United not have benefitted from going after John Stones which City did? Stones also took a while to adapt to life at the highest level, but he was a seasoned Prem player.
Interestingly, Mkhitaryan was world class in Europe but mid in the Prem. His game just was never meant for the Prem and that’s seen in his longevity after leaving the Prem. It’s another case of a talented player who just wasn’t meant for the Prem.
Finally, this brings the conversation to Paul Pogba who had a decent season where he was relatively healthy. Over the course of the rest of his career, the mercurial talent struggled with fitness and never reached the heights he did at Juve. It’s unfortunate for both club and player, as there exists a world where Pogba would have been the best midfielder in the world while leading United to glory.
You can’t really fault United for the Pogba signing, where you can criticize United is on how this has influenced their transfer policy. The club is preoccupied with constantly hitting home runs rather than getting players on base and having a slugger. It’s what has driven this club to constant bad deals.
Their rivals have built superpowers by building teams around a few key players and filling the rest with elite role players. In the post-Fergie years, United has tried to replicate the galacticos rather than the teams Fergie had. This season and its shortcomings should have given the board a wake up call on the way to operate in the modern era.
The brief euphoria that was given to fans after the 2016-17 was fools gold. It was but a brief respite from the club’s usual chaotic nature. That season was now over 7 years ago and United hasn’t even come close to these lofty heights.
So what’s next for this once glorious club? More suffering, as the owners continue to get richer as the club deteriorates. Until that changes, all fans have left are the good memories and vibes of this season.
Featured image: AP