So it’s come to this.
What a terrible week it has been for Manchester United. After so much optimism in the wake of the Liverpool win, it’s already come crashing down. Should we have a look at how everything’s unravelled?
Let’s start at the end of last season (don’t worry, I’ll have a few time-skips). United fans had, on the whole, backed Mourinho since he took charge and were optimistically looking ahead to the summer.
‘Yeah, in that first season he finished sixth, but he won the League Cup and Europa League. He got us back in the Champions League for goodness sake! With a few more top class players we’ll be challenging.’
Those players arrived, yet this season, we found ourselves playing dreadful football and 16 points behind City.
‘Ah, but we’re still second and the team we’re trailing are the greatest team that’s ever existed™. We’ve got Brighton and Sevilla in the two cup competitions we’re still in! What could possibly go wrong?’
You don’t need me to tell you what happened. United went away to Sevilla and played out a dull 0-0 draw.
‘No matter, we’ll tear through them back at Old Trafford. With an attack as strong as ours, we’ll beat them with no bother!’
Then we had a brilliant week, beating Chelsea, Palace and Liverpool. Maybe this was it? Maybe now, finally, after all the nonsense, we were back to winning ways?
‘Does that say Fellaini is starting?’
I was there. I paid for a ticket! When we saw that line-up we were worried. When we saw the first half we were starting to get angry. By full time we were furious.
To play at home against a side that cannot defend and park ten men behind the ball is almost a dereliction of duty. Everyone watching was baffled by that game plan. Not only that, the meekness of the performance itself, which was then made worse by the completely ineffective substitutions (why play with no right back but keep your left back on?) made it one of the most embarrassing nights in the club’s recent history.
Mourinho then went into defensive mode, pointing out that this is ‘nothing new’ in United’s recent history and that he himself has knocked the club out in the past. He also pointed out how much he and the players had tried. That didn’t look like trying. It was so slow, so devoid of ideas, so cowardly. The players looked so scared. It made United look like a small time club, terrified of risking anything to win due to the overwhelming fear of defeat. The ‘Mighty’ Sevilla couldn’t believe their luck.
After United were embarrassed on Tuesday, in Mourinho’s Friday conference we got the now infamous 12-minute rant, in which the manager detailed how crap The Reds have been in Europe recently. He had pre-prepared a list of all the times we had been knocked out before.
That means absolutely nothing, mate. None of those performances were as pathetic as that one against Sevilla. We tried in those, we fought, busted a gut and pushed the ties so much further than this year’s team did. Also, those United sides in 2010, 2012, 2013 even 2014, they weren’t great teams. They weren’t vintage United. Owen, Anderson, Cleverley and even Obertan featured in some of those sides. All of them put on a better showing than the side on Tuesday. They were also far more entertaining to watch.
Within this speech, Mourinho compared our current squad to City’s, repeatedly using the phrase ‘football heritage.’ To be fair to him, heritage is probably not the word he meant here. But the point he was trying to make was that the City squad was in a much better place than the United squad was when Mourinho took it over.
That argument could hold some water if Mourinho didn’t have the ability to improve the players who were already at United. But he doesn’t have to wait until the transfer window opens to improve the squad, he’s supposed to coach people. Guardiola has done that. Nearly every player in that City team looks better this year than it did last season.
Has anyone really got better since at United since Mourinho arrived? Rojo? Valencia? Young? Possibly. All of these are defensive players. The attackers haven’t improved at all. In fact, some may have even got worse. Rashford looked unstoppable under Van Gaal, now he looks stunted. Martial still performs wonders in fits and starts, but in other games looks terrified. Pogba, who arrived as one of the brightest midfield talents in the world, is now being kept out of the team by a functional Scotsman. No offence, Scott.
The Brighton game then reminded us of another bit of nonsense, the continued bullying of Luke Shaw. There’s now leaks coming out of the club that other players are appalled at the manager’s treatment of Shaw.
Maybe Mourinho is such a good manager that he can spot things about an individual’s game that literally no one else on the planet can see? But I doubt it. For whatever reason, he has decided to hone in on Shaw and punish him repeatedly. The poor lad looks shot. I have no doubt he will be off in the summer, probably to Spurs. This really isn’t on. I haven’t got the ability or time to tackle the subject of workplace bullying here, but the fact it is allowed to happen so publicly with seemingly no repercussions is horrific. This has shades of the Eva Carneiro situation.
I feel that in this last week we have seen the end of Mourinho’s time at United getting closer and closer. The defeat to Sevilla is a really bad defeat for him. You can’t hide behind the ‘City are really good’ defence when you lose to a team that then loses 2-1 to Leganes five days later. It brings up all those nagging doubts about him again. What if he’s past it? If he can’t win, there’s nothing left! The fans will start to turn.
This United job is the last chance saloon for Mourinho. If he fails at United he has nowhere to go. So when disaster strikes, what does he do? Causes a scene. Rants, shouts, lashes out. Calls for more funds. If he can just get rid of the nine or ten crap players that are at United, he can turn it around.
This is where I start to get very worried. I knew when he arrived it would be for a limited time, we all did, it’s always a limited time with Mourinho. The talk of creating a dynasty was utter nonsense. I hoped more than anything, that he wouldn’t totally destroy everything before he left. But some of the players he has had fights with or made worse by crushing their spirit, are players I think would come good under a better manager: Shaw, Martial, Rashford and Pogba.
The very fact that it seems like those last three could leave or be ruined by his management style should be enough to really anger you. They are the types of player that makes football fun to watch. Supreme skill, pace, dribbling, goals, assists, tricks, flicks; that’s why we’re here. But no. Jose doesn’t like them because they don’t track back. So he’ll sell them so we can get some 28-year-old workhorses. In 2034, no one will be waxing lyrical about a winger who tracked back well in 2018.
This might be an unfair statement, but I have absolutely no doubt that Sir Alex Ferguson would be pushing City all the way with this current United squad. It is so much better than what he had in his final few seasons. He took those teams to a Champions League final and the Premier League title. The latter one was won at a canter.
Personally, I think Mourinho is shot. He’s a manager from another era that’s desperately trying to use the same management techniques that worked for him in the past. He’s not too far removed from Big Sam at this point. This isn’t unexpected, how many managers manage to be consistently successful for more than a decade? Not many. Our vision is skewed by the shadow of Ferguson, but most managers can do it for a few years then just tail off, it’s a perfectly natural part of football.
However, there is absolutely no way that Mourinho will leave in the summer. United will finish in the top four and there’s still a chance that they will grab the FA Cup. That’s an improvement on last season in the eyes of the board. Why doubt serial winner Mourinho? If he says he needs a few more players to challenge City, let’s just give him a few more players!
I’m going to make a possibly foolish prediction. I reckon he will be gone by December 2018. After another summer of optimism, complemented by the arrival of three or four new players and five or six ‘dud’ players leaving, we’ll have a poor start to the season. The same grievances that we are ending this season with will raise their heads again, fans will be angered and there will be no excuses left. Mourinho will leave under a cloud, with the club in a mess and we’ll be scrambling for the most available, high profile manager (Ancelotti) to come in and rescue us.
I would love to be wrong. To paraphrase Seymour Skinner: ‘prove me wrong Jose. Prove me wrong!’