Since Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement, Manchester United has been a club searching for its identity. The winning mentality and thrilling attacking play employed by the Scot were replaced with timid, defensive football, and mediocre league finishes.
The appointment of Jose Mourinho has sent the club on its way back to its former glory. Three (yes, the Community Shield does count) trophies in his first year at the Theatre of Dreams, as well as playing attacking football for the majority of the season.
A shortage of high-profile signings has never been the issue, however. Angel di Maria, Radamel Falcao, Anthony Martial, Memphis Depay, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Paul Pogba have all come through the door since Louis Van Gaal’s arrival in 2015. The club retained a lot of star power, but it lost the fear factor it once possessed.
That fear factor is back.
The only team to beat Jose Mourinho’s side at Old Trafford is Manchester City, on two separate occasions. That level of imperiousness that followed United for a quarter of a century is on the way back, despite the large deficit to their rivals across the city. One of the best things about Manchester United in the past was their ability to diminish their rivals by poaching the best players in the league. It started with the likes of Eric Cantona and Andy Cole, and carried on with the likes of Dimitar Berbatov and Robin van Persie. That is a trend that continued in the summer with the captures of Nemanja Matic from Chelsea and Romelu Lukaku from Everton, but it’s about to be taken to the next level.
The coup of Alexis Sanchez from under Manchester City’s nose has caused quite a stir in the footballing world. The media has been in a state of meltdown at the potential wages and signing bonuses of the Chilean, despite the Red Devils being comfortably the richest football team in the world. Their depiction of a team built from money has been laughable. United has it all; 75,000 fans every week, limitless prestige and history, a world-class manager in Mourinho, and almost-guaranteed Champions League football.
And now they have another megastar.
Alexis Sanchez has been one of, if not the best player in the Premier League since he turned up at the Emirates Stadium from Arsenal — single-handedly, at times, dragging a fairly mediocre Arsenal side to Champions League qualification. Sanchez is an elite player, and would be anywhere in the world. Those denying that fact are either speaking from a position of jealousy or delusion. His attitude has let him down at times this season, however, he’s been clearly frustrated by the lack of quality in what is a relatively poor Arsenal side.
The move sees Henrikh Mkhitaryan make the switch to the Emirates. It feels like a changing of the guard. Mkhitaryan is everything that epitomises the post-Ferguson Manchester United side, despite this being just his second season. The Armenian is a player with bags of talent and flair, but lacks the character to be a relentless winner. The opposite is true of Alexis, who is visibly outraged when his side aren’t winning.
This move will most likely come too late for United to mount an assault on Pep Guardiola’s all-conquering side, but it’s a huge statement of intent from Mourinho ahead of the 2018/19 season.
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