Jose Mourinho has made it quite clear in recent weeks, what he believes is the reason why the blue side of Manchester sit 15 points ahead at the Premier League summit. The talk of money and a club not backing it’s manager is not a new revelation, as it started back in the summer and it is really no coincidence that it came back with a vengeance just as the the January window was being swung open. Mourinho can make all the excuses he wishes, but unfortunately the problem may lie closer to home and it is his own defensive mindset that has stood in the way, rather than the club’s financial position.
Winning 2 trophies and a return to the Champions League was as good as could have been hoped last season, but a 6th place finish was the lowest since David Moyes was in charge and it was imperative that the squad was strengthened in the summer. The problem areas were clear, a striker, a right winger, a creative central midfield player, a Michael Carrick replacement and probably cover for one if not both full back positions. Out of those, Romelu Lukaku was brought in at a huge price to be the number 1 striker and Nemanja Matic was the Carrick replacement. Although the Lukaku fee was probably too high but at the same time, expected in the current climate. When bringing in a young but experienced Premier League striker who had regularly scored 20 goals a season, the current market automatically dictates a further £20 million on their fee. Matic was also a good signing on the whole and his start to the season proved that, although he is probably in need of a rest now. The 2 of them cost the club the best part of £150 million which is a lot for any club and United do not have the bottomless pit of money that City or PSG possess.
However, it was the other United signing of Victor Lindelof and the boring, ongoing saga of Ivan Perisic that was the major problem of the summer. The Swedish centre half joined the club for £30 million, has hardly started a game and when he has, seems to be way off the level expected for such a price tag, I for one thought he would be excellent especially following the success of Eric Bailly last season. But if United needed another centre half, then it was only to be an experienced and top quality addition, Lindelof meets neither of this criteria, in which case makes the signing a complete waste of £30 million. The squad already consisted of Bailly, Chris Smalling, Phil Jones, Daley Blind and Marcos Rojo, and although Rojo was battling back from knee ligament injury the others had played the majority of last season. Another defensive injury crisis is always possible, but if that is the case then Axel Tuanzebe from the reserves has been knocking on the first team door for a while now and would have been just as good backup, if not better than Lindelof. The fact Mourinho has not looked to youth once more is a story for another day, but the bigger issue is that he could have saved himself this money and used it for a position that was more in need.
Much has been made of Mourinho’s defensive mindset to games, often called parking the bus, but this tactic is no surprise when you look at his mindset to other transfers in the summer. Remember, United’s issue last season was lack of goals, and not anything to do with the defensive strength of the team so bringing in more creative players, especially on the right side, seemed crucial. Yet all through the window the talk was of bringing in a wide man that was defensively more astute than what was currently at Mourinho’s disposal. I don’t want to sound disrespectful to Perisic here, as he does have some excellent attacking attributes that would benefit any side, but Jose already has some exciting attackers in the same position and ones that have youth on their side also. The fact Mourinho wanted Perisic once again speaks volumes for how much faith he had in Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford in that position, he also has Ashley Young as a good back up if injuries arise. Luckily for United, Inter Milan played hard ball and Ed Woodward seemingly refused to go to the levels they wanted and we have instead seen a return to form of Martial and some obvious improvements in Rashford’s game. I am not saying for a second that there shouldn’t be an element of defensive effort from all wide men, but in Mourinho’s case this sometimes seems to be his primary thought rather than secondary. The result of chasing a player that was not needed is that United are still yet to properly solve that right side problem, with Juan Mata currently the occupier, but the fact his contract is still up in the summer, suggests Mourinho is not convinced he is the long terms answer either. Players available at a decent price in this window and next that could possibly fill the void include Alexis Sanchez and Riyad Mahrez, but yet United do not seem to be linked to either of them, where as they both are linked to other top 4 contenders. It remains to be seen where either end up, but I would put my money on them both being huge successes where ever it is and play a key role in the attacking threat of those clubs.
The truth is, the flack taken by Mourinho has been harsh at time, including from me, but it is also true that he brings much of it on himself and therefore hard to feel sorry for him. I keep asking myself if he is the right man for the job at Old Trafford and my opinion changes on a daily basis based on performances and how much tripe he talks in press conferences. What is certain is that his winning mentality is perfect for the club, but his tactics and media performance are currently not. I say currently because if he can change this, there is a real possibility that both he and the club are on to something big. At times this season United wingers have resembled full backs, where as you look at the other top 6 and I would confidently guess that the heat map of their wingers is considerably more attacking. There has been some murmurs in the press and social media that if Pep Guardiola was in charge of the same players, the top 2 positions would be reversed and I think there is some truth in that. Looking at a man for man comparison, most United fans would maybe only pick one of David Silva or Kevin de Bruyne to play alongside Paul Pogba and Sergio Aguero as certain improvements to the United first 11. One of Leroy Sane or Raheem Sterling would also probably get in on the right wing on current form, suggesting that United’s side is more than good enough to battle City’s. However, the shortcomings are instead inherited from the mindset and approach of the manager, both tactically and emotionally. I say emotionally, because too often this season, Mourinho’s comments in press conferences have either directly or indirectly been detrimental to the morale of the squad. He publicly admitted before the derby that his side were not good enough to control the game and will give up the ball to City, which is not a positive mindset heading into a huge game. Essentially he was telling his players, you aren’t good enough to go out and beat this lot toe to toe, instead we will sit back and defend as best we can and hope we get a couple of chances from their mistakes that we can score from. The stupid thing is, this tactic nearly worked as United were an Ederson face away from getting a undeserved draw and certain people gave credit to the manager for it.
There also seems an agenda against certain players in his squad, where by the senior or big earners get away with more than the youngsters or lesser characters. Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Pogba for example, put in some of the worst performances last season yet played almost 90 minutes of every game they were available for. Other players were not so lucky, Luke Shaw, Martial and Mata to name just 3.
The latest example Lukaku because he had no other striker options with Zlatan being out injured. If ever there was a 2 fingers up to Martial and Rashford’s hopes of playing in their preferred position then that was it. The irony was that Lukaku was injured after 5 minutes and the following game Martial put in top performance as a lone striker in what was arguably United’s best attacking display of the season, especially second half and Martial certainly saw Mourinho’s 2 finger salute and raised him 2 more.
The biggest story coming out of Old Trafford over the festive period, other than 3 bad results, was Moan-rinho’s gripes about how much money he has had to spend and how he needs to spend another small fortune to catch up with City. Firstly, United haven’t spent as much as City who did so on top of what was already a pretty awesome set of players, this can not be denied but as already stated, Mourinho is hardly far behind. There is a definite argument that City bought better than United, but my biggest concern is once again the message that this current vendetta is sending out to Jose’s current crop, basically saying you are not good enough and in the next season or 2, if I get my way, half of you will not be playing for the club. Even if he believes this, this should be kept under wraps and instead using the undoubted talent he already has available to him. Rather than coach and nurture talent, which I thought was his job, he would rather use money to try and improve the clubs fortunes at a quicker rate. The squad needs improving, of that there is no doubt, but Mourinho’s message should be that he has good enough players already but he requires more of them to mount challenges on all fronts. That way, the current players know they have his backing but also gives them the motivation to continue improving to ensure their current position in the side remains, going into a new season.
The crux of it is that United fans, media reporters and social media “experts” will all be split on Jose Mourinho, just like they have been since the first day he set foot in England. But “Special One” needs to take a good look at himself and see where he can improve also, starting by committing to the club long term, buying a house in the areas and stop any talk of management positions at other clubs. It will be interesting to see if Jose be able to overcome his stubbornness both in tactics and attitude to bring regular success to the club, if he does, it could result in him cementing himself as a legend of the club.