The appointment of Jose Mourinho as manager of England’s biggest club gave fans high hopes that the glory days may be right around the corner. That anticipation of success was amplified after lifting the FA Cup in 2016. The self-proclaimed ‘Special One’ went to work very early at Manchester United bringing in Eric Bailly from Villarreal, Henrikh Mkhitaryan from Borussia Dortmund, Paul Pogba from Juventus, and Zlatan Ibrahimović from PSG. These moves from the Portuguese added a fair share of star quality back to Old Trafford, raising the level of expectations not just from the fans but from the entire football world.
When all was said and done, the Red Devils managed to reach the target of Champions League for next season while lifting two trophies – the League Cup and Europa League – on the way. After their Europa League success in Stockholm, the 54-year-old manager praised his team for a “successful season” and insisted that he was proud of his players for completing the set of trophies for his wonderful football club.
Like most would say, winning trophies is what the game is about and credit must go to Mourinho and his team. However, after ending the season sixth in the Premier League table, a place below where they finished the season before and after adding such quality players, was it really a successful year for a club the standing of United? Shouldn’t the Red Devils be challenging for the title given the investment that was made last summer?
Despite significant investment at the club since the departure of legendary manager Sir Alex Ferguson, United has finished in the top four only once in four seasons. More worryingly for the fans is that Old Trafford no longer seems to be a place where the opposition is fearful, but instead seem to relish the opportunity to get a positive result. The days when there was that blissfully innocent desire to entertain their fans may be a thing of the past, especially with the former Inter Milan and Real Madrid boss at the helm.
At most clubs, lifting two major pieces of silverware over the course of a season would make for a great and rewarding season, but not at United. As one of the biggest clubs in the world placed in the same class as Real Madrid, Barcelona and Bayern Munich, anything less than a serious title challenge and a deep run in the Champions League cannot be seen as a successful season. With the teams that were in the Europa League, United were more than expected to win it. However, their celebrations could be deemed embarrassing despite the joy of claiming a place amongst Europe’s elites next season.
In all fairness, the Red Devils could reflect on the season and count themselves unfortunate. There were several points dropped from games Mourinho’s men totally dominated and created wonderful openings, but lacked the killer instinct to put teams away. It should not be understated that is simply inexplicable and unacceptable for the 20-time English Champions to draw more than half their home games – 10 of 19 – at Old Trafford over the course of the season. After failing to conquer teams on their home turf, the manager then had the audacity to talk about injuries and fatigue from playing 60+ games as the reason his team underperformed massively in the domestic league.