After what can only be described as a hectic and tumultuous pre-season tour of America, Manchester United return to England none the wiser as to whether they are truly prepared for the upcoming year. The Red Devils might have beaten Real Madrid in their final match in the States, but the current news agenda surrounding the club is regarding Anthony Martial’s future as well as Mourinho’s outbursts over the lack of signings and pessimism for the season ahead.
While pre-season is not always a true test of where the team are currently at in terms of their progression leading into a very hectic year, United’s lack of first-team stars was apparent throughout which will cause great concern to the Portuguese boss. With the World Cup taking place during the summer, a large proportion of United’s starting players have been taking later-than-usual holidays and resting ahead of a testing season. While most will return next Monday ahead of their opening game against Leicester City, their lack of match fitness will almost rule all out of contention.
Along with a lack of players, Mourinho wanted throughout his pre-season, one, in particular, is threatening with a move away. Martial has been the subject of a lot of interest throughout this summer from around Europe, with his agent coming out earlier in the transfer window and stating, bluntly, that the Frenchman wants to leave the club. Even with that bombshell, Manchester United took Martial to America and have brushed away the suggestion that he will be leaving this summer. However, his name once again came to the forefront as he went home to witness the birth of his second child – something that has, somehow, caused controversy, but had every right to go and do.
However, there now appears to be mass confusion between the player and Mourinho, with the Portuguese boss unable to explain why the former Monaco starlet had not rejoined the tour and flown back to the USA following the arrival of his son. Martial took to social media a day later, explaining there was a difficulty with the birth and that he would be at the club’s training ground the next morning for training.
It’s mystifying as to why this played out in the public atmosphere with plenty of fans, supporters and critics taking it the wrong way as to why he did not rejoin the squad. For Mourinho to also say he was also unsure why Martial was absent suggests a major breakdown of communication between the player and the manager just eight days before the start of the Premier League season.
If United’s pre-season tour has shown anything, it is the fact that they still need to do a lot of work in the transfer window before it shuts next week. While Mourinho wants two more players to come in, he has, publicly, accepted that he is only likely to get one. The fact that Ed Woodward, the executive vice-chairman, has left it this late to conclude business suggests that United have struggled hugely this summer.
The likeliest player to make their way to Old Trafford is Tottenham’s Toby Alderweireld, who has just reported back for training at Tottenham. The Red Devils understand what it is going to take to prize the Belgian away, but they are, so far, stalling over whether the 29-year-old centre back is worth the sums being talked about. Leicester’s Harry Maguire and Barcelona’s Yerry Mina, who had a stellar World Cup campaign, are two of the other central defenders being talked about, but United have not made an official move in trying to sign them just yet.
In truth, United still need a left back and a right winger before the start of their campaign, but they are unlikely to be able to get it over the line before the end of the transfer window. Even though United have known about these glaring holes in the squad for some time, they simply have not been efficient enough to make sure players are arriving for Mourinho.
Manchester United’s first three games are against Leicester (h), Brighton (a) and Tottenham (h) – two opening fixtures that should ease them into a blockbuster of a game against Spurs. The Portuguese boss will use those two opening games to build some confidence among the players at his disposal and will hope the international stars will be fit and firing, ready for the match against Mauricio Pochettino’s side. The Red Devils are certainly not where they currently want to be, but they are, all in all, not in a crisis period before the season has even begun. Mourinho must promote positivity among the fans and supporters, or they will soon turn their back on him. The best way he can do that is getting off to a winning start next Friday evening against the Foxes.