Jose Mourinho has bemoaned the shortage of natural goalscoring “killers” in Manchester United’s squad and admitted for the first time he is in the market for a new striker this summer after again decrying the club’s sale of Javier Hernandez.
The United manager absolved leading scorer Zlatan Ibrahimovic of any blame, stressed his complete faith in Marcus Rashford and insisted Paul Pogba’s travails in front of goal were “not a problem of quality at all but a problem of luck” given the frequency with which the midfielder has hit the woodwork this term.
But Mourinho claimed there were players without a natural feel for scoring, a reference to the likes of Anthony Martial and Jesse Lingard’s profligacy, and believes Hernandez would have comfortably scored 20 goals for the team this season, even if he had been primarily used as an impact substitute.
Hernandez was sold to Bayer Leverkusen by Louis van Gaal, Mourinho’s predecessor as United manager, for just £7.3 million in August 2015, since when he has scored 38 goals in 72 appearances for the German club. United are not thought to have a buy-back option on the Mexico striker, whose departure Mourinho cannot fathom.
“We have some players that are not really players in love with the goal,” he said. “They are good players, they are creative players, they can create but, naturally, they are not the kind of guy that is a killer.
“I give a simple example. In the way we play at Old Trafford, in the way we dominate opponents, in the way we play in the box, I think Chicharito [Hernandez] would have 20 goals easy. Even coming from the bench for the last 10 or 20 minutes, he would have 20 goals. He is the guy that, naturally, the ball comes here, rebounds here, rebounds there - boom, goal. The goalkeeper saves, he goes there - boom, goal. The cross is coming, he anticipates the first-post header, goal.
“We play well most of the time, not always obviously, but we play well, we create a lot, we don’t score enough goals for the way we play and the teams that come to Old Trafford, they know that. They feel that and they defend. We are not strong or good enough to score the goals we should.”
Mourinho believes Ibahimovic’s tally of 27 goals is an example to the rest of the squad but he is convinced Rashford, who he has admitted is struggling for confidence after not scoring for over six months in the league, will deliver next season, even if there is likely to be more competition upfront.
Mourinho wants to sign Antoine Griezmann from Atletico Madrid this summer, although the France striker is reported to be stalling on a deal while he waits to see if United qualify for the Champions League.
When it was put to Mourinho that there was too much of a burden on Ibrahimovic for goals, he said: “We have Marcus. We believe in Marcus, that’s no doubt. Are we going to buy a striker? Maybe. Maybe.”
Mourinho was reluctant to discuss the prospect of Rashford going to the European Under-21 Championships with England this summer. “The power is in the Football Association’s hands and they are going to make what they think is the best decision,” he said. “Agree or disagree, my opinion is not important.”
But he was more forthcoming on his hopes for Rashford. “What is clear is he’s having an amazing experience, which after the hurricane that was last season when he came in, is giving him a hell of an experience,” Mourinho said. “And because he is such a good boy, such a good professional, I believe this is a fantastic learning experience for him. Even not scoring goals, next season he will. Next season will be a good season for him.
“The attacking players with freedom have to always reach a certain number of goals that added between them means a lot of victories, a lot of points, and no-one reached that level.”
Lingard has just signed a new four-year contract worth £75,000 a week and Mourinho defended the deal. “First of all, if you don't pay, they go,” he said. “So we can be criticised for paying so much, but we would also be criticised if we lost a young English player made in the academy.”