Manchester United’s players left Bayern Munich’s Allianz Arena late on Sunday with more urgency than they had shown on the pitch in the team’s soporific 1-0 friendly defeat to the German champions.
With a chartered aircraft needing to take off by midnight to avoid the team having to stay in Germany overnight, only Phil Jones stopped to talk to the few English journalists who travelled to Bavaria, while Jose Mourinho didn’t do his normal post-match press conference.
In truth, there was not much the players could say that they had not already. Alexis Sanchez aside, they have all done their bit with the media in preseason and accentuated any positives over negatives. Their manager has tended to do the opposite; while he has been more cheerful in private and worked hard, he wants reinforcements and, after a pitiful game vs. Bayern in which United could not manage a shot on target, you could understand why.
United were invited to Munich because they are a global great with star appeal. The club have the history, the trophies and the support that saw 1,400 fans travel to a friendly game in another country. Many came from England while others arrived in big groups from countries in central Europe. Be it for memorials or matches, some supporters have been to Munich so many times that the staff in the Schiller Bar by the central station greet them by name.
Fans will travel for better or worse and United were England’s best-supported team when they played in the second division during the mid-1970s. Football is only part of the reason for travel and those, who spent a day sampling German beers before making their way on the U8 train line to the stadium on Sunday, hardly looked unhappy with their lot.
They shared have similar concerns about their team but will make judgements once the season starts and there is not much that a player can say to change views. Besides, we already know what most of them think: Andreas Pereira wants to stay; Luke Shaw is determined to win a place in the side.
Jones, meanwhile, said that he had been asked about his future in every single one of the seven seasons since he arrived at the club and that it was entirely normal for United to be constantly linked with new players.
After he spoke, Jerome Boateng walked past him with his earphones on and looking at his mobile, without stopping to speak to the gathered media. Minutes earlier, a credible German source reported that United had made an offer for the Bayern central defender, who came on as substitute during the game.
United are spinning different plates as they try and sign a centre-back before Thursday’s transfer deadline. They want Harry Maguire, but think Leicester are asking for too much money. Interest in Toby Alderweireld, meanwhile, has always been denied by United and has instead come from the Tottenham end. Yerry Mina was of interest but his agent wanted the earth and a bit more on top.
Despite the obstacles, United’s approach does not seem convincing and none of the names linked are absolute standouts either, like Raphael Varane or ex-United man Gerard Pique. Big clubs do not want or need to sell their best players anymore than United want to sell David De Gea or Paul Pogba.
A new signing will be welcomed because they always are — Alan Smith (ex-Leeds) and Michael Owen (ex-Liverpool and a replacement for Cristiano Ronaldo) stretched that notion, mind you — but a further consideration is whether all those names are better than players already at Old Trafford?
Mina was hit and miss with Barcelona, though he impressed for Colombia at the World Cup and built a fine reputation playing in South America. Alderweireld is very good and he wants to leave Spurs, but is he worthy of being football’s most expensive defender, especially when he can move for free in a year?
Many would probably still say “yes” because United have the money and would recoup some back if they can sell a defender, most likely Marcos Rojo. But the last time the club appeared desperate as a window closed was when Marouane Fellaini arrived in 2013. Ask managers what they think of the Belgian midfielder and they will say he has been a success. The views among fans would be more varied.
Supporters would like to see a settled central defensive partnership but, if there is one area of the pitch where United have been afflicted by injury in recent seasons, it is there. They are all fit going into the new season, though Bailly limped off in the heat of Munich after starting alongside Victor Lindelof. The partnership could complement each other, but is also a risk given how seldom they have played together.
While Mourinho is not a fan of the transfer window’s early closing, at least he will know exactly where he stands before Friday’s opening Premier League game at home to Leicester and the rest of August will not carry the distraction of the transfer window.
What’s more, maybe one day Mourinho will and explain what has happened in recent weeks. His predecessor Louis van Gaal did an interview on Dutch television for three hours on Sunday evening and Holland was enraptured, far more than United fans were by his style of football.
Sadly, not enough has changed since he left two years ago.