Most Manchester United fans would probably happily take Willian from Chelsea this summer. The Old Trafford club is thought to be interested in the Brazilian winger, a proven Premier League player who has worked well with Jose Mourinho in the past.
Willian, who has played over 230 games for Chelsea since arriving at the club in 2013, is about to enter the final two years of his contract at Stamford Bridge. And, with an apparent rift between him and Antonio Conte, could certainly be made available.
United have bought Juan Mata and Nemanja Matic from Chelsea over the last five years and so transfer relations between the sides, irrespective of their status as rivals, are healthy.
Willian would offer United additional creativity and quality in attacking areas. His work rate is high too, an attribute Mourinho likes to see in his players, and a lack of which counted against Henrikh Mkhitaryan and is bringing Anthony Martial’s future into similar uncertainty.
Willian is a set piece expert, something United seem without – Marcus Rashford was on free-kick and corner duty for much of the season and usually failed to deliver.
With Willian in the fold, the short-term picture at Old Trafford would be much stronger. But, therein lies the problem. Long-term success has been more difficult to recapture than perhaps Mourinho and the club anticipated and United are increasingly reaching for easy gains.
That means signing more typically ‘Mourinho’ players. Established pros, usually in their late twenties, like Willian, like Alexis Sanchez and Matic before him. Sanchez will turn 30 in December, while both Matic and Willian will do so before the new season starts in August.
Many of the players that United have been continually linked with – Gareth Bale, Ivan Perisic, Toby Alderweireld – are in a similar position. These are individuals who would undoubtedly strengthen the squad and given an immediate boost towards winning trophies, but ultimately will be around for no more than two or three seasons before moving on.
The contract status of United’s current squad isn’t all that healthy either. Only Romelu Lukaku and Sanchez have contracts to 2022, with as many as 14 first team players out of contract in 2019 or 2020. Manchester City, on the other hand, have precious few players out of contract next year, with a strong core of 12 players tied to long-term deals until 2021, 2022 or 2023.
As difficult as it may be for United fans to admit, City have handled recruitment and contracts incredibly well over the last two seasons. And while a huge amount of money has been spent, the players brought in have years and years ahead of them, facilitating the needs for only tweaking and minor annual strengthening for the foreseeable future.
Despite a squad full of quality, United are simply not in that position. The short term is currently taking precedence, and signing a player like Willian, while beneficial, would only see that continue.