As the January transfer window drew to a close and Manchester United revealed their big signing, Alexis Sanchez, manager Jose Mourinho appeared to have already given up on winning this year’s Premier League title.
Despite luring the 29-year-old Chilean forward from rivals Arsenal and snuffing out a bid from league leaders Manchester City in the process, Mourinho was reported as saying he believed City would end up as the champions for 2017/18.
Title race over?
In an interview reported by the national media, the Portuguese said the fight now was for second, third and fourth places, as the race for first was “practically closed”. At the time the comments were made, City were on 68 points – 15 points ahead of their nearest rival United.
It appears that, despite the big name signing, Mourinho’s attempt to transform his squad into title contenders is something he is looking at in the future, rather than this season. Having recently signed a new contract to keep him at the club until 2020, he will be looking to shape the squad into the world-beaters they were in the 1990s.
Manchester United were practically invincible two decades ago, when the likes of Gary and Phil Neville, Ryan Giggs, David Beckham, Jaap Stam, Paul Scholes, Dwight Yorke, Roy Keane and legendary Danish keeper Peter Schmeichel made them a formidable force in both domestic and international matches.
Their form continued into the 2000s, when new signings such as Ruud van Nistelrooy and Cristiano Ronaldo further strengthened the squad. When United signed Ronaldo in 2003 from Sporting CP for £12.24 million, it was a record fee for an 18-year-old player.
Another of the club’s most expensive signings was Spanish keeper David de Gea, who signed from Atletico Madrid in 2011 for £18.9 million. The deal made De Gea the second most expensive keeper in the world at the time, behind only Gianluigi Buffon, who had been bought by Juventus in 2001 for £32.6 million.
Former Atletico youth academy player, De Gea, made his senior debut in the Champions League as a substitute against Porto in 2009.
At the time, manager Sir Alex Ferguson confirmed United had been after De Gea for some time as a replacement for Edwin Van der Sar. De Gea has been a key member of the United squad ever since, despite recent media reports linking him with a possible move to Real Madrid.
Changes at the top
When Sir Alex retired from management in 2013, after winning the Premier League in his final 2012/13 season, a period of uncertainty followed for Manchester United. The ill-fated David Moyes failed to fill Sir Alex’s shoes when he took over the club in July 2013 – he lasted only 10 months.
Ryan Giggs was appointed caretaker manager on 22nd April 2014, for the final four games of the season, followed by the appointment of Louis van Gaal in July 2014. Winning the FA Cup in 2016, beating Crystal Palace 2-1 in the final, wasn’t enough to secure the Dutchman’s job and he was sacked straight afterwards. He was succeeded by Mourinho on 27th May 2016.
In December last year, Mourinho spoke of plans to make a marquee signing this year to turn the squad into title contenders. His comments followed United’s world record £89 million fee for Paul Pogba 17 months ago, and the £75 million paid for striker Romelu Lukaku last summer.
Unfortunately, the duo has done little to boost United’s 2017/18 title hopes. Signing Alexis Sanchez in the January transfer window is seen as a bid to turn the squad into title contenders for 2018/19.
Arsenal had been ready to sell Sanchez in the summer of 2017, but after rejecting a £60 million offer from Manchester City, he remained at Arsenal in the final year of his contract. Sanchez moved to Manchester United as part of a swap deal, with United’s Henrikh Mkhitaryan moving the other way to Arsenal on 22nd January.
No return for Ronaldo
Over the past five years, United has tried – and failed – to sign world class strikers such as Gareth Bale and former United legend Ronaldo from Real Madrid. They also wanted to sign Neymar from Barcelona before he moved to Paris Saint-Germain.
Following Mourinho’s comments that the Premier League title had gone this year, Manchester City slipped up in their first match in February, losing two points after a late equaliser by Burnley. Meanwhile, United beat Huddersfield 2-0, with goals from Lukaku and Sanchez securing the three points. This cut the gap at the top of the table from 15 to 13 points.
Although it seems unlikely that Manchester United will make a comeback and win the league, it’s not over till it’s over!
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