It emerged last week that Jose Mourinho, just as his United team were losing touch with the top four, put in a call to Sir Alex Ferguson and organised a meeting to thrash out the good and the bad of the job thus far. During the summit, Fergie urged Mourinho to get back to type. To be ruthless. And to stop trying to please everyone.
Mourinho heeded Ferguson’s advice – and it is that meeting which is now being credited for not only having United look a top four prospect, but even – for some – a title contender. However, for United fans, you really hope during the chat that Ferguson imparted his past success working the January transfer window.
Mourinho is famous – some would say notorious – for stubbornly going with what he has through the season. The winter market has been an unwelcome distraction. An irritant. Something only there to unsettle those already frustrated being on the fringes of his plans.
And even with this United team clearly in the state of rebuild, Mourinho appears (publicly) unwilling to budge: “Let’s see what happens but at the moment, if you ask me if I am waiting for someone to be here on 1 January or if we are chasing some player because we want to have a new player here on 1 January, not at all. I like my squad, I trust my squad.”
But this revival, as impressive as it is, has been built on the most fragile of platforms. In Mourinho’s own words, Zlatan Ibrahimovic breaking down “would be a disaster”. And at the back, it’s even more on a knife edge. Phil Jones is defying history. The big man’s now in line to break a personal record of 11 straight games. Yes, that’s right, he’s only ever managed 11 consecutives games for United – and that happened way back in 2013.
With Eric Bailly now off to the African Cup of Nations, could United’s momentum be maintained if Jones was to be sidelined again?
But this window can be about more than just plugging gaps for Mourinho.
In January 2006, Ferguson signed half the back four – Nemanja Vidic and Patrice Evra – that would win the Champions League two years later. A year on from their arrival, the Scot was at it again, taking on Henrik Larsson for a short stint that eventually inspired that season’s title triumph.
Two big, imaginative January plunges by Ferguson – at both ends of the dial. The long-term with Vidic and Evra. And the short, instant shot in the arm from Larsson. The midseason market was never an irritant for Ferguson. It was a window of opportunity.
And you fancy this is what the old man told Mourinho during their get-together. For, while it’s being claimed Mourinho has pulled back from a deal for Benfica defender Victor Lindelof, Tribalfootball.com has been informed that it is still very much on.
Luiz Felipe Vieira, the Benfica president, does drive a hard bargain and in Ed Woodward, United’s vice-chairman exec, he sees a soft touch. But unlike last season’s fiasco involving Renato Sanches, there is no Bayern Munich waiting in the wings to better any ‘method of payment’ that Woodward is willing to muster. It really is United or bust for Vieira, with the likes of Marseille and Inter Milan simply not in the same spending league as the Premier League giants.
After last year’s successful dealings, Vieira is under no financial pressure to sell. But for the player, after being snapped signing the shirts of United fans and conceding to ex-teammates that the deal is already done, he really needs Vieira to get this over the line. And that includes conceding VSK, the Swede’s former club, are deserving of their 20 per cent slice.
A couple of months ago, they were saying Mourinho had lost his touch. Ibrahimovic was past it. Henrikh Mkhitaryan not up to it. And even Bailly, being stuck in the medical room, was questioned. But going into 2017, no-one can doubt the market work of Mourinho, which is why his latest acquisition should be welcomed enthusiastically by United fans.
Lindelof will be no stop-gap. The Swede has been likened to Ronny Johnsen, which is a good shout by Jesper Blomqvist. He can play at centre-half, fullback and even in midfield. He’s for the here and now, but also, at 22, for the future.
Once Vieira acquiesces, Lindelof’s arrival will signal another change in Mourinho’s methods. He never did the January window. It wasn’t for him. That is, until he became manager of Manchester United.
Contributed by Chris Beattie of Tribalfootball.com