This has been a summer of improvisation for Manchester United. More than once, they have been forced to switch transfer targets, shifting priorities and shuffling their aims.
Antoine Griezmann quickly became Alvaro Morata, only for Morata to ultimately become Romelu Lukaku. Nemanja Matic might still morph into Fabinho or somebody else, too.
Indeed, United have needed to be quick on their toes this summer. Despite this deficiencies have been addressed, with Lukaku signed as a direct replacement for Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Victor Lindelof secured to fill a problem area at centre back.
Ivan Perisic is also expected to arrive over the next week or so to add another option to the frontline.
But for all this progress, Mourinho has so far failed to address Man Utd’s most pressing need. They desperately require a successor to Michael Carrick.
The 35-year-old might have signed a new deal to extend his stay at Old Trafford by another season, but there must be a succession plan for when the newly-appointed captain retires. At present, there isn’t one.
“It’s a pity he is not 25,” Mourinho said about Carrick last season. “It’s a pity you can’t stop the clock. In five years Messi will be 34 and we will all be crying that he is 34. Michael is a very good player and one who will be very difficult to replace.” Rather than trying to replace Carrick, however, Mourinho doesn’t appear to have even tried.
Fabinho and Matic have both been targeted, but neither truly fit the mould of someone like Carrick, a pass-master, a pace-setter. This might be indicative of the team Mourinho is building at United, putting physicality ahead of all else, but he mustn’t underestimate just how important a player of such qualities is to everything he hopes to achieve at Old Trafford.
Mourinho earned a level of trust, from United’s fans and the club itself, after his transfer market success last summer. The signings of Paul Pogba, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Eric Bailly and Henrikh Mkhitaryan were more than vindicated over the course of the season. In fact, those four quickly became Man Utd’s four best players.
And so Ed Woodward has seemingly handed complete transfer market control to the Portuguese, something that hasn’t happened at Old Trafford since the days of Sir Alex Ferguson. Mourinho decides who comes in and who goes out. He has authority over the transfer strategy of the club, even if that means spending as much as £45 million on someone like Perisic.
Yet there is still no sign of a pass-master general being signed. There are other deficiencies for Mourinho to address too, with United still somewhat light in the full back areas, but Carrick is arguably the most important player at the club. At his age, he shouldn’t be, but that’s the situation Man Utd have worked themselves into.
Of course, rumours have circulated that Mourinho could make a bid of up to £50 million for Eric Dier. He is a midfielder in the mould of someone like Carrick and could follow the precedent set by the United veteran, tracing the path from Spurs to Old Trafford. This at least suggests Mourinho is aware of the need to replace Carrick.
READ MORE: The 25 best Premier League goals EVER
It shouldn’t be about one style of midfielder over the other, though. Man Utd need both a midfield enforcer and a pass-master. Taking into account that it would likely cost somewhere in the region of £100 million to sign two players of the necessary quality and mould, on top of the £110 million already splurged by the Old Trafford side this summer, that seems improbable.
Mourinho is one of the easiest coaches in world football to characterise. His teams are always built on strength and physical attributes, and there are signs he is now doing the same thing at United. The signing of Lukaku hinted at it, as does the ostracisation of Anthony Martial. But the prioritisation of Matic over Dier is perhaps the biggest hint of them all.