World Cup exits are a bonus for Reds’ pre-season
AT least six senior Manchester United players will get next summer off.
And that will be music to Jose Mourinho’s ears as he looks towards a pre-season where most of his senior players will be absent for part or all of his preparations.
The 2018 World Cup in Russia means the likes of David de Gea, Marcus Rashford and Paul Pogba will be late returning to United after spending June on international duty.
But after the latest round of qualifiers, the United manager can add Matteo Darmian to the list of players definitely reporting back at the first possible opportunity after Italy became the latest big name nation to fail to reach the 2018 finals by losing over two legs to Sweden.
However, the same match ensured that Victor Lindelof will be spending at least part of his summer in Russia, after the centre-back played a key role in helping his country reach the finals.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s future remains shrouded in mystery. The striker inked a one year deal at United that expires at the end of the current campaign and is theoretically retired from international duty - although his reaction to Sweden’s victory over the Italians suggests he may be keen to make a triumphant return in Russia.
However, Darmian will definitely be joined on the first day of pre-season by Antonio Valencia and Henrikh Mkhitaryan after Ecuador and Armenia failed to qualify.
Eric Bailly issued an apology to the fans of Ivory Coast, after he was suspended for the final qualifying match and had to watch from the sidelines as the Elephants lost to Morocco to doom their hopes of reaching Russia.
And the Netherlands also disappointed, leaving Daley Blind and Timothy Fosu-Mensah’s diaries empty next June, and the Dutch pair free to return to Carrington at the first opportunity next July.
But while those six are all confirmed absentees, their ranks could be doubled by players on the fringes of their national sides.
Anthony Martial has received a (belated) call from Didier Deschamps to return to the France squad and has a chance to stake a permanent claim.
But he was overlooked for the friendlies last June and the qualifiers in October.
Spanish duo Juan Mata and Ander Herrera were both on holiday last week after being unable to force their way into a competitive Spain set up, although barring injury De Gea is assured of a place.
Chris Smalling might find it difficult to convince Gareth Southgate he deserves a spot in the England squad, after the national team manager’s somewhat hypocritical comments about dropping him based on playing out from the back - despite selecting Joe Hart.
And Andreas Pereira, whose loan at Valencia is due to expire in June, has represented Brazil at a succession of youth levels but is yet to receive his first senior cap.
Mourinho’s first pre-season with United was disrupted by late returns from Euro 2016.
Matteo Darmian will be back early for pre-season after Italy failed to reach the World Cup