United players begin life under Mourinho with much to prove
By Neil Robinson
LONDON (Reuters) - As the black-tinted sports cars carrying Manchester United's millionaire footballers rolled into the club's Carrington complex for the start of pre-season training on Wednesday, no one wound down any windows to discuss the start of life under Jose Mourinho.
But there was surely only one topic of conversation when the players began the hard task of proving to the new manager on the pitch that they can forge the sort of future he outlined so eloquently at his news conference the previous day.
Mourinho made clear that only winners are welcome, which means that many of those who carried the FA Cup round Wembley last have reason to be seriously worried. Yes they had secured a trophy, but not the sort that the Portuguese particularly values. He deals in titles and Champion Leagues.
The new manager's desire for specialists in each position represents a departure from his predecessor Louis van Gaal, who placed great faith in what Mourinho dismissively referred to as "multi-functional players".
"I am more a manager that likes specialists and not so much the multi-functional players," said Mourinho. "When you are in trouble you need someone who can fill but basically I want specialists."
That places major question marks against the likes of Daley Blind, a key player under Van Gaal, plus Matteo Darmian, Phil Jones, Marcos Rojo, Antonio Valencia< Marouane Fellaini and Ashley Young. All have much to prove over the next six weeks before Manchester United play their opening league game at Bournemouth on Aug. 13.
Before then, United play a friendly against Wigan Athletic, a three-game tour of China and a one-off match in Sweden against Galatasaray. Preparations are rounded off with Wayne Rooney's Old Trafford testimonial against Everton and the FA Community Shield against Premier League champions Leicester City.
Competition for places in those games will be particularly fierce with perhaps only goalkeeper David de Gea, defender Chris Smalling and forward Anthony Martial approaching the new regime with real confidence.
Change is gathering pace at the club once famed for its stability under Alex Ferguson. The signing of wily midfielder Henrikh Mkhityaran on Wednesday -- the third arrival following defender Eric Bailly and striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic -- will probably consign Michael Carrick to the bench while Juan Mata, who Mourinho sold to United from Chelsea because he was too slow, appears on his way out, possibly to Everton.
Whether Paul Pogba comes in from Juventus remains to be seen, but Mourinho was clear he has one more piece of business to do.
"We decided four targets," the Portuguese said. "From that target we have three. Until we don't have the fourth, we are still working hard."
Mourinho is a known admirer of full back Luke Shaw, who needs to proved he has retained his sharpness after last season's double leg break, but up front Marcus Rashford and Wayne Rooney know they face a fight to play alongside Ibrahimovic.
On Tuesday United's new manager made great play of the way he has promoted youth from academies "because of conviction and desire" but few believe he would have given the 18-year-old Rashford the sort of chance that led to his phenomenal rise under Van Gaal last season.
Although history suggests Mourinho will have to give youth more of a chance at a club famed for the Busby Babes and Class of '92, he will still expect Rashford to hit the ground running and, most importantly, scoring.
Rooney, too, is back to being judged on his strike rate after Mourinho made clear he viewed him as a player providing the goal threat rather than the sort of midfield role he was recently asked to play for the national team.
(Editing by Ed Osmond)