The toxic cloud of discontent and civil unrest which looms over Old Trafford took on an even darker colour yesterday evening as Manchester United were dismantled by a clinical Tottenham Hotspur side.
Jose Mourinho’s negative attitude in the media regarding a whole host of issues over the summer has already soured relations between manager and supporters, and United’s latest performance has done nothing to convince the fans that the Portuguese manager is the right man for the job.
It’s beginning to feel as if a new era has begun in English football which is rapidly leaving Mourinho behind in the shadow of progressive-minded managers such as Mauricio Pochettino, Jurgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola who favour a free-flowing attacking approach over the rigid, defensive approach which the ‘special one’ has implemented to wonderful effect throughout his career so far.
But the special one is rapidly becoming the average one as his defensive system is no longer enabling his side to keep opponents at bay, as United supporters were made to realise on Monday night.
Phil Jones, Ander Herrera and Chris Smalling were all culpable of poor individual mistakes for each of Tottenham’s three goals and the role in which the aforementioned players played in Tottenham’s success served to reiterate how desperately short United are of natural leaders in defensive positions.
That United have failed to sign a central defender of true quality in recent years with the ability to install genuine solidity into the back-four is one of the biggest failures of the post-Ferguson era, especially considering the club had a golden opportunity to sign Stefan de Vrij on a free transfer this summer.
After turning down the offer of a new contract at Lazio, the Serie A club confirmed in February 2018 that he would depart on a free transfer when his contract expired. The Netherlands international has since joined Inter Milan as he bids to establish himself with one of the most prestigious clubs in European football.
Although the 26-year-old centre-back is unproven in English football, there is no doubt that his arrival would have transformed a United defence which is lacking the presence of a figurehead who has the potential to rediscover the defensive spirit which Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand embodied under Sir Alex Ferguson.
De Vrij averaged just 0.9 tackles per game with Lazio last season which is indicative of his immense ability to anticipate danger and rarely need to break up play with a tackle. Standing at 6ft 2in, De Vrij has the physical presence to make himself a match for any centre-forward in the Premier League, but the only concern for United would relate to his unfortunate history with injuries.
And the fact he managed to notch 6 goals from central defence last season suggests that he would become a valuable weapon from set-pieces.
There is no doubt that the recently recruited defender would now command a huge price tag at Inter Milan who would undoubtedly acquire a huge profit if they decided to sell him to United in the future.
After having the opportunity to sign De Vrij on a free transfer this year, it’s fair to say Ed Woodward missed a trick in the transfer market by failing to hand Mourinho a new defensive general on a bargain free transfer.
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