So the axe has finally fallen on Louis Van Gaal’s reign at Manchester United. The veteran Dutch tactician has cut a disgruntled and cantankerous figure in recent months, as he put up a defiant front against the growing reports suggesting his job was in jeopardy.

Van Gaal can point the finger of blame at the English press, who he claims have “already sacked me for six months”. He might blame the expectations of United’s fans, as he asserts it is unreasonable of them to think their team should be top-four certainties, let alone title challengers.

But ultimately, Van Gaal has fallen short of his primary objectives; last weekend’s FA Cup win – United’s first majory trophy of the post-Ferguson era – will allow him to leave with a measure of success, but failure to qualify for next season’s Champions League, coupled with the drab playing style he has produced, has seen to it that van Gaal will be ushered into early retirement.

And it would appear that the worst kept secret in football over the last six months is finally out: José Mourinho will be Manchester United manager next season.

Mourinho certainly doesn’t come without his fair share of caveats, but the 53-year-old former Chelsea and Real Madrid boss is a born winner who will back himself to bring the glory days back to old Trafford; there’ll be no complaints about expectations being too high from the outspoken Portuguese.

The squad that Van Gaal will bequeath to his former assistant is one of reasonable quality, but there are several players whose confidence seems to have taken a hit over the past season or two. Mourinho will have to assess which players he feels still have something to offer, and which members of the squad need to be moved on.

The likes of Memphis Depay, Ander Herrera and Morgan Schneiderlin have all had disappointing campaigns, but Mourinho will recognise that each can be restored to a level where they can be important cogs in the machine he is looking to build.

Juan Mata will be nervous to discover whether he has a future under Mourinho, after the Portuguese determined that Mata lacked the tactical discipline to fit in at Chelsea, despite the fact that the Spaniard was voted the club’s player of the year two seasons running.

Although he hasn’t pulled up any trees in his time with United, Mata has been a solid performer with a respectable goals and assists output (10 goals and eight assists from 52 appearances this season). Mourinho will have more pressing squad management issues to resolve before deciding what to do with Mata, so the former Valencia player may yet be given time to prove his worth.

There are three players in particular, however, that Mourinho should be looking to ship out of Old Trafford if he is to re-shape the current United squad.

England defender Phil Jones joined the Red Devils from Blackburn Rovers in 2011, when he was just 19 years old. Hailed as a future England captain, the versatile player’s Old Trafford career has been hampered by injury. Jones has averaged fewer than 20 Premier League appearances across his five seasons as a United player, and when he has played, he has often been shifted around between full-back, centre-back and central-midfield.

Jones, now 24, has suffered as a consequence of his position-shifting and, five years on, it is hard to point to any area of his game which has markedly improved since his £16.5m move from Blackburn.

Despite only having 13 appearances to his name all season, and having been out of the first-team picture since an injury in January, Jones was named among United’s substitutes for the FA cup final ahead of more deserving candidates such as youngsters Cameron Borthwick-Jackson and Timothy Fosu-Mensah. Mourinho should now call time on Jones’s United career in favour of utilising some on the promising young defenders beginning to emerge.

Marouane Fellaini has produced some commendable performances during United’s triumphant cup run. But the Belgian falls some way short of the technical ability expected of a standout United midfielder. For all his physicality and aerial prowess – which in itself is somewhat overstated – he lacks the quality of passing and touch needed in a top-class player. His propensity to violently swing his elbows around has cost United of late, after retrospective punishment saw the former Everton player suspended for the final three league matches of the season. With reported interest from Roma and AC Milan, Mourinho should look to cash-in on David Moyes’s first signing as United boss.

The major positive credited to Van Gaal during his United reign has been his commitment to playing young players from the club’s academy. Marcus Rashford and Jessie Lingard have thrived since being given their first-team debut by the former Ajax manager. But any credit van Gaal earnt for blooding youngsters has been undermined by his readiness to drop some of them as soon as a more senior player becomes available.

The case in point here is how Marcos Rojo was preferred to either Borthwick-Jackson or Fosu-Mensah at left-back. The Argentinian has been a fixture since his return from mid-season injury, despite some utterly horrific performances. Mourinho will surely have witnessed Rojo’s abject form and can have only concluded that the former Spartak Moscow player is surplus to requirements.

In terms on incomings, it would appear that Mourinho has already identified several potential signings. Star names such as Zlatan Ibrahimović, James Rodríguez and Raphaël Varane have all been mentioned in speculative newspaper articles.

Mourinho will have highlighted the need for a new centre-back, a creative midfielder, right-winger and striker. And with United ready to back him in the transfer window to the tune of £200 million, the former Porto boss will undoubtedly be sifting through agent Jorge Mendes’s list of clients and contacts as though it were his own personal shopping catalogue.

For United fans, with the arrival of a new manager, and a potential cast of incoming players, the off-season stands to provide more entertainment than they’ve seen on the pitch for some time.

About the author – Ryan Baldi

Ryan is a Midlands based freelance sports writer specialising in European football. He has been fascinated with the continental game ever since he was presented with his first football kit at the age of 7 years old whilst on holiday in Spain – a Barcelona shirt with ‘Romario 10’ printed on the back. A contributor to numerous footballing websites, Ryan has also covered martial arts for local and national print publications. Ryan’s musings on European football can be found here. 

twitter: @RyanBaldiEFB


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The term ‘World XI’ and Watford FC might appear to be as dubious a partnership as Roy Evans and Gerard Houllier, but the newly promoted Premier League outfit are notorious for their global range of players.

Loading up their squad list at the start of Soccer Manager 16 reveals an astonishing TWENTY THREE different nationalities.

There are more tongues in the dressing room than a youth disco.

Which prompts the obvious challenge – give the Watford squad a homegrown overhaul, while avoiding relegation.

Without wanting to sound like a questionable UKIP campaign, my mission is to transform the Hornets’s line-up to contain players solely from English, Scottish, Irish, Welsh or Northern Irish backgrounds.

It’s something approaching mission impossible – I’m no Tom Cruise, but I am similarly diminutive, which should qualify me for a starring role.

This is my diary as I play through the challenge.

This is the second installment. To read July’s diary, click here.



The month begins with just over £5M in the bank, and a 2-1 friendly defeat to West Ham, though Callum McManaman scores for the third fixture in succession.

Shane Long (88) joins to share the goal-scoring burden, and is straight into the line-up for the first competitive game of the season – a visit from fellow newly-promoted outfit Norwich City, with precious Premier League points on offer.

The squad meets my homegrown criteria, though the bench is worryingly feeble. Less hornet, more house fly.

I select a 4-3-3 formation, resisting the urge to partner Long with Troy Deeney (85) up front, with the new signing picked ahead of the club captain to spearhead the attack.

But it’s Norwich’s frontline that dominates the early highlights, with a defensive cock up from new boy Adam Matthews (86) allowing Wes Hoolahan an easy opener.

Somehow, we dominate possession, despite playing a direct passing style, but are unable to find a breakthrough – and second half sub Deeney spurns a double-chance after a one-on-one to rescue a point.

Overall, the performance is OK but the squad’s lack of depth is exposed – my only real option from the bench was the ineffective skipper.

It’s back to the transfer market for me.


Ecuadorian winger Juan Paredes (86) is offloaded to West Brom for £2.25M, Hearts splurge £2.79M on Valon Behrami (89) and Fernando Forestieri (83) joins Hamilton for £2.03M.

Some of those funds are promptly reinvested in Kyle Naughton (87), whose versatility will be vital, ahead of a visit to Old Trafford, and the daunting prospect of Manchester United in the second game of the season.

Naughton replaces Matthews in the starting line up, at right back, but the squad otherwise remains the same.

With Paul Robinson (82) in goal, we find ourselves three down at half time, with Marouane Fellaini (91) adding to a Wayne Rooney brace.

Long misses a sitter moments before the break, and is punished by getting the hook, Deeney coming on in his place.

Deeney, though, repeats his team mate’s trick by wasting the first chance of the second half. We cling on for the rest of the match, with some brave defending from Phil Jagielka, in particular, but are well beaten.


By the time the team coach pulls off the M25 back into Watford, news of the League Cup second round comes through, with Millwall set to visit Vicarage Road. At least we avoided a rapid return to United.

The £3.2M departure of Odion Ighalo (86) frees up enough funds to capture Joe Allen (88) from Liverpool for £5.5M, an exciting signing for Watford irrespective of self-imposed restrictions.

My continued search for a decent goalkeeper, though, is running out of steam and, even when quickfire sales leave more than £10M in the bank, I’m unable to find a new number one.

So Robinson continues for the visit of Leicester City, a game it is crucial the side take something from.

Allen takes Ben Watson’s place in the starting line-up, and the squad is starting to shape up – though there are notable shortcomings in the centre of defence and between the sticks.

I can’t help but eye my reserve team with envy; the likes of Heurelho Gomes (85), Etienne Capoue (89) and Alessandro Diamanti (88) would be very welcome options.

Said weaknesses are exposed after just nine minutes, as Ritchie De Laet, inexplicably selected as a winger, crosses for Leonardo Ulloa (87) to head home unopposed.

Thankfully, my sulk is short lived, as we equalise straight from kick-off – James McArthur (86) bundling in the rebound from Long’s effort.

It’s not the most spectacular goal, but it’s the first competitive strike in my reign, so I celebrate like I’ve just seen a worldie.

My girlfriend reacts as though she’s just seen someone throw up in the street.

Leicester retake the lead with a carbon copy of their first, but from the opposite flank, with Shinji Okazaki (89) this time free to nod in – but, again, we’re level almost immediately, Anya tucking away instinctively from a corner.

On the hour mark, for the first time in the match – nay, season – we take the lead, when debutant Allen heads a duplicate of Leicester’s goals.

It sets up a dramatic finale, but the Foxes look shorn of options, and Jagielka is again commanding as we hold out for a first Premier League victory.

Even the chairman is impressed, as I receive a note of congratulations and thanks.

Presumably, he’s taken Quique Sanchez off speed dial now.


With time running out before the transfer window’s closure, I splash out on a record signing – the £7.71M acquisition of Phil Jones (89) from Manchester United.

Although, ideally, I’d add two wingers and a first choice goalkeeper, at the very least, to my squad, a remaining balance of just £3M, and five big money players still sat in the reserves, means I’m again hamstrung in the market.

Clearly, me and Louis Van Gaal hit it off earlier in the season, as he generously takes two more of my unwanted players off my hands, replenishing my pocket with a further £6M.

With just two days left of the transfer window, the visit of Newcastle is not the most conveniently timed fixture, though Jones is given his debut alongside Jagielka in the centre of defence.

That looks solid, but it’s hard to imagine many defences quivering at the prospect of facing Anya and McManaman (both 85) down the flanks.

With this in mind, I drop the pair to the bench, and switch to a 4-3-1-2 formation, with Watson (86) taking on the trequarista role, behind Deeney, who has been reinstated alongside Long.

It’s an attacking line up, but we’re behind within three minutes, Moussa Sissoko (90) converting from a corner.

Long equalises with a neat finish on the half hour mark, but Yoan Gouffran (88) robs the uncharacteristically ponderous Jagielka to put the visitors back in front.

Our adventure is rewarded with a point, though, when Long is hacked down; the Irishman bravely dispatching from the spot before hobbling off with a foot injury that will keep him out for just over a week.

How very un-footballer like.

It’s an encouraging display, but any thoughts of sticking with the 4-2-3-1 permanently are dashed by Long’s injury – a reminder of what little back up I have in reserve.

Instead, I make two last-ditch signings in the minutes before the window shuts – adding widemen Scott Sinclair (87) and Wayne Routledge (87) for a combined £6.83M. 4-3-3 it is, then.

It leaves me satisfied with my overall squad, with a top level goalkeeper the only box to go unticked – while just three players remain on the transfer list, rotting in the reserves, along with three redundant loanees.

Overall, it feels like a successful window – though I won’t be able to remedy anything for another four months…


About the author – Lee Price

Lee Price is a journalist and author with a passion for football, and crucially, virtual football management.

twitter: @Lee_Price


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