Mourinho, Manchester United hope this LA story has a different ending
LOS ANGELES -- Manchester United have discovered the hard way that it is all too easy to be seduced by the summer sun but Jose Mourinho has always favoured reality over fantasy, so there should be no danger of California dreaming on this occasion.
Back in 2014, United took their first steps out of the wreckage of David Moyes's disastrous season in charge by coasting to a 7-0 victory over LA Galaxy in front of 86,000 fans in Louis van Gaal's first game as manager.
After the nightmare of the previous campaign, the emphatic victory in Pasadena hinted at good times ahead, with Ander Herrera standing out on his debut and Danny Welbeck impressing after scoring the opening goal.
There was also a bold new tactical approach, with Van Gaal deploying a three-man defence which appeared to bring the best out of Phil Jones, Jonny Evans and Chis Smalling.
Yet if there was ever a football definition of a false dawn, that game at the Rose Bowl was surely it.
Within a month, United had made a dismal start to the season; there was a 4-0 League Cup defeat against MK Dons, Welbeck had been sold and the three-at-the-back experiment was quickly unravelling.
The optimism of the win against LA Galaxy had evaporated and did not return during Van Gaal's two-year reign, with the Dutchman even being booed by some supporters as he climbed the Wembley steps to lift the FA Cup in May 2016, two days before he was sacked.
United face the Galaxy again on Saturday (LIVE on ESPN2/WatchESPN, 10 p.m. ET), this time at the StubHub Center, but while seven of those who started three years ago in the squad, the mood music has changed and the determination now is to build a title-winning team, rather than merely emerge from an unexpected downturn.
This is a new United team, one Mourinho is building around £89 million midfielder Paul Pogba, with the goal threat of Romelu Lukaku added to turn all the draws that marred last season into victories. Victor Lindelof, the Swedish centre-half, has also arrived but how close is Mourinho to turning United into champions?
They are much closer than when Van Gaal's team generated misplaced optimism within the club after hammering the Galaxy, but United did finish sixth in the Premier League last season and Mourinho insists there is still work to be done on improving the squad.
"We don't have our door closed," Mourinho said in a press conference at United's UCLA training base on Friday. "We are not happy with just Lukaku and Lindelof, we need more. We wanted four, so 50 per cent of the job is done, but I don't want to say that because it is difficult to sign players in this market and I wouldn't like to be in (executive vice-chairman) Ed Woodward's position because everything is so difficult.
"But we need another player to give us more options," Mourinho continued. "The squad has balance, but there are players who belong to club who cannot play for three or four months like [Marcos] Rojo, [Luke] Shaw and Zlatan [Ibrahimovic]. We need two more, but at least one."
Mourinho's priority is a defensive midfielder, with Tottenham's Eric Dier and Chelsea's Nemanja Matic the two leading targets. Matic has been left out of his club's forthcoming tour of China but Mourinho would not discuss a reunion with the man he signed for Chelsea in January 2014.
"I can't say any words about a player who is a Chelsea player," Mourinho said. "It is difficult. Matic is a Chelsea player, we must respect the Chelsea owner and the Chelsea manager. I don't like to speak about players who aren't ours."
Mourinho did not close the door on a return for Ibrahimovic but the striker will be sidelined until January at least with a cruciate ligament injury and even then may not return to Old Trafford if MLS interest tempts him to the United States.
Efforts are still being made to sign Inter Milan's winger / attacking midfielder Ivan Perisic and, with Wayne Rooney also offloaded to Everton, Lukaku may not be the only attacking addition to the squad. Mourinho admitted that his new striker has been signed to make a big difference.
"He will hopefully bring goals," Mourinho said. "He is a striker, normally strikers score goals, which is why he is so important and why he was difficult to get. He is exactly what you need in the Premier League. There are other good strikers, but the Premier League is a difficult habitat for goalscorers and Lukaku has been in Premier League for the last four or five seasons. He now has different a challenge to that he had at Everton and West Brom, but he comes at the right moment because he has big experience now."
All of the expectation and hope will ultimately be realised, or not, on the pitch and the Galaxy once again offer United a springboard towards greater success. Last time the early signs were misleading, but Mourinho will not allow United to fall into the trap of getting carried away in Los Angeles this time.
Mark Ogden is a senior football writer for ESPN FC. Follow him @MarkOgden_