From the moment the 2018 English summer transfer window closed on the eve of the Premier League season, José Mourinho has been taking every opportunity to let the world know he wanted more from his employers.
Manchester United brought in three players ahead of the 2017/18 season: midfielder Fred, teenage full-back Diogo Dalot and back-up goalkeeper Lee Grant. But they did not sign a centre-back, and therein lies Mourinho’s issue.
Now, though, with the January transfer window on the horizon, it seems Mourinho might finally get his wish, with reports claiming United will back their manager to the tune of £100million in the mid-season market.
Is the Old Trafford higher-ups’ reticence to give Mourinho more money well founded, though?
With almost £400million spent since his appointment in June 2016, we’ve looked back over every player Mourinho has signed for United, grading all but the most recent to determine how well the Portuguese has bought.
Eric Bailly – £30million from Villarreal, June 2016
The first signing of Mourinho’s United tenure was one that came completely out of the blue. A young and clearly talented defender at Villarreal, Bailly had only 40 La Liga games under his belt when United forked out £30million to take him to Old Trafford.
An excellent one-v-one defender with the kind of recovery pace which mitigated against occasional positional lapses, Bailly was United’s best defender during his first 18 months at the club.
Bailly has gone from Mourinho’s biggest transfer success at United to verging on a major flop over the course of a few difficult months. Still only 24, he has time to turn things around.
Zlatan Ibrahimović – Free from Paris Saint-Germain, July 2016
“Manchester, welcome to Zlatan,” proclaimed the city-centre banner marking the charismatic Swede’s arrival at Old Trafford.
At 34 years old, an ally of Mourinho’s from their time together at Inter Milan and having won 11 league titles in four different countries, signing the out-of-contract Ibrahimović was a coup; he brought an infections winners’ mentality to a dressing room bereft of major success since Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement.
But with 28 goals – before a knee injury ended his season early – and playing no small part in League Cup and Europa League success, history will remember Ibrahimović’s only full season at Old Trafford kindly.
Bringing him back the following term, though, was a less astute move, as he scored just once in seven outings before joining LA Galaxy in March.
Henrikh Mkhitaryan – £27million from Borussia Dortmund, July 2016
Mkhitaryan had been the Bundesliga’s leading assist-maker and Players’ Player of the Year in 2015/16, starring for Thomas Tuchel’s Borussia Dortmund. So when United signed him for just £27million, it was hailed as a magnificent piece of business.
However, with the exception of some bright displays in the Europa League – including a goal in the final against Ajax – the Armenian never settled at Old Trafford, inexplicably banished from the first-team picture for months following September 2016’s Manchester derby and unable to hold down a regular berth at any point.
In January 2017, United admitted defeat in their efforts to rediscover the Dortmund version of Mkhitaryan, swapping him for Arsenal‘s Alexis Sánchez.
Paul Pogba – £89million from Juventus, August 2016
A world-record fee at the time, Pogba’s price tag still hangs heavy, a stick his critics need little invitation to beat him with if his performances slip below the level expected of the world’s best players.
One gets the feeling United were more than happy to pay over the odds to re-sign Pogba from Juventus, basking in the glow of publicity that followed the move; it was a financial flexing of the muscles to show they could still attract the big names and pay the biggest fees if necessary.
Pogba is by far United’s most talented outfield player and, more often than not, he is their top performer on any given matchday.
Still, though, there is a lingering feeling that he could be and do so much more. Whether a matter of the manager’s tactics or the player’s application, expectations haven’t quite been met.
Victor Lindelöf – £31million from Benfica, July 2017
A flawed but high-potential ball-playing centre-back at Benfica, Lindelöf’s adaptation to life in English football has been long and fraught.
From his error-ridden first Premier League start away to Huddersfield Town in October 2017 to an own goal and all-round shaky performance in defeat to West Ham United almost a year later, moments of optimism have been fleeting for the Swedish centre-back at United.
At 23, he is still young and learning his craft, though. Recent displays against Juventus and Everton have been perhaps his best as a United player, and, alongside Chris Smalling, he appears to be Mourinho’s most trusted centre-back at present.
Romelu Lukaku – £75million from Everton, July 2017
United fought off rival interest from Chelsea to sign Lukaku from Everton in 2017.
With 27 all-competitions goals last season, the 25-year-old Belgian was among the Red Devils’ better performers, with improvements seemingly made in his hold-up and link play.
This season, though, Lukaku has gone backwards. After four goals early in the campaign, his barren streak stretches to nine games at time of writing, with the striker dropped for the visit of former club Everton in late October.
There is sympathy for Lukaku in that United’s attacking play lacks structure and speed, and he is too often asked to play as a target man when his strengths are better aligned to a poacher’s role in a side which transitions quickly.
But his lack of movement and wayward finishing is his own responsibility. Lukaku must rediscover his confidence and verve before his United career peters out.
Nemanja Matić – £35million from Chelsea, July 2017
In search of a central-midfield partner for Pogba, one who’d ease the Frenchman’s defensive workload and free him up further forward, Mourinho again turned to a former charge.
Despite being days away from his 29th birthday, United splashed £35million – potentially to rise to £40million – on two-time Premier League winner Matić.
The Serbian’s early performances were positive, as he added poise in the middle of the park. But his slow passing and lack of mobility have become a burden for United.
Matić is by no means United’s weakest link, but he is too often to and too easily run off by opposition midfielders, failing to protect the defence in the manner he was acquired to.
Less than a year and a half since he was signed, upgrading on Matić should be among United’s transfer priorities.
Alexis Sánchez – Swap for Mkhitaryan, from Arsenal, January 2018
Sánchez’s arrival at Old Trafford was greeted with great optimism. United fended off interest from Manchester City to sign the Chilean superstar. And the fact a straight swap deal was agreed with Arsenal, seeing Mkhitaryan move the other way, meant the Red Devils were getting a world-class operator in exchange for a player they were happy to rid themselves of.
However, with just four goals in 26 United games, Sánchez has wholly underwhelmed.
The odd rays of hope – such as his performance in last season’s Manchester derby win at the Etihad or the FA Cup semi-final victory over Tottenham Hotspur – have done little to distract from how the 29-year-old has fallen disastrously short of expectations.
Having recently lost his first-team place, there have been reports suggesting Sánchez will seek to leave United in January, just a year after his blockbuster arrival.
The sad truth is that a parting of the ways would be a sensible move for both parties; it just hasn’t worked.
Diogo Dalot, Lee Grant and Fred
It is too soon to definitively judge any of Mourinho’s three summer signings, one of whom, 35-year-old back-up goalkeeper Grant, is unlikely to have any real impact at first-team level.
Dalot, a 19-year-old right-back signed for around £20million from Porto, has impressed in his fleeting outings to date; so much so, in fact, that there are calls for the youngster to be given more opportunities, with ageing converted wingers Antonio Valencia and Ashley young currently preferred on the right side of defence.
Fred was United’s marquee signing of the summer, brought in from Shakhtar Donetsk for £52million after impressing in the Champions League last term. Capable of playing as a defensive midfielder or in a box-to-box role, his energy and dynamism have helped quicken the Red Devils’ attack when he has played, even if he is a little imprecise at times.
Mourinho has made no secret of the fact he wanted more signings this summer, with a new centre-back and right-winger thought to be high on his agenda.
United are reportedly ready to bend to the manager’s wishes in January, with funds that will take his total transfer spend at the club up towards the £500million mark.
For the sake of Mourinho’s future spending – and perhaps employment – he must use the money more wisely.