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Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho can be rightly hacked off with Edward Woodward, if he once again reverts to type and fails to deliver any signings in the January transfer window. There is a chance to seal a return to Champions League football that is eminently achievable, despite the competition from many other teams.
If United were to strengthen seriously – they could benefit not just in the short term, but get a headstart on those around them with some long term planning. Woodward, however, appears to have cast aside that chance, as it appears that any signings made will come in the summer, rather than now.
United are just four points off Liverpool, who are in fourth place but tied to a Klopp-shaped anchor right now, and while the Premier League title is beyond them, none of Arsenal, Manchester City or Spurs are unbeatable. Mauricio Pochettino deserves credit for all he has done, but the FA Cup has proven that the depth of the squad might not be able to sustain the team until the end of May.
As is the case for United, the rest of those chasing Chelsea are failing to add reinforcements. Chelsea chase Moussa Dembele, but the rest have done nothing of note in January. While United could take advantage of the inertia, they have in fact weakened their squad as the others tread water.
Memphis was a serious disappointment, as was Morgan Schneiderlin, but they were part of a necessary reserve and needed replacement. Bastian Schweinsteiger – who could yet leave – and Wayne Rooney, are unlikely to contribute enough from similar positions.
It isn’t just in midfield and attack where United need players, though. Eric Bailly is back from the Africa Cup of Nations, but was injured in his return reserve match. He’s already suffered a couple of injuries while at Old Trafford, and has not yet played more than 25 league games in any one season.
He may make a quick return to the first team, but it would be foolish to count on his presence being consistent, yet. Alongside him will presumably Marcos Rojo, Chris Smalling or Phil Jones. Rojo has been lucky to avoid several red cards this season, Smalling can’t kick the ball properly, and Jones cannot think more than half a move ahead. To go into the serious end of the Europa and Premier Leagues, while attempting to contest a League Cup final and the FA Cup, is just daft.
For all the chequebook-waving he has done in previous summers, he has only actually had one decent window out of six, and that was with the explicit cooperation of Mino Raiola
Of course, there’s also the case of Luke Shaw. Whatever his problems are, be they physical, mental, serious or superficial, he should not be in the first team right now. Given his inconsistent performances at the club, the likelihood is that he will never be reliable at left-back. Daley Blind and Matteo Darmian seem like they’re willing to try, but don’t have the talent for that to matter.
That is, then, at least two positions in defence which could be addressed, and two further up the pitch. It would obviously be disruptive to aim to sort this all out in one window, and to do so halfway through a season is probably prohibitively expensive, or simply not possible to locate the four players who would have sufficient quality. Antoine Griezmann isn’t going to come now, that’s obvious. But so far, nothing has been done to bring about an improvement.
We know that Mourinho wants to bring players in now. There was talk of Jose Fonte in the summer, and then leading up to this window – but he went to West Ham for an eminently affordable £8 million. Victor Lindelof probably could have been prised away with enough of the many millions at United’s disposal. Seamus Coleman, at a push, could have been taken from Everton with the right offer.
All these players would not have been spectacular immediately, but they would have upgraded the squad notably, and certainly covered for those players who have left.
Woodward, though, has form for this. He delivered David Moyes a shiny Juan Mata, despite Moyes not having requested him and too basic to use him sensibly. He got nowhere in Louis van Gaal’s first season, and was scrambling around for a loan of Mathieu Debuchy this time last year. For all the chequebook-waving he has done in previous summers, he has only actually had one decent window out of six, and that was with the explicit cooperation of Mino Raiola. Left to his own devices and told to actually do his job, he can’t.
It happens at other clubs, too. There are always complaints about a lack of options, and only strengthening when there is real quality on offer. That might work if you’re Chelsea, this season, and with a serious lead and no European distractions – but they’ve found a way to improve, and are trying to. No longer should it be an excuse, particularly for Woodward.
This same window comes around every year, and if he doesn’t think there aren’t players who would improve the team then, well, he should have a look at some of the dross he bought earlier and consider whether that could possibly be true.