Manchester United’s hopes of reinforcing their squad before Thursday’s 5.0pm transfer deadline appear to be over after José Mourinho said his latest information was that the club had been unable to secure any of their targets.
Mourinho said it was “time to stop thinking about the market” and, unless there is a dramatic change throughout the day, that means United will be trying to win their first Premier League title since Sir Alex Ferguson’s final season without the new centre-half that the current manager had identified as a priority.
Mourinho's targets for that position were primarily Leicester City's Harry Maguire, Jérôme Boateng of Bayern Munich and Toby Alderweireld of Tottenham Hotspur. Ivan Perisic, the Croatia international, also featured prominently on Mourinho's wish list but it now seems that United's summer transfer business will be restricted to the arrivals of Fred, the injured Diogo Dalot and Lee Grant, signed from Stoke City as a third-choice goalkeeper.
“I’m not confident,” Mourinho said, when asked whether there would be more players arriving before the deadline. “I’m not confident and the market closes today so it is time, at least for me, to stop thinking about the market because the market will be closed, so I will have to focus on the players I have.”
Mourinho was speaking at a 9am press conference and his words did not equivocally rule out the possibility of something happening. However, there was no indication that it was a deliberate tactic on his part or that he was being economical with the truth. He was also asked a follow-up question to clarify that there would be no incomings or outgoings throughout the day. “The information I have is no,” he replied matter-of-factly.
United finished as runners-up last season, 19 points behind Manchester City, and Mourinho has already made it clear that his team needs more players if they are to overhaul their neighbours in the new campaign. His side face Leicester City in their opening fixture at Old Trafford on Friday and it was put to Mourinho that there was a perception the club had gone backwards over the summer.
“My view is that, first of all, it is difficult for me to believe we finished second because when I listen, when I read - not much but sometimes I do – you [THE MEDIA]are capable of making people that finish second look like they were relegated, and people who win nothing, finish below us, you make them look like serial winners. It is difficult for me to understand we finish second. I keep saying that I won eight championships and three Premier Leagues but I keep feeling that second last season was one of my biggest achievements in the game.”
That felt like a reference to Liverpool but, more importantly for United, it was also an admission that it will need a dramatic improvement this season for his own team to bridge the gap. Mourinho also has selection problems for the Leicester game, with Ander Herrera, Nemanja Matic, Marcos Rojo, Antonio Valencia and Dalot ruled out because of injuries and Paul Pogba, Jesse Lingard, Ashley Young and Marouane Fellaini not considered fully fit after being given extra time off to recover from the World Cup.
“They returned on Monday, trained Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and today so you can imagine they are not really fit and ready but we have needs,” Mourinho said. “The list of injured players is an important list and, after training, I will speak with that group of [WORLD CUP]players because everybody is different, physically and mentally, to see how they feel they are and to understand how they can help or not help.”
Romelu Lukaku, Marcus Rashford and Phil Jones all came back early from their own extended breaks but Mourinho sounded downbeat again when he was asked about the new season. "In Championship Manager you can just press a button. In football you need time to work and players on the pitch to work and we didn't have that until now. I was told that during pre-season it looked like I was saying something absolutely out of order, something crazy. I repeat: pre-season difficult when you don't have your players to work, as simple as that."