As things stand, there are 12 expiring contracts in the Manchester United first-team squad with a year to run. While half of them include an option for a further year – including that of four-time Sir Matt Busby Player of the Year winner David De Gea – all have earned international honours, with 10 at full senior level. So many loose ends to tie up have given Jose Mourinho a mountain of big decisions to make.
Given his recent complaints about the lack of backing in the transfer market, it would appear the Portuguese is intent on further remoulding the squad. The reported attention spent on centre-backs Toby Alderweireld and Harry Maguire, despite already having six players in the position, suggests the futures of Chris Smalling and Phil Jones could be under serious threat. How far Mourinho will be allowed to chop and change remains to be seen.
High Risk Expiring Contracts
David De Gea
The name that stands out a mile is De Gea’s. There is only so long before the fax machine joke will wear thin if his future is not secured. Real Madrid’s interest is one of the longest and well trodden debates in modern football – rarely do they not get their man, and with the impending risk of losing the Premier League’s finest goalkeeper for nothing in a year’s time, the pressure could begin to tell. The value of Spain’s number one to the club is so painfully obvious that his signature must be the absolute top priority.
Anthony Martial’s satisfaction ought to be a cause for major concern. The Frenchman is arguably the most lethal game changer in the squad, although the seemingly cold relationship with Mourinho has left him looking in from the outside. Martial’s early departure from the USA tour to attend the birth of his son was predictably latched onto by the papers to stoke up further resentment. Although his manager confirmed the 22-year-old had already informed him days earlier, the fact remains on the pitch he is not trusted as a guaranteed starter.
A disrupted loan spell at a resurgent Valencia was more productive than the basic statistics show for the young Brazilian. Before an achilles injury in February, after which he only started twice, he was part of a side that rose to second in LaLiga ahead of Madrid giants Atletico and Real. The previous season on loan at struggling Granada still produced five goals. More importantly, it was his first full season as a first team player. Having spent six years in United’s system, his deployment in a deeper midfield role in pre-season suggests his stock is rising.
Medium Risk Contracts
With an already congested midfield contingent it is hard to see Mata nailing down a starting place. Even if Martial does it’s hard to see him becoming much more than a rotation option. Younger and more direct attacking talents like Marcus Rashford, Pereira and even Tahith Chong deserve the platform. However, he offers an experienced presence to control the tempo, and can still offer reasonable value.
From Player of the Year to behind Scott McTominay in the pecking order, Herrera’s star is fading. His conversion from a playmaking schemer at Athletic Bilbao to a battling bloodhound has been successful. His performance to mark Eden Hazard out of the game last April was a masterclass in his new role, but to earn a place in the side now he must somehow usurp one of Nemanja Matic, Paul Pogba, Fred, McTominay, or Marouane Fellaini.
The circus surrounding his weight and fitness have threatened to completely derail Shaw’s career. Mourinho’s constant public lambasting has fostered an unpleasant atmosphere however justified he may be. Detractors of the young left-back point to the consistency of criticism from other managers, for example. Since his horrific injury against PSV Eindhoven in 2015, what he needed was stronger support, and he could have developed his character and playing style immeasurably. Full back positions are not United’s strong point – Shaw is a potential long-term answer.
It is quite remarkable to think that Phil Jones is still only 26 years old. His early career at Blackburn marked him out as a future England captain and earned him a move to United as a teenager. His dedication to the team cannot be questioned. Worryingly, though, he has already seen significant investment in his position in recent years. Although a regular when fit last season, that included Eric Bailly also being unavailable for periods too.
His reinvention as a defender has been remarkable when one considers his status two or three years ago. Once rejected for being too slight of build, physicality has never been a strong point. However, he has developed his positioning and tackling to fight his way to the front of the queue. His age counts against him – as would the rehabilitation of Shaw’s career – so his loss could be coped with. He hasn’t lost his pace though; casting him aside abruptly would be a strange move at this point.
There is very little Chris Smalling can do to restore faith in his ability. Size and athleticism are no substitute for a lack of positioning, awareness and consistency. His path from non-league to the top is an inspiring one for players down the food chain; it would be inconceivable that Mourinho would consider extending his deal though. The fitness of Victor Lindelof and Eric Bailly are factors in his future admittedly, but when those two are available Smalling has serious competition.
The Italian has made precious little impact since arriving from Torino three years ago. His main asset is his versatility, but the fact that a slowing Valencia and 33-year-old Ashley Young are comfortably keeping him out of the side speaks volumes. If United make back any reasonable fraction of their initial outlay of ₤17 million they will have done extremely well.
Once touted as a genuine first-team contender, James Wilson undoubtedly has exceptional talent with the ball at his feet. Three loan spells with little chances granted at Old Trafford itself tell the story of his career path. He will have little trouble finding a club when he leaves, but most likely will have to look down the pyramid.
The club captain will complete a decade at Old Trafford next summer – a rare feat at this level. Diogo Dalot and Timothy Fosu-Mensah are options for the future, granted, so even with Matteo Darmian’s expected departure there is cover. Valencia epitomises the battling mentality that Mourinho values even if his pace and attacking instincts have gone. Extending his deal for another year would be the smart move, but there will few clubs clamouring to steal him away.