When Marouane Fellaini gave away an injury time penalty against Everton back in December, you wondered whether he would be seen again wearing a Manchester United shirt.
Supporters had reached the end of their tether; this was just one mistake too many. But Mourinho saw something in the Belgian that he felt was worth working on, cultivating, and ultimately applying to devastating effect. And the following 11 months have shown the boss to be bang on the money: there is something truly valuable about Fellaini’s style that makes up for other less coveted aspects of the game.
And now, following a horror show of ridiculous proportions against Huddersfield, Mourinho may have to ask himself, just as he did with the Belgian last year, whether there are any obvious redeeming qualities to Victor Lindelof’s game.
The Swede has been at the club since June and continues to linger on the periphery of proceedings at Old Trafford, and his frailty for Huddersfield’s opening goal and sheer mindlessness for their second – the one that proved to be decisive in the end – will hardly help his cause.
Mourinho has continually noted that Lindelof’s acclimatisation to the Premier League would take time. Henrikh Mkhitaryan, after all, went through something similar, and United fans persisted with it because there was a general belief that the Armenian was too good to leave out for too long.
But it feels different with Lindelof. His performances in the Champions League have improved with each game, yet no progress appears to have been made in the Premier League. And supporters, in turn, can quite rightly ask why Mourinho spent £31m on somebody who, with November approaching, continues to cut an incongruous figure in the English top flight, seemingly lacking the steel and urgency needed to stay on top of hard-working strikers.
Lindelof’s early capture made sense with Marcos Rojo set to miss the early stages of the season. The 24-year-old, it was thought, would fill the Argentine’s shoes and fully settle after a couple of months, with the latter eventually returning to complete United’s defensive Arsenal.
But that hasn’t transpired in the slightest. Rojo looks set to return in a matter of weeks and will instead push Mourinho’s summer signing even further down the pecking order. This is by no means what Mourinho would have had in mind over the transfer window.
Eric Bailly and Phil Jones find themselves both on the treatment table for now, meaning Lindelof may receive a few more chances to show supporters a different side to his game, but you wouldn’t be surprised if we hardly see him again either.
Mourinho will always commend and reward hard work, but Lindelof’s chagrin is not grounded in any lack of dedication. The problem is more of a developmental one: he simply doesn’t look ready for the Premier League stage, and with United’s best defender of last season returning shortly and others hopefully following suit sooner rather than later, you really wonder whether the Swede will ever get the chance to make the grade at this level.
Plenty of games still lie ahead, but one cannot help but wonder whether Lindelof, now four and a half months into his United career, has missed the bus.