The season may now be over for Manchester United, but there’s still been plenty of events to ponder both on and off the pitch over the last week.
In the continuation of this new weekly series, United’s VAVEL writers provide their thoughts on the past seven days’ events; including whether the Europa League win was enough for this season to be considered a successful one, transfer rumours and contract decisions.
United’s Europa League win was Jose Mourinho’s second piece of silverware for the season and ensured Champions League qualification for next term. Is that a good enough campaign for the Red Devils, and what would you consider a success come the end of next season?
Alex Turk: A 'successful' season? No, I don't think so. However, the 2016/2017 campaign was certainly a good one where, in the end, United reached their minimum expectations and the building blocks are there to improve and challenge on all fronts next season. As far as targets for 2017/2018 go, with the club set to spend in the region of £300m this summer a Premier League title challenge is crucial, top three at least, and reaching the Champions League quarter-finals would have to be classed as respectable for the first time back in the competition.
Ninad Barbadikar: I agree with Alex, it certainly hasn't been a season you'd call successful, but then we've achieved our targets by taking the long route and the hard path - we've done it. Managing 64 games in one season is no easy task, regardless of the circumstances and Jose Mourinho deserves credit as well. Winning these trophies has set us up well for next season and a full-fledged title challenge should be the aim, while going as far as we can in the Champions League should also be a priority.
Harry Robinson: Ultimately, yes. The title, or at least a title challenge, was the target. Top four was expected, almost seen as certain. The Premier League has proved a far greater challenge for both Mourinho and United and Pep Guardiola and Manchester City than anyone expected. However, when it comes down to it, United have won two trophies or more [in one season] only six times in their history, and so this season can't be classified as anything but a success. You can only win what you're in, and United did that in the Europa League. United fans had two days out to Wembley, one in Stockholm and three lesser trophies to celebrate, and look forward to the Champions League next season.
Craig Millar: It has to be viewed as a successful season. Two major trophies with a new manager? No manager had previously won one at United [in their first season]. The league was very disappointing, but ask Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur fans if they would swap with us – I am sure they would. The league has to be the priority next term. However, United need a good summer for that to happen having been so far off the pace this year.
Danial Kennedy: Overall, it has been a successful season for the Red Devils. Their performance in the Premier League has been below par despite the unbeaten run, especially towards the end of the campaign when the Europa League became a priority. But on the other hand, Mourinho is a man who believes trophies equal success rather than statistics and he has certainly delivered on that front. The Community Shield and EFL Cup are nice touches but winning the Europa League for the first time is the big prize, and that with qualification for next season’s Champions League which was the main goal for the season; I can’t be more than happy with that. In terms of next season, it is important that we progress forward, we still have quite a way to go in terms of how our squad looks but I think that the calibre of club we are talking, challenging in both the league and Champions League is the only realistic aspiration.
Michael Carrick’s deserved testimonial is coming up this weekend. But was the decision to reward him with a new one-year contract extension the correct one?
Alex: I think it was, yes, especially as it's only a one-year extension but the role he plays should include less game-time and more time spent helping the younger players develop into first-team prospects. And given Michael Carrick's age, I can't see him being a regular name in the matchday squad, which is likely to be the case knowing José Mourinho's hunger to bring in a new midfielder. The 35-year-old has been a terrific servant to the club over the past 11 years though, and I'm sure I'd be speaking for a lot of Reds when I say it's great to see him sticking around until June 2018.
Ninad: Rewarding Carrick with a new contract was the right call. He was instrumental in our campaign last year and features regularly despite his age. I believe we need leaders and senior players in the dressing room for next season, who can guide this young team when the tough matches come along. We saw what happened when the likes of Rio Ferdinand and Patrice Evra all left at once; it created a huge void of leadership in the squad. So all in all, it was the correct decision.
Harry: Carrick's testimonial will see the Europa League paraded around the pitch at Old Trafford. That's the trophy that completed the collection for both he and Wayne Rooney. Carrick's had an incredible career, when you sit back and think about it. He deserves whatever he wants, and not only that, but he helped advise Angel Gomes (the 16-year-old who made his debut against Crystal Palace) ahead of his involvement with the first team. He's begun coaching at much younger levels with United as he works towards his badges. If he can play 5-10 games next season when needed, continue to have the influence on youngsters coming through and act as the senior figure with experience in the dressing room, a new contract is brilliant.
Craig: The decision to keep Carrick was a great one. He was ignored to begin with, but when he finally was given opportunities he showed his worth. He helps the likes of Paul Pogba too. He was left out of the Europa League final and that shows he is not going to be a regular starter. His experience is vital though and he is a class act who deserves at least one more year.
Danial: Carrick has been one of most loyal servants in the modern era and the win in Stockholm brought his career full circle in terms of what there is to win at the domestic level. Like many fans I have been hoping for an extension of Carrick’s contract, the mutual love between the player and the fans is clear to see and it is excellent to see him extend his legacy one year further. In terms of his chances, they will likely be a lot slimmer than in previous years; the 35-year-old doesn’t have the legs that he once had and in the fast-paced nature of the game it will become more and more difficult to see his place. However, it would be safe to assume that his work will be more off the pitch in the dressing room where he will shine. Young Angel Gomes has already spoken of the work he did with him in his few minutes against Palace and Carrick will play a major role in the development of the kids coming through.
Likewise, Antonio Valencia extended his Old Trafford deal in the last week. He’s had a fantastic season and his new contract is probably just reward for that, but should he still be the club’s first choice right-back next season?
Alex: There's no doubt in my mind that Antonio Valencia should be United's first-choice right-back next season. The Ecuadorian powerhouse was faultless in almost every single game he featured in throughout the 2016/2017 campaign and was only not on the pitch when either injured or rested for a bigger, upcoming game. Not only does the fact that Mourinho has handed the 31-year-old a three-year deal highlight his love for the defender, but it's actually the second extension he's been awarded under the Portuguese manager which simply expresses how impressive the Players’ Player of the Year has actually been in recent times.
Ninad: Valencia fully deserves the new contract and was terrific for us last season, deservedly the Players' Player of the Year as well. I think he should be the first choice at least until next season, and before then Mourinho can assess his options and try out the likes of Timothy Fosu-Mensah and maybe even Guillermo Varela at right-back.
Harry: Mourinho described Valencia as the best right-back in the league on more than one occasion this season. That's debatable. But, he's a fantastic player, and there are very few other players in the world who I'd replace him with. His last contract extension came only 6 months ago, showing how much Mourinho rates him. He deserves it, and deserved Man Utd's Player of the Year award for quality and consistency.
Craig: Yes. Valencia is as fit as a butcher’s dog. He is a beast of a player and has been outstanding. His conversion to a full back has been sensational. Paul Scholes dismissed him as a fullback, but he proved any doubters wrong. United don't really have a right winger in the traditional sense and Valencia provides the width time and time again. Additionally, his defensive contribution is immense. He will need to be replaced at some point, but not now.
Danial: It was another excellent decision by Mourinho to hand Valencia a new contract. For some time I have been a sceptic of moulding the winger into a makeshift right-back, especially when I thought that Rafael was the better player in that position. Valencia eradicated all that doubt with his excellent campaign, he has shown his embrace towards both aspects of playing full-back and seems perfect for the way the modern game now works with full-backs bombing up and down. There is a reason why he is considered one of the best because of his effort but also there is a shortage of world-class right-backs. Going for a natural right-back in the summer would be a good move but in that shortage Valencia is certainly not a bad player to have as a resolution.
More news with regards to next season’s United squad has seen Inter Milan forward, Ivan Perišić, heavily linked with a move to the club. Many fans seem underwhelmed by his prospective signing – do you believe bringing the Croatian to the club would be a good move?
Alex: I'm not completely familiar with Ivan Perišić's footballing ability but he's certainly caught my eye in big competitions like the recent European Championships in France where he was the shining piece in a bang-average Croatia side. To sign a 28-year-old forward in the modern game instead of a younger, exciting name like Bernardo Silva is a big move, but strongly suggests that José Mourinho knows what he's getting. It looks like there is clear truth in the rumours linking him with a move to Old Trafford, as there normally is when a big club like United are vastly reported to be closing in on signing a lesser name, which could mean danger for Anthony Martial who has clearly underwhelmed Mourinho after such a promising debut season under Louis van Gaal. As long as Perišić isn't one of the two supposed big name forwards United are interesting in bringing to the Premier League, and really need, I'd happily welcome him because there's no question whether he'd add quality.
Ninad: I was quite surprised when we were linked with Perišić. However, his stats don't lie and he does seem like a typical Mourinho player. One of the main reasons fans are underwhelmed is because they wonder what would happen to Martial if Perišić came in. I think Perišić would be very good competition and a healthy competition for Martial if he has that attitude, otherwise it could signal to the Frenchman that his time at United is nearing its end. Bringing in Perišić is a short-term move at best and might pay off as well, give that he's at his peak now, so I believe it'd be a good move.
Harry: In comparison to James Rodriguez or Antoine Griezmann, it may seem underwhelming. But Man United have never been a club where every signing is a huge one. And if Perišić can accompany Griezmann, there’s no reason why it can’t be a great signing. He wouldn’t be my first choice. However, he has the hallmarks of a typical Mourinho signing; strong, quick, individual quality, right at his peak and suits counter-attacking football. His age is a concern, and so a £50m deal is a no-go. But for less money than that, he could prove to be a good signing. If other options are out there that are better, United have to explore them, because as a fan, you’d rather your club was buying long-term prospects if they’re going to spend that kind of money. Mourinho, though, enjoys having players right at their peak.
Craig: Perišić is a quality player but at 28, he is not necessarily a particularly good age. He is mature, but the Premier League is not always easy to adapt to as Henrikh Mkhitaryan found out. Mourinho's signings so far have been hits, so if he does sign then I think you can expect him to be a success. It would be a surprise if he was the marquee, though.
Danial: Perišić is a player that I have admired for quite some time now, especially in his escapades in international tournaments with Croatia, where I have really become fond of the way he plays. I think Perišić would be a decent signing for Mourinho’s team, but I also understand why fans can be underwhelmed by the prospect. When Mourinho makes such a firm promise of just four signings we can expect the four best players available to us on the planet, but Perišić is certainly not a player to turn our noses up at.
Finally – in more contractual news – the agent of Zlatan Ibrahimović, Mino Raiola, has been discussing his client’s future in the media in the last few days. The Swede had a fine campaign and netted 28 goals in his debut season at Old Trafford, but do you think United should keep him around for next term?
Alex: When thinking about whether Zlatan Ibrahimović should be at Manchester United next season, you have to consider that it's highly likely he'll be out of action until the start of next year and it's because of this I would prefer him to make way for a new star striker, preferably in the form of Romelu Lukaku. Even though he won't be playing for the team next term, his brilliant contribution all the way throughout 2016/2017 deserves his treatment to be paid for by the club as well as being offered the facilities at Carrington to make a full recovery. But not only would keeping Ibrahimović prove to be poor value for money, with the Big Swede's substantial wages in mind, it'd be too huge a risk to stifle Marcus Rashford's development as a striker further, despite impressive performances on the wing this season.
Ninad: Given his first season in English football, the simple answer to keeping should be yes, but his injury has complicated things. Keeping Zlatan would mean that when he returns we'll have a reliable goalscorer for the tough part of the season. However, given his massive wages and the amount of football he'd miss, makes you wonder if keeping him is worth it at all. I personally think we should keep him if would accept a bit-part role, in case Griezmann joins.
Harry: Ibrahimović should be given all the medical care needed at Man United's training ground, and will, therefore, be around the squad. He's a player with massive experience in the game of almost two decades, the perfect mentality for a club like Man United. If he's willing to accept a pay-as-you-play contract, to begin with, there's no reason why he can't stay at the club. And if he decides it's time for MLS, which Mino Raiola seemingly doesn’t, then United could always welcome him back during the offseason for a couple of months. But logically, it would be ridiculous for United to pay him for the time he's injured (likely up until January) on such enormous wages.
Craig: Tough question. He has been a brilliant signing and is a born winner. To see him celebrating in Stockholm was fantastic. I am certain he played a part in the dressing room. He looked really fit and played a lot of games considering his age. He is a determined character and just like Carrick, he could still have a part to play. However, depending on who comes in, a bit part role may not be something he would be happy with. If he proves his fitness and wants to stay I would be delighted to see him in a red shirt again.
Danial: There have been many announcements of new deals but it’s easy to forget that arguably our most effective player of the campaign is out of contract. I didn’t expect Ibrahimović to have as much of an impact as he did but he has ended the season as one of my favourites in the squad. The season ended in a very unfortunate fashion with the injury which has ruled him out for quite some time. However, Ibra has more than just an effect on the pitch. The youngsters around the club have constantly praised his behaviour towards them off the pitch and I think that is more than enough to see him have one more year.