Despite ending the season with an FA Cup win, Manchester United took the decision to sack manager Louis Van Gaal after league performances faltered, meaning United missed out on a Champions League spot for the second season in a row, instead having to contend with a spot in the second tier European competition the UEFA Europa League. The Dutchman spent two seasons at the helm having been chosen as the club’s second manager since the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson after 26 glorious years, off the back of an abysmal campaign under the reign of former Everton manager David Moyes, who failed to hold the position a full season after a poor run of results. The Old Trafford club finished the season under the leadership of club legend Ryan Giggs, who then took the decision to retire after spending his entire senior career with the Red Devils. The former Welsh International then became part of David Moyes’ coaching staff as a player coach, and later chosen to be Van Gaal’s assistant for his two seasons in the hotseat. Upon the sacking of the former Netherlands boss, Giggs decided to step down as assistant despite being offered the chance to remain in the post as former Chelsea boss Mourinho was appointed manager ahead of the 16/17 Premier League season.
The Portuguese boss, who’s former clubs also include Inter Milan, Real Madrid and Porto, was said to be after the United job for some time. Many thought he would be the man to succeed Sir Alex upon his retirement in 2013, but upon leaving Real Madrid eventually ended back at his former employers Chelsea. After seeing the Stamford Bridge club finish in 12th place after an appauling run of results, notorious Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich, who has become famous for appointing and sacking a considerable amount of managers since his purchase of the club in 2003, became frustrated at his team’s performance, and took the decision to sack Mourinho. When appointed manager of United, José got straight to work to build the team to his liking, signing four players in his first transfer window at the helm, including Villareal defender Eric Bailly, Dortmund winger Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Swedish striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic and finally the capture of former youth team player Paul Pogba from Juventus, having to break the world record fee in the process.
Each of the players that were signed by Mourinho slotted into his setup remarkably well, with the exception of Mkhitaryan who unfortunately suffered setbacks in the form of injury throughout the course of the season, however when called upon after being publicly motivated by Mourinho, performing exceptionally well in United’s Europa League campaign scoring 11 goals in his debut season. Arguably Mourinho’s best signing was that of Swedish giant Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who was signed on a free transfer from French club Paris Saint German. People were quick to judge the the former Barcelona and Inter Milan striker who was approaching his 35th birthday, and argued he would not be able to cope with such a physically demanding league which is widely regarded as the best in the world. The Swede proved his doubters wrong, scoring an incredible 28 goals in all competitions despite cruelly ending his season early with a long term injury, eventually leading to his release from the club. Upon the season ending, Mourinho must now make it an absolute priority to replace the Swedish international, as United have been linked with several big names, such as Real Madrid forward Alvaro Morata, as well as former player Cristiano Ronaldo.
Ivory Coast defender Eric Bailly also had a fantastic first season, receiving plaudits from around the world, becoming accustomed to the Premier League with ease, and for the majority of the season formed a formidable partnership with Argentinian international Marcos Rojo in the centre of defence. The towering center back once plied his trade in La Liga with Villareal, and was a loss to the team when suffering from injury towards the latter stages of the season, as well as being called up to his national squad for the African Cup of Nations at the start of the year.
Mourinho’s final signing of last summer was French international Paul Pogba, who left United for Juventus having failing to agree to a contract with The Old Trafford club under the reign of Sir Alex Ferguson. He was signed from French club Le Havre and formed part of the United youth squad. However having seen his first team chances limited departed for Serie A, and went on to become a huge part of the Juventus setup, scoring spectacular goals which most certainly caught the eye of José Mourinho, who then re-signed the player for a world record fee of around £90m. Many questioned the monumental fee that the Frenchman commanded, and a huge amount of pressure was placed on his shoulders, as he had a lot to live up to to justify the huge price tag United had spent on him. Despite not scoring perhaps as many goals over the course of the season as many expected, the 24 year old formed a huge part of Mourinho’s squad, featuring regularly and stats proved his worth overall despite him scoring 5 goals in 30 appearances.
United finished the season in sixth place, having endured a frustrating amount of home draws, performing better on the road. The final league position was lower than what was achieved by Louis Van Gaal the previous season, and many ridiculed Mourinho for placing more emphasis on the club’s Europa League campaign to gain entry to the Champions League next season, as opposed to a top four finish. However, after beating Ajax in Sweden to earn United their first ever Europa League trophy last month, the Portuguese boss achieved his goal of getting United into the top European competition next season. Coupled with a League Cup Final win against Southampton, United finished the season with a double, which is more than can be said for the first seasons of David Moyes and Louis Van Gaal, and so overall Mourinho’s first season in charge can most certainly be classed as a success, despite an under-par performance in the league.
It goes without saying that United have room for improvement, and Mourinho’s plans for next season are fully underway, with several arrivals and departures expected at Old Trafford. The Red Devils have already began their summer transfer business having sealed the transfer of Swedish international Victor Lindelof in a £30m deal from Portuguese club Benfica, and have been linked with several other players. The question remains however on the future of club captain Wayne Rooney, who has received a heavy amount of criticism for recent performances, and was resigned to the bench for a considerable amount of last season. Will he still be at Old Trafford come next season? That remains to be seen.