At Old Trafford, calm prevails. A sharp upturn in results has seen to that, with the team unbeaten in 13 and having won their last seven matches, including six in the league. It hasn’t altered the league position – United still sit sixth – but it’s far less of a problem for Jose Mourinho than it would have been for Louis van Gaal had United been sixth at this point in his third season.
The winning run, which has come with some great goals, comebacks and fine individual performances, has brought the smiles out at Carrington. Jose Mourinho is hitting his straps and enjoying life, though he still thinks he has a huge job on the go and that it’s fair to judge him after three years, not six months.
But wins make life easier for everyone. After concluding the four summer transfers of Eric Bailly, Paul Pogba, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Henrikh Mkhitaryan who’ve all been a success, Mourinho’s main target was a central defender. He wanted to bring Jose Fonte in from Southampton and the experienced Portuguese defender was desperate to join his compatriot at Old Trafford, but Southampton were in no mood to sell, especially once the season started.
In hindsight, it appears not to matter and there’s not the same pressure to buy a central defender when Marcos Rojo and Phil Jones are playing so well, having established an unlikely and consistent partnership.
Mourinho’s squad may be 24 strong, but there are a core of 16 players who have become his regulars. They’re performing, their confidence is increasing and, crucially, they’re winning. Fitter, happier and more productive, Rojo is a different person in comparison with when he wasn’t getting a look in and United were considering selling him earlier in the season.
Now, it appears selling him would have been premature. He’s still only 24, but it’s hard to call whether a player is going to be a star or not. And even when they do become big name, established players at a club like United, they can still be sold in their prime.
Sir Alex Ferguson let David Beckham and Ruud van Nistelrooy join Real Madrid for good money. Madrid made out that they’d poached two of United’s star talents as a sign of their dominance. The reality was that Ferguson was happy to sell both and not until Cristiano Ronaldo did Madrid sign a player United wanted to keep.
Jaap Stam was another sold by Ferguson at his peak. The Dutch defender returns to Old Trafford on Saturday with Reading in the FA Cup 3rd round. It’s televised – every Man United cup game is because they bring in the biggest audiences – and Stam is doing well at the Championship club. He became United’s most expensive defender in history and also their most expensive Dutch player when he signed from PSV Eindhoven for £10.6m in 1998.
The big Dutchman was an immediate success, his timing perfect since his first season saw the treble won. He played 127 times and was set to play for United for a decade. Then, to great surprise, he was sold to Lazio for a £5 million profit in 2001 amid murky BBC accusations about why Lazio and United paid commissions to associates and a company with strong links to Ferguson’s son, Jason.
Stam was stunned – visibly so when he signed for Lazio – United fans too, but Ferguson ruled, though he didn’t get every decision right, as he later admitted in Stam’s case. Ferguson, who turned 75 this week, goes to watch almost every United home match. He’ll likely see Stam after the game and the pair will reminisce over their many good times rather than the one black mark in their relationship.
For holders United, this FA Cup will be their fourth cup competition of the season. They won the Community Shield, they’re in the semi-finals of the EFL Cup and the last 32 of the Europa League. Mourinho is taking the cups very seriously. Stam better watch out.