A proud Jose Mourinho delved into the regret of missing his daughter’s graduation, as he sounded the first notes on Manchester United’s 2018-19 campaign.
As he took a seat in the press auditorium at United’s base here in Los Angeles, Mourinho postponed answering the first question on the vast number of World Cup absentees from his pre-season training camp and instead focused on his daughter Matilde’s graduation from London’s University of Arts.
“Maybe you understand that our lives have some frustrations and one of them is not to be there. But that’s the nature of the job,” he said.
But that was Mourinho at his happiest. For the next 13 minutes, the United boss cut a downbeat figure, as he fretted over the lack of first-teamers at his disposal and how that will affect his side in the season’s early stages. Mourinho loves his pre-season trips to the sun-kissed pitches of the UCLA campus. He’s been bringing sides to southern California since 2004 and clearly believes it’s an integral part of preparing his side for the rigours of the Premier League.
Yet Mourinho simply doesn’t have the numbers to create a finely-tuned machine this summer. Nine players will miss the entirety of United’s fortnight stay in the US. Nemanja Matic, David De Gea and £52m signing Fred won’t link up with the squad until next week. Alexis Sanchez remains in the UK amidst visa wrangles. Oh, and £19m new recruit Diogo Dalot is out until September through injury.
“Pre-season is very bad, I have to say that. The only positive thing of pre-season is for the young boys that have a fantastic opportunity to train with us and know what it is to be a Manchester United first team player,” said Mourinho. “Next week will come De Gea, Matic and Fred which is good, especially for Fred, a new player to be with us. But everything is really bad. Then we go [back] to the UK and we have to play Premier League.
“I’m worried. I have to be worried. I’m worried because I’m not training and then [we] go to the Premier League without lots of players. But we have to try to make the best out of it and work with the players we have here. Maybe it’s good for Luke Shaw, Eric Bailly, Andreas Pereira.”
Efforts continue to resolve Sanchez’s visa issues, which relate to a 16-month suspended jail sentence in February for tax fraud in Spain.
But Mourinho is unsure if they will be resolved in time for the former Arsenal forward to play a part in United’s Stateside pre-season programme, which starts with a clash against Mexican side Club America in the early hours of Thursday, before games against San Jose Earthquakes, AC Milan, Liverpool and Real Madrid.
“If Alexis is not working with us for 15 to 20 days, it will be very bad,” said Mourinho. “I know the club is making the effort. I have to respect the US authorities in their process and selection of visas. Hopefully he can come and join us later, because it will be important to work with him.”
Neither is Mourinho counting on further signings to boost his squad. United have brought in Fred, Dalot and back-up keeper Lee Grant this summer. But amidst speculation concerning long-term target Ivan Perisic, Mourinho cooled transfer expectations.
“I’m not going to say somebody is coming or nobody is coming. I really don’t know,” added Mourinho. “We lost Michael Carrick and we think Fred is the kind of player that we need to complement the qualities of our midfield players.”
If there is a slim source of solace for Mourinho amidst the absentees, it’s that his new backroom team of Kieran McKenna, Stefano Rapetti and Michael Carrick can ease into their roles.
“It’s very good for them not to start immediately with the whole group all together. They can adapt to me, to my needs and to start working in new role for them,” he said.
But the only real positive footballing note sounded by Mourinho was that he will able to call on a World Cup winner when his full squad finally reassembles next month. Mourinho sent a congratulatory message to Paul Pogba after his instrumental role in France’s triumph in Russia, and is confident that the midfielder will be able to translate his form from the latter stages of the competition, when he resumes his United career.
“To win the World Cup can only be a positive thing. It’s difficult to say that to win the World Cup is not good for a player’s career. It’s amazing, fantastic,” added Mourinho. “So many good players have never had the chance to be world champions or their country is not strong enough. For Paul, I think it’s the first World Cup that he’s gone to and to be a world champion can only be fantastic.
“It’s a young team, apart from [Hugo] Lloris, they have more Euros and World Cups together. So I think the future for him in the French national team can only be brilliant. I hope that he understands why he was so good. That’s the point about his performance level and his contribution to a winning team. It’s important for him to understand why he was so good in the second part of the competition. In the final, he was absolutely brilliant.”