Manchester United can finally correct Jose Mourinho and Louis van Gaal transfer mistakes

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Jose Mourinho’s PR-heavy unveiling at Manchester United appeared a little clunky and ill-judged. It felt like the club were setting themselves up for a(nother) fall.

Following his appointment as the club’s new manager in May 2016, with the engraving of United’s name on the FA Cup won by his predecessor still fresh, Mourinho was shown around the Carrington training ground by a smiling Ed Woodward, both resplendent in open jackets in the Manchester sun.

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They posed for photographs, looking out onto the Carrington turf as though the future was bright. It was supposed to be a new dawn.

We know now, with hindsight, that the summer of 2016 — as with the summer of 2014 in Van Gaal’s nascent United tenure — was another United false dawn.

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United spent big in both summers, an outlay of £175million in 2014 virtually matched two years later, with Marcos Rojo, Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao among those bought under Van Gaal whose signings quickly went wrong. United also signed Morgan Schneiderlin, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Matteo Darmian and Memphis Depay (among others) under the Dutchman; all came for significant fees, offered little of substance and were subsequently sold for less.

If the Mourinho era was supposed to be an improvement on what went before, 2016 seemed to start well. Bringing Paul Pogba back to the club in 2016 was a statement transfer — despite the club record fee — while Eric Bailly for £30million was seen as an answer to United’s defensive struggles. Zlatan Ibrahimovic on a free transfer was supposedly the icing on the cake.

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Yet the transfers of the Mourinho era would have a similar outcome to those under Van Gaal and the common denominator was clear — Woodward.

United had a finance and commercial specialist in charge of their football operation, with his University of Bristol colleagues Matt Judge and Richard Arnold in supporting roles.

Meanwhile, their rivals Manchester City and Liverpool were making shrewd managerial appointments (Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp were appointed in the 2015/16 season) and smart decisions in the transfer market. It would soon show. City and Liverpool have won every league title between them since 2017.

United got a lot wrong with transfers between Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement in 2013 and the arrival of two football directors in Darren Fletcher and John Murtough in 2021. They made fewer mistakes with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer at the helm, but it’s only now the club have the opportunity to wipe the slate clean.

Still, though, the opportunity might slip United by.

They can sell Pogba this month, or allow him to leave on a free in the summer. They can sell Anthony Martial — another expensive and inconsistent Van Gaal signing — this month, if they really want to. They can sell Bailly, Phil Jones and Jesse Lingard — all of whom had their United peaks under Van Gaal and Mourinho — if they so choose.

Yet the inactivity when it comes to outgoings this January is infuriating supporters.

Ralf Rangnick inherited a hodgepodge of a squad, littered with signings made by Ferguson, David Moyes, Van Gaal, Mourinho and Solskjaer. It’s little wonder there’s been no coherent philosophy or style with this United team, or that Rangnick has struggled to impose one in a matter of weeks.

United have to move on from the mistakes of the past to properly progress.

Yet so far this month, they’re not grasping the chance. Rangnick, the transfer guru, and his two football-focussed directors must start righting the wrongs of the Van Gaal and Mourinho eras.

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