If you asked Manchester United fans how they’d measure the success of Jose Mourinho’s first season, they’d probably say something like: “As long as it’s not Juan Mata being substituted for Nick Powell, it’s all-f*cking-right with me.”
No, but seriously, if you’d told most of the lads in the red stands that they’d end the season with the Europa League trophy – alongside a return to Champions League football – as well as the League Cup and the Community Shield, I’m sure plenty of them would have snapped your hands off.
Yes, that might be a slight deviation from the ‘United Way’, but after a hiatus from Europe’s top competition, a year of David Moyes and a rocky divorce from Louis van Gaal, most supporters would have taken it with open arms.
Mou’ money, Mou’ problems
That being said, last season, when draw after draw was passing by Mourinho’s eyes, social media was awash with “It’s not even his team!!” and “He’s inherited this bunch of pansies! Not a Mou player!!11!!1!” from accounts with usernames like: AndersRedArmy and Pogbahimovic.
Many were keen to point out that bar Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Eric Bailly, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Paul Pogba, a lot of the dross in the squad was actually down to his predecessors.
With three new signings and Wayne Rooney finally weaned off the teat of the club, does the Special One have any excuses left?
Perhaps not. With over £140 million spent already this window on Romelu Lukaku, Victor Lindelof and Nemanja Matic, there’s nowhere left to hide. And the media are even keener to jump down your neck when you already have the reputation as one of football’s biggest controversial gobshites.
If those signings under-perform for the gaffer, expect prickly press conferences and a trip down the table. With United’s noisy neighbours splashing out more cash on their defence than the Democratic Republic of Congo, the pressure is on Mourinho to get his act together. Sixth place just won’t do.
Annual spending on defence:
Man City £200m
— Paddy Power (@paddypower) July 24, 2017
With Zlatan Ibrahimovic out of the picture – with a return rumoured for January – it’s as much of a monumental year for Jose as it is for Marcus Rashford and new boy Romelu. The big Swede was United’s top scorer in the league and in the Europa last season, alongside netting the winning goals in both the League Cup and the Community Shield.
You’ll never win anything with kids
Naturally, Rashford found himself on the back burner, second fiddle to the self-proclaimed God. He netted five goals in 32 league appearances, the same amount as he got the previous season in 11.
This season could make or break him, many would argue. He’s living the ultimate local lad’s dream, bagging goals against City, playing alongside huge talent for a manager whose reputation proceeds him across various cups and competitions. All of that, and still only 19.
Judging off the pre-season friendlies, it seems that Mourinho is willing to at least trial the idea of starting two strikers up front, and with the £75 million arrival of Lukaku, this perhaps presents Rashford with his best opportunity to shine. It seems any fears that he won’t be trusted due to his age, and Jose’s ruthlessness, have been squashed.
With Paul Pogba supplying the balls, and Lukaku feeding off him, it’s tough not to get excited about what 17/18 might hold for the young Mancunian.
Second Season Syndrome
So, just what would it take for Mourinho to overcome second season syndrome, and crown round two a success? A title win.
And for United fans, there’s one particular stat which stands out above the rest. In every one of his five managerial reigns at a major club, Porto, Chelsea (x2), Inter Milan and Real Madrid – Mourinho won the league in his second season. Let battle commence.