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Transfer Rater: Talisca to Manchester United

Football Whispers

Conte's last stand, trophy-hunter Mourinho on prowl

FA Cup

Transfer Rater: Sime Vrsaljko to Man United

Football Whispers
 By Andy Mitten

Mourinho's relaxed outlook reflects the current mood at Manchester United

Jose Mourinho likes to keep a low profile in the hours before Manchester United play at Old Trafford. He knows that lots of people inside the stadium would like a piece of his time, but he's not one for mixing.

The manager feels that, by that point, he's done almost all of his work and it's for the players to do their bit on the pitch, but his also sees his role on the touchline as crucial and energy sapping. He much prefers that to sitting on the bench.

However, Mourinho did things slightly differently before United played Middlesbrough on New Year's Eve. He wanted to find Sir Alex Ferguson and made his way through the labyrinth of corridors underneath Old Trafford's main stand to the private area beneath the directors' box.

There, he made a beeline for Ferguson's table, which the former United boss uses to invite guests to games. Mourinho wished his predecessor a happy 75th birthday and his gesture was gratefully received.

Mourinho has his own table, though it is seldom used by his friends and family. He sees his time in Manchester as being for work, not to be a social butterfly. With his family still living in London, he feels that he can focus more on his work than ever.

He gets on well with Ferguson, who recently asked permission to travel on the United team coach. Mourinho told him that he didn't need to ask; that he could sit anywhere he wanted, even in the manager's seat.

Mourinho is relaxed with having the legendary manager around. Maybe that wouldn't have been the case had he taken charge immediately after Ferguson retired in 2013, but it was the outgoing boss who wanted to stay away from the players and Carrington.

Ferguson looked to history to understand the problems at the club after United's other iconic manager, Sir Matt Busby, stepped down and didn't want to have a similar influence over team affairs. Or even the perception that he was having any influence over the team. When he told his players that he was stepping down, Ferguson also told them that they wouldn't be seeing him around and stuck to that.

Manchester United have not been beaten since a Nov. 3 Europa League defeat at Fenerbahce.

His successor David Moyes found Ferguson helpful during his early months in charge and regularly went to him for advice. Ryan Giggs did the same, as have many other of the legendary manager's former charges. Ferguson will almost always return the call, whether he's in a taxi in New York City or at a racecourse in Ireland.

Louis van Gaal had huge respect for Ferguson but didn't want him to get too close and maybe hinder him from doing his job properly. There were already enough people at Old Trafford saying how much better things had been previously to create a negative charge around the club, though Ferguson did see his former players and occasionally travel on the team coach.

If Mourinho was happy about Ferguson's presence when United were in a run of just two wins from 11 league games, he's positively exuberant now. The Portuguese manager feels the attack-minded style of football that he chose to play is now being rewarded by victories; there have been seven in a row, as part of a 13-game unbeaten run in all competitions.

There's little urgency for United in the January transfer window, thanks to the much-improved form of central defenders Marcos Rojo and Phil Jones and the all-round form of the team.

Sam Johnstone, United's third-choice goalkeeper, was happy to join Aston Villa on loan. The 23-year-old was a teammate of Paul Pogba and Jesse Lingard in United's 2011 FA Youth Cup-winning side but was the only member of the current first-team squad not to have played any minutes this season.

With David de Gea, one of the best goalkeepers in the world, and Sergio Romero, Argentina's No. 1, ahead of him, Johnstone is not going to be getting any chances at Old Trafford. Villa should be a good club for him and he's already played in the Championship with his hometown club Preston North End.

Meanwhile, despite being held in great affection by United's manager, fans and club officials, Patrice Evra won't be rejoining at present, which is not something he will be celebrating given that he is obsessed with the club where he spent eight years, winning five Premier League title and the 2008 Champions League final.

Evra has had a magnificent career, but players seldom control where they move or the timing of their transfers. There's plenty of interest in the 35-year-old, who has a contract at Juventus until 2018, including several Premier League clubs. The Italian champions don't want Evra to go anywhere, while United are keen for Mourinho to have another go at getting the best from Luke Shaw, who has had a difficult season so far.

The left-back is still only 21 and, as United have found with other young players including Anthony Martial, Marcus Rashford and Memphis Depay -- even Cristiano Ronaldo in his first seasons at Old Trafford -- consistency week after week is not something which comes easily to prodigious young footballers.

United go into Saturday's FA Cup third-round tie vs. Reading in as positive as mood as they could hope for, having won all of their festive fixtures. They retain an interest in four competitions, including the Premier League, although Chelsea's ten-point lead remains formidable.

If only some, if not all, of the six draws in eight league games between the start of October and the start of December could have been wins, the mood would be even better.

Andy Mitten is a freelance writer and the founder and editor of United We Stand. Follow him on Twitter: @AndyMitten.


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