MANCHESTER, England (AP) — They’ve hired the two most coveted coaches in world football. Their spending on new players this offseason has almost reached the $400-million barrier. Their stated aim is to win the English Premier League.
Make no mistake: The Manchester clubs mean business.
It was clearly an affront to United and City that they ended up fighting it out for fourth place in the Premier League last season. Standards slipped, rivals stole a march, a big reaction was needed.
So United hired Jose Mourinho as coach, made a statement signing in Swedish superstar Zlatan Ibrahimovic, and has just broken the world-record transfer fee to lure France midfielder Paul Pogba for around 105 million euros ($116 million). Forget being satisfied just making the top four: Mourinho, a win-at-all-costs coach, is demanding the title.
“I want to win,” Mourinho said on being hired. “I think we can really, yes.”.
By the time Mourinho was confirmed at United in May, City had already secured the signature of Pep Guardiola. It renews a coaching rivalry in Spain that sparked and occasionally got nasty when Mourinho was in charge of Real Madrid and Guardiola at Barcelona.
And Guardiola has set about bringing more youth, pace and intensity into City’s squad by signing seven players — including Leroy Sane, Nolito, teenage Brazilian prodigy Gabriel Jesus, Ilkay Gundogan and most recently John Stones — for around $200 million.
This is the biggest test of Guardiola’s coaching career after his trophy-laden spells with Barcelona and Bayern Munich.
“Our objective,” City chief executive Ferran Soriano said, “is to get to the end of the season with chances to win everything.”.
For the hotbed not just of English football but the world game, look no further than Manchester.
In 2012, City and United were the central figures in the most exciting end ever to a Premier League season, with the blue half winning the title on goal difference. They also finished as the top two teams the following season, this time United winning the league.
Since then, United hasn’t finished higher than fourth place in a post-Alex Ferguson era characterized by questionable managerial appointments and haphazard player recruitment. City has won the league once more (in 2014), which is widely considered a poor return given the wealth and players at the disposal of a club owned by the Abu Dhabi royal family.
Mourinho and Guardiola will shake things up. They have each captured 22 major trophies and have coached the biggest names in the sport. They have an intense work ethic and are among the most ruthless managers around. They are winners, pure and simple.
It’s no wonder, then, that there’s often fireworks when they meet. For the moment, there’s a truce — at his official presentation at City, Guardiola said Mourinho had helped him “reach another level” as a coach — but there will be as much focus on the dugouts and technical area as on the field during the first Manchester derby of the season on Sept. 10 at Old Trafford.
As for their new teams, there are many questions to be answered.
At United: Will the one-paced strike partnership of Ibrahimovic and Wayne Rooney be a success? Will Pogba be weighed down by the record price tag? How long will it take for Mourinho to change United players’ mindset from the Louis van Gaal era?
At City: Can Guardiola adapt to the grueling, competitive nature of the Premier League where almost every win is hard-fought? Does the team still rely too much on injury-prone stars Sergio Aguero and Vincent Kompany? What role does Yaya Toure have under Guardiola, the man who sold him at Barcelona? Is City’s defense good enough to win the league, even after the purchase of the highly-rated Stones?
At least one of these two superpowers will come up short in the Premier League this season. Maybe even both, considering Chelsea, Arsenal, Tottenham and even Liverpool are live contenders for the title, not forgetting defending champion Leicester.
Reputations are on the line, but United and City couldn’t have done much more to get their teams in the right shape for the new season.