After sealing deals for Fred, Diogo Dalot and Lee Grant by early July, last season’s Premier League runners-up were unable to add further despite the Portuguese’s explicit desire to bring in two more players.
Mourinho warned it could be a “difficult season” if United did not bring in at least one more face, with centre-back the main focus in a market that was inflated by last summer’s deals.
According to reports, United were ready to spend big on a world-class defender, with a £100million move for Raphael Varane considered before Real Madrid made it clear that the France international was not for sale.
A number of other centre-backs were tracked but the club found few realistic options to markedly improve their backline as they attempted to balance long-term success with Mourinho’s hunger for silverware.
The United boss had been braced for the deadline-day disappointment and warned ahead of Friday’s Premier League opener against Leicester that the lack of improvement could return to haunt them this winter.
Fully expect #MUFC to be in the reckoning for the title, but Mourinho has been to fight with one hand tied behind his back.— James Robson (@JamesRobsonMEN) August 9, 2018
Remains a very strong squad, but a centre back to sit at the heart of a three-man defence was crucial to his plans
Asked if he had the tools to compete without new signings, Mourinho said: “I have my players, I like my players, I like to work with my players.
“One lie repeated 1,000 times is still a lie, but the perception of the people is that it’s true but it’s still a lie.
“So, when you repeat 1,000 times that my relationship with my players is not good, it’s a lie that repeated 1,000 times is still a lie. But again, the perception of the people that reads can be different, but I like my players and my group.
“I enjoy the last season, the fight to finish where we finished and to manage the best position in five or six years. I’m going to enjoy this season. Again, I know the words you want me to say or not to say. It depends on the music, but words for me don’t come easy.
“I think by the end of November or December, you don’t need words – you will see by then which teams are candidates to win the Premier League.
“In this moment, words are not important. Let’s play football and by the end of November or December, you don’t need words. You will see which teams are candidates.”
United had been interested in signing Harry Maguire this summer, but Leicester’s steadfast refusal to sell scuppered any move for the England star.
Misgivings over Jerome Boateng’s fitness and Bayern Munich’s reluctance to do a loan deal ruled that option out, while Atletico Madrid were contacted about Diego Godin but it quickly became evident that the move was a no-go.
Barcelona defender Yerry Mina joined Everton as prohibitive agent demands put off United and no offer is understood to have been tabled for Tottenham’s Toby Alderweireld. The only one top-level conversation between the clubs was Spurs enquiring about two of United’s players.
Mourinho should make Pogba captain this season. I know he’s given armband to Valencia, but extra bit of responsibility might help Pogba repeat World Cup form for #MUFC. If he doesn’t perform, could be a case of who leaves first between now and next August. Manager or star player?— Tom McDermott (@MrTomMcDermott) August 6, 2018
Anthony Martial is believed to be one of them but the United forward is going nowhere, nor is compatriot Paul Pogba amid reported interest from Barcelona and supposed tensions with Mourinho.
“My perception? He arrived Monday, happy, proud, with a desire to work,” the United boss said of the club-record signing.
“He worked amazingly well Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and he’s one of the players that I have to speak to see how physically and mentally he feels. But it’s the same conversation as with (Ashley) Young, (Marouane) Fellaini, (Jesse) Lingard, it’s the same. To know how they feel physically, mentally to try to give us a help.”
Maguire is thought to be United’s number one transfer target as they look to sign a central defender ahead of today’s transfer deadline.
Discussions have reportedly taken place between the two clubs regarding the 25-year-old, who starred for England at this summer’s World Cup as Gareth Southgate’s side reached the semi-finals.
Asked about United’s interest, Leicester boss Puel joked with the media at his pre-match press conference on Thursday.
He said: “I can confirm he is going to Manchester – but only for a couple of hours.
“I am happy to keep Harry. He is our best player. I am a football manager and I want to keep our best players for the squad and for our season. We want to keep good ambition.
“We lost Riyad Mahrez, who was a very valuable player for us, so it was important to keep our best players and have good additions to the squad.
“We have to prepare for this season with good possibilities.”
It has been reported that it would take a world-record bid for a defender, exceeding the £75million Liverpool paid Southampton for Virgil van Dijk, to even tempt Leicester to sell Maguire.
When that was put to Puel, the Frenchman maintained his stance.
“We will see what happens in his future but I am happy to keep Harry with us and I’m happy with his attitude in general. He has had a good mentality and spirit,” he said.
“We have had good talks with Harry and with the chairman and we cannot change things just before the first game of the season and just before the end of the transfer window.
“For us it is not possible. It is not serious.”
Meanwhile, Leicester have agreed a deal to sign Dinamo Zagreb defender Filip Benkovic.
The 21-year-old has signed a five-year contract at the King Power Stadium, subject to the deal being given international clearance.
He becomes the sixth new arrival of the summer following the acquisitions of Ricardo Pereira, Jonny Evans, James Maddison, Danny Ward and Rachid Ghezzal.
Puel said: “Filip is an exciting young player who has the potential to develop even more at Leicester City Football Club.
“He has made a big contribution to Dinamo Zagreb over the last three years and has also benefited from experiencing European football.
“I know he will give us some great options and competition in the squad and I’m delighted to have him here.”
England’s World Cup star Harry Maguire has been among the main targets this summer, but Leicester have repeatedly made it clear that the defender is not for sale.
It is understood that an offer has yet to be tabled for Tottenham’s Toby Alderweireld, while United’s interest in imposing Barcelona defender Yerry Mina is tempered by financial demands.
That deal does not appear to be dead just yet and Jerome Boateng is another option, although Bayern Munich are understood not to be keen to sanction a loan deal that United would like.