Manchester United’s 89m pound purchase of Paul Pogba shows that a club outside the Champions League can still attract the very best talent.
Whether that will be enough to get the 13-time Premiership winners back into Europe’s elite competition though remains to be season. If anything, United’s early season form, capped by a recent run of three defeats in a week, suggests Jose Mourinho has a monumental task on his hands.
There can be no doubting Man Utd’s ambitions after a summer in which Pogba was only the last of an influx of star names – Henrik Mkhitaryan, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Mourinho – and the manager’s early season assertion that they’ll be aiming “to win everything” is just as it should be for a club of such massive reputation and means.
Of course, means – deep pockets – and, to a lesser extent, reputation are exactly what a team outside the Champions League needs to attract top talent. Let’s face it: this is Manchester United, not any other club. Leicester and Tottenham took a very different route into the top four last season – they could never attract a Pogba. United’s chosen path is more reminiscent of that taken by two other clubs with cash – Chelsea and Manchester City.
This come great expectations though, and expectations of instant success too. With Mourinho in charge, his last season at Chelsea regardless, those expectations are even larger. Three defeats in a week is not part of that script. Neither is poor start by a superstar transferred for a world record fee. Nor are disjointed, uninspiring team performances, the likes of which left the Reds on the wrong end of a 3-1 score-line at Watford last Sunday.
Under the circumstances, United’s clash with Leicester at Old Trafford this afternoon takes on extra significance. A win would keep the critics at bay – at least for now – and the symbolism of taming the champions should boost confidence no end.
Another defeat and the alarm bells would kick in. Big time.