Zlatan Ibrahimovic

Has Mourinho done well in the transfer market for Manchester United?

Zlatan Ibrahimovic was signed on a free transfer at the backend of his career. Aged 34, he was brought to the club to bring in some experience, a winning mentality and goals. He provided the club with all three.

His most important performance came in the League Cup final against Southampton in 2016 when his two goals earned Mourinho his first piece of silverware at United. Having put United ahead, with the scoreline at 2-2 in the 87th minute, Zlatan popped up to head in the winner.

As well as the winning goal in the Community Shield, he scored against Manchester City and Liverpool, as he finished the season as United’s top scorer.

A double cruciate injury essentially ended his time at the club but the impact of his stay will be long-lasting.

“You will see the benefits in years to come. What I have learnt from him is irreplaceable,” Marcus Rashford said last season. “No other forward in the world could have come in and for me to have been able to learn so much from him. There is nobody else that we could have learnt that much about football and mentally also than from him. The results will be there to see. For me it’s the mentality he’s brought in, that’s the biggest thing I’m going to try and take from what he’s offered us. His mentality alone is what puts him ahead of the game.”

Romelu Lukaku was the striker Mourinho bought to lead the line in place of Ibrahimovic and he’s done very well. With 27 goals and 7 assists in all competitions this season, with games still to play, Lukaku can be proud of his return.

At 24 years old, Lukaku became the youngest foreign player to score 100 Premier League goals this season, with Michael Owen, Robbie Fowler, Wayne Rooney and Harry Kane the only players to reach the milestone at a younger age.

As well as his goal and assist against Chelsea, he’s also claimed assists in United’s wins over Liverpool and Tottenham.

Paul Pogba has faced plenty of criticism since signing for United which has largely been caused by the massive £89 million transfer fee that was required to bring him back to England.

He’s played a crucial role in some big games, like when he scored in the Europa League final, dominated the play in United’s 3-1 away win against Arsenal, scored two against City at the Etihad after United had gone two nil down, as well as several other lower profile big performances, most recently being named man of the match in the win over Bournemouth.

Despite largely playing in a deep role in midfield, only three players have assisted more goals than Pogba this season. The Frenchman has claimed an assist every 188 minutes he’s been on the field in the league this season, compared to David Silva’s return of one every 205 minutes, Kevin De Bruyne every 185 minutes and Leroy Sane every 172 minutes.

Pogba is yet to set the world alight on a consistent basis but he’s clearly a hugely talented player and having just turned 25 has plenty of top years ahead of him.

Nemanja Matic has enjoyed a good debut campaign at United this season. His stand out moment was the 92nd minute winner against Crystal Palace after United had previously gone 2-0 down. Yet his greatest strength has been protecting United’s back four and setting United’s forwards off on the attack. He’s put in several man of the match performances but his display against former club Chelsea in the 2-1 win, when Antonio Conte’s team were just three points behind ahead of kick-off, was incredible.

Alexis Sanchez was signed in January and Mourinho predicted that his best performances would come the following season, once he had got used to his new teammates and style of football.

After a slow start in the opening weeks, Sanchez has started to come in to his own, with three assists and a goal in his last three appearances. His performance against City, the team he snubbed in favour of United, was brilliant. With United 2-0 down, Sanchez got behind City’s defence to play in a perfect cross to Ander Herrera to chest down for Pogba to score from. He then played in the ball to Pogba for United’s second, as well as the cross to Chris Smalling for the winner.

Eric Bailly is the arguably best defender than United have signed since Nemanja Vidic. His injuries have been a frustration, although that’s hardly something Mourinho can control. Yet when he’s played he’s looked like the real deal. Having only just turned 24, his best years are still ahead of him, if he can limit the amount of time he spends on the treatment table.

When Mourinho signed Victor Lindelof at the age of 22, he wasn’t bringing in a defender with the thought he would be in the starting XI every week, rather wanted a defender with great potential who would develop to his peak at Old Trafford.

The Swede has had a mixed debut season, with some costly mistakes showing his lack of inexperience, but he’s put in some solid displays too. Regardless, he was bought for the future so time will tell whether he was a wise investment or not.

Henrikh Mkhitaryan is the player who seems like the most obvious flop during Mourinho’s reign, given he only lasted 18 months. However, when you look at his first season, Mkhitaryan played an important role. Only three players scored more goals than him in the Europa League, with his finish against Ajax in the final securing the trophy.

He was spineless at United and too often went missing. Even in the games where he was assisting goals regularly, you wouldn’t have known he was on the pitch before he showed up with a moment of great skill.

That said, using Mkhitaryan as a bargaining chip helped push through the Sanchez transfer, which can only be seen as a positive.

There are legitimate criticisms of Mourinho during his time at United but his business in the transfer market isn’t one of them.

 

By Scott Patterson

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