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Between the Lines: Deciphering Mourinho's Bruising Quotes on Man Utd's Pre-Season Tour

Chelsea v Manchester United - The Emirates FA Cup Final
Jose Mourinho is far from happy with Manchester United's pre-season preparations
Rohith Nair
FEATURED COLUMNIST
Modified 30 Jul 2018
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Manchester United boss Jose Mourinho has been far from reserved in giving his opinion on the club's pre-season preparations ahead of the new Premier League campaign. And his verbal barrage in press conferences has clearly not sat well with fans and, by the looks of it, the board.

It does seem like a case of déjà vu with Mourinho who has crashed and burned in his third season at a club in the past. Only this time the scenario is a lot different.

At Chelsea and Real Madrid, he had a league title to show for his work in two seasons. At Old Trafford, however, he has only won tier two trophies which put them on the right path, but has since seen the country's most successful club struggle.

Make no mistake, the club has made progress under Mourinho with the Red Devils back in the Champions League for good and even giving City a run for their money last season in the title race - at least until they were well and truly out of sight in the final quarter of the season.

However, after a trophyless season, there does seem to be trouble brewing between the manager and the board and we could see more outrage from the Portuguese boss in the months to come if things do not go his way.

A pre-season to forget for Manchester United

Let's be frank, a pre-season immediately after the World Cup will never be the right platform to assess the squad - especially one that has a majority of its starters taking a well-deserved break after 12 months of non-stop football.

But it has always been a platform to test the young players who will be required to step up over the course of the season. With English clubs fighting on four different fronts (three domestic trophies and a European campaign), managers need all the help they can get from youth players to provide squad depth.

Manchester United v Liverpool - International Champions Cup 2018
Manchester United lost 4-1 to Liverpool in the International Champions Cup

Other top clubs have done exactly that, with managers giving unofficial debuts in the senior team to young players coming through. But to Mourinho, it seems like an exercise in futility and he cut a sour figure after a 4-1 loss to Liverpool at the Michigan Stadium.

"This is not our team. We started the game with almost half of the players who are not even going to belong to our squad on August 9.
The majority of the players that played are not going to play - some of them are not even going to belong to the squad.
“This is not our squad. Reinforcements, you mean players that I would like to buy, that’s another thing, but this is not my squad. This is not even half my squad, or 30% of it. So don’t look to this."

That is a low blow to all the academy players who have travelled with the squad. Of course, Mourinho may have told them in private that he means nothing by throwing them under the bus in the press but the entire exercise stinks when a manager has not been able to inculcate a philosophy at the club the fans can get behind.

For example, Manchester City's youngsters have already been through the paces and were a joy to watch in pre-season. They are comfortable with the ball at their feet while their quick, synchronised movement on the pitch to create passing lanes proved they have been instructed well.

Manchester United v Liverpool - International Champions Cup 2018
Andreas Pereira (R) scored from a fantastic free-kick for United

That is not to say the youth players did not give their best. Mourinho had set up his team to counter and they were compact for the first half-hour. But a defensive United is no longer what is expected from frustrated fans pining for the glory days, paying big money for season tickets.

The youth teams are now looking to play a certain way with United's U-23 coach Ricky Sbragia admitting they have now been told to switch formations and tactics.

”We’ve been working on what formation we are going to play. We’ve been told what system we have to play, so we’ve been working around that [in pre-season]." - U-23 coach Ricky Sbragia

It does seem like a change that could help players integrate with the senior squad when the need arises but has it come too late considering Mourinho has been in charge for two seasons now?

Are Mourinho and the United board on the same page?

The United boss knows that if he is to challenge the likes of Manchester City and Liverpool for the Premier League title, he needs a complete squad.

City haven't made any big additions apart from Riyad Mahrez while Liverpool have been on a spending spree to strengthen their midfield and also broken the record to sign a top goalkeeper.

Ed Woodward Jose Mourinho
Are Ed Woodward and Jose Mourinho on the same page?

Mourinho has also signed midfielder Fred and full-back Diogo Dalot (apart from backup goalkeeper Lee Grant) but he insists he needs more signings.

"I would like two more players. I don't think I'm going to have two. I think it's possible I'm going to have one.
"I gave my club a list of five names a few months ago. I wait to see if it's possible to have one of these players. If it’s possible, it’s good. If not then we keep fighting and working and believing in the players that we have.”

There is no thinly veiled attack here. It's blatant and to the point. Mourinho feels he hasn't received enough help from a board that he feels is dragging its feet when it comes to transfers.

The board is reportedly in two minds regarding releasing any more funds for Mourinho. After allowing him to bring in Romelu Lukaku, Nemanja Matic, Victor Lindelof, and Alexis Sanchez (in January) last season, the club believed he had the squad required to challenge for the title.

Manchester United v Derby County - The Emirates FA Cup Third Round
Pogba and Lukaku played six games each at the World Cup and will not return soon

The fact that his senior team members will not be available at the start of the season suggests Mourinho wants new signings so he can hit the ground running from Matchday 1.

“This is nothing to do with reinforcements. The reinforcements are Pogba, Fellaini, Lindelof, Rashford, Lingard, Matic, Valencia. These are reinforcements."

With less than two weeks to go before the start of the season, the board seems to have woken up and given Mourinho its backing, according to The Guardian. While United do need a quality centre-back and probably another full-back, their search for a wide forward seems like overkill in a squad overflowing with attacking players.

Also read: Weakest Positions Top 6 Clubs Must Address before Deadline Day

At the same time, Nemanja Matic, his most crucial player, returned early despite an injury and subsequently had to undergo surgery.

“Matic is out for the start of the season. He came from the World Cup with an injury, and the time he had to rest was not enough to resolve the problem.
"He went to Philadelphia to a specialist and he had surgery immediately to try not to lose more time. I don't know how long he will be out for.”

This is another problem. In recalling an important player too soon, his injury situation has only become worse.

Chelsea v Manchester United - The Emirates FA Cup Final
Nemanja Matic will miss the start of the season for United

Matic is a player who has only suffered one minor injury in the past few years (a Malleolar injury that saw him miss 11 days) and he is now out for the start of the season.

Mourinho's unnecessary dig at Martial

The biggest complaint fans have regarding his behaviour is the way he deals with players. And the ugly side of his nature came to the forefront when he had a go at Anthony Martial - yet again.

The French forward had left the US tour to return home for the birth of his second child

“He has the baby and after the baby is born – beautiful baby, full of health, thank God. He should be here and he is not here."

For a number of fans, that was the last straw. Mourinho has been overly critical of Martial in recent seasons and the forward has had to fight for his place time and again.

Brighton and Hove Albion v Manchester United - Premier League
Anthony Martial has struggled to win over Mourinho in two seasons

In his 2015/16 debut season, Martial made 29 starts. Since then he has never made more than 18 starts for the Red Devils. Even then he was the club's second-highest goalscorer with 9 goals and 5 assists in the league.

Mourinho may be looking to offload him now that Alexis Sanchez and Marcus Rashford (who failed to impress as a centre-forward in Lukaku's absence) are effectively fighting for the wide forward role. With Ivan Perisic also a target, Martial's days at United may be numbered if a good bid comes in.

What next for United and Mourinho?

Who knows, a strong start to the season will put all this unnecessary tension to bed once and for all. They play Tottenham at home in Gameweek 3 but they do not meet another Top Six side until October when they face Chelsea.

AC Milan v Manchester United - International Champions Cup 2018
Will Mourinho keep it together this season and deliver silverware?

That gives Mourinho eight matches to take the lead in what will be a very tight title race. However, a couple of speed bumps early on could see Mourinho return to his surly and isolated self - just like he did at Chelsea.

That siege mentality will be an unwelcome sight but not surprising. But we have seen it all before when he loses a degree of control and starts losing faith in his club and the squad. 


Between the Lines is a series where we break down quotes by players and managers while delving deeper into the issue. You can read more such articles here.

Published 30 Jul 2018
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