It’s been an interesting season for Manchester United for a variety of reasons. Before it began, Jose Mourinho was talking about how guiding them to second place in the previous campaign was his greatest achievement as a manager. It was an amazing statement from the Portuguese coach who has two Champions Leagues, various domestic titles and cups in his resume. Indeed, some fans took offence to such a statement, believing that the ambitions of a United boss should lie higher and that Mourinho’s comments undermined that. But as always, Mourinho spoke with purpose, carefully choosing his words both in order to shock but also to enforce his point. His statement was not a criticism of his own achievements, instead a shot across the bow of United’s chief executive Ed Woodward as a way of saying that the squad he had was not good enough and to achieve more, he would need new players. Those players never really materialized or at least not the ones that Mourinho wanted and before long the Portuguese coach was out on his ear.
In his place stepped a familiar face, one chosen to appease the restless fanbase and throw them back to a time when United were kings of Europe. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s temporary appointment from Molde brought smiles back to the fans faces, not because of his own resume which in itself is far from impressive but instead as it brought back memories of United’s famous Champions League Cup final win in 1999 when Solsjkaer and Teddy Sheringham scored dramatic goals to snatch the trophy from the semi celebrating Bayern Munich. Ask any United fan and they will tell you where they were for that game. That is how important it was. With Solskjaer in charge, United went on a startling unbeaten run winning 14 of their next 17 games in charge. There was a real zip to United during those games with Paul Pogba in particular impressing in a liberated role than he had under Mourinho’s regime. The fans clambered to sing the Norwegian bosses praises from the rooftops and demanded that Woodward appoint him on a full-time basis. Woodward obliged at the end of March. However, as the ink dried on his contract, United’s players form reverted back to what it was like under Mourinho just before his departure. Just as swiftly as it began, things began to unravel.
With United finishing in 6th place in the league after winning only 2 of their last 10 games, the conclusion of this season could not come quick enough. Solsjkaer and United now have the summer to reflect on what went wrong in that second half of the campaign but also more importantly to make some dramatic changes to the playing staff in order to prevent it happening again. Some decisions have already been made for them with club captain Antonio Valencia leaving when his contract expires, and Spanish midfielder Ander Herrera already set to end his spell at the club in favour of a lucrative move to PSG. Fellow Spaniard Juan Mata is also out of contract this summer and the club are keen to retain him but may not have the option with the player said to be frustrated over the length of time it has taken United to offer him an improved deal. With an already heaving wage bill, United ‘s hierarchy could be forgiven for dithering over handing the 31-year-old a new deal as they work out how to balance a healthy wage structure with a competitive product on the field. Mata to be fair deserves a new deal as he has been one of only a handful of players who United fans can claim to be giving his all.
In order to trim the fat, several squad players who have failed to spark since joining will be sold if buyers can be found of course. Italian defender Matteo Darmian looks set to return to Italy and could be joined there by Alexis Sanchez who is rumoured to be attracting the interest of Juventus. The Chilean striker has been an expensive failure at the club and United will be eager to get him and his wages off of the books even if it means taking a hit on the transfer fee. Also potentially heading to Italy is Romelu Lukaku who has publicly stated that it would be a dream to play in Italy. That statement could encourage one of the Milan teams, AC or Inter to make an offer which at this stage Man United would likely accept. The Belgian has ability in front of goal for sure but his overall game leaves much to be desired. With Marcus Rashford waiting for his opportunity, United could cash in on Lukaku and spend his transfer fee on other areas.
Besides the obvious ones, there are a host of players that United will have to make decisions on this summer. Players like Fred and Nemanja Matic have underwhelmed since arriving whilst Eric Bailly’s inconsistency at centre half leaves a lot to be desired. Decisions will need to be made on the futures of Marcos Rojo, Andreas Pereira, Lee Grant and potentially even Jesse Lingard who has gone from a mercurial talent to an inconsistent squad player in less than a few seasons. But it’s the future of two of the club’s biggest stars and what to do with them that will keep Solskjaer and Woodward awake at night. Goalkeeper David de Gea has one year left in his contract and has indicated that he would stay if offered a more lucrative deal. The Spanish stopper has been a consistently good player for the club over his tenure so offering him a new deal now rather than losing him for free next summer appears to make a lot of sense. Added into that the logic that if they do let him leave, they would have to spend between £70-100m on a similar replacement plus that goalkeepers’ wages. Giving de Gea a £350,000-a-week contract now would prevent that from happening, but it would make him one of the highest players at the club. That in itself poses an issue for the club that is looking to bring down the wage bill rather than increase it.
De Gea’s contract situation should be resolved within the month but the same can’t be said for one of their other star players. The future of French World Cup winning midfielder Paul Pogba is undoubtedly the biggest headache. Pogba has had an indifferent season often switching from the most important player on the pitch for United to a reluctant passenger who goes missing in games when he simply doesn’t feel like playing. The player has made noises about a move to Real Madrid and Los Blancos in turn have added fuel to the fire by stating through their manager Zinedine Zidane that the club is very interested. It’s clear that Solsjkaer would like Pogba to stay and has offered him the club captaincy for next season as well as a more relaxed marauding role in the team, something that Pogba has been clambering for since the Mourinho days. But the uncertainty for Solsjkaer and United is around which Pogba will turn up next season and if they can get him to stay focused throughout the entire campaign. Selling him might be the best option especially if Real Madrid or another club in Europe can offer United more than the £89.3million they originally paid for him. His wage demands could scupper any deal but its rumoured that Pogba is willing to take a cut in that department in order to secure a move. All in all, It’s going to be a busy summer at Old Trafford.