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The Holistic Nature of Manchester United's Worrying Predicament

Shambhu Ajith
Editor's Pick
978   //    11 Oct 2018, 15:27 IST

Time for the dust to settle?
Time for the dust to settle?

A house divided against itself cannot stand.

The air of uneasiness that envelopes Old Trafford these days comes packed with all the elements that nurture an outsider's ill-will. The goings-on at Carrington is best described, in the words of the club's manager, 'business as usual' with a hint of callousness. The sun isn't shining brightly on Mourinho's Red Army.

It is chaotic. It's a joke.

Or at least it was. Until Ashley Young's air mail was stamped and delivered into the netting in the foyer of the Stretford End in the 90th minute against Newcastle, Manchester United was all but a joke.

The full-time whistle that marked a long-anticipated win at the very den of the devils shouldn't ideally be sparking off such powerful fraternity cries, especially when the opposition is a team that has got demons that outweigh theirs.

But such are the depths to which Manchester United dropped - or we perceived they dropped - that any sign of a fight had to be encouraged to have a chance of it being repeated.

The stench that emanates did not come from one unkempt room with a closet of skeletons. It's an ordinary case of cracks joining at their ends to form a hole. And the blame starts with the ones who laid the concrete.

Glazing off?

In David Conn's recent article for The Guardian, he lays it out simplistically.

"The Glazers’ takeover has drained more than £1bn out of United since 2005, not too far off the amount Sheikh Mansour has invested into City."

Just how extensively and meticulously Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed al-Nahyan's takeover of Manchester City was planned and executed ought to serve as a lesson for Manchester United.

Manchester United fans have protested against the Glazers for years
Manchester United fans have protested against the Glazers for years

Manchester United, however, lead the way in terms of business. Their £590m record income, as published in the accounts that the club gave out two weeks ago, is £90 million more than that of Manchester City's.

Manchester United, as a global brand, is yet to take a hit. They continue to be the most valuable football team in the world. Period.

But what goes awry for the club is that cooped up in the U.S. of A, the Glazers take their share of the winnings away without a second thought. Mourinho wants a centre-back? Well, can he pay out of his own pocket? If not, why is he talking?

Financial costs remain high. United are losing half of the profits they make by furnishing payments to the Glazers whilst also financing the £523 million loan that the Glazers used to buy the club.

The dividends that the Glazers were paid in the last financial year was £22 million of a £44 million profit. To put things into perspective, this is the kind of money that most club owners let the club keep secured in their lockers for investments that are to be made on the footballing front.

So, as far as the Glazers are concerned, the profits are rolling in despite what unfolds on the pitch every week. The manager is inveighing against the top brass but the owners of the club are American businessmen whose business is thriving.

It's more convenient for them to offset the noise coming from England by investing in bargain-basement earplugs than shipping millions of pounds to Greater Manchester.

When you back the man but don't give him a platform to stand on

Jose Mourinho is many things. He is stubborn, he is loud, he is confrontational and maybe a touch too swayed by emotions. But one thing that Mourinho is not is a bad manager.

With Manchester United's impressive showings against the Top 6 in the 2017/18 campaign as evidence, his legacy remains untarnished though slightly stained.

All Mourinho wanted the board to do during the summer break was get him a centre-back. He provided them with options as well - top footballers with their price tags varying from free to £30 million to £75 million. He did not hold back either and the public airing of his grievances was a desperate attempt at forcing the club's hands.

Ed Woodward refused to give in though. While there are various reports that suggest that Manchester United want to adopt a structure that involves having a Director of Football who will have the final say over investments in the transfer market, the steps they have taken almost a year prior to making any sort of appointments on that front is unprofessional and that's if you mind telling them off.

It is quite criminal then that Ed Woodward decided that Jose Mourinho, the man who trains these players, briefs them on tactics and motivates them to stay focussed and perhaps knows the football 'team' better than anyone else is neither thorough with his thesis nor his designs.

Manchester United fans make their point regarding Ed Woodward's capabilities
Manchester United fans make their point regarding Ed Woodward's capabilities

On Woodward's faulty scale, knowledge of the football 'club' perhaps outweighs the knowledge of the 'team' and its personnel. Either Mourinho or Woodward need counselling.

But if the performances of the centre-backs, that the latter insisted Mourinho persist with, is anything to go by, the suggestion is that Woodward needs to be sent to the room.

However, in Woodward's defence, it's Mourinho himself who brought Eric Bailly and Victor Lindelof to the club over the course of two summers and both players are still struggling.

But when you give the manager a new contract and tell him that this is his team, you simply don't undermine his judgment. If you do, don't act surprised when the club is off the pace by seven points just eight game weeks in.

Jose Mourinho and his Red Army - Fractured relationships

Mourinho applauds the Manchester United fans at the Stretford End
Mourinho applauds the Manchester United fans at the Stretford End

The Special One hasn't entirely helped his case through this whole ordeal. Whether it be greeting the media with a scowl or undermining the capabilities of his players, his outright dismissive nature has fractured several relationships already and has set the Manchester United groove to being never upbeat and ceaselessly downtempo.

His public criticism of Luke Shaw and Anthony Martial, calling Paul Pogba out during the short period of time that the press was allowed access to Carrington, questioning the capacity of his defenders continuously and leaving players in the dark has contributed to the sense of foreboding that has forced his players into looking at the tactical area every single time they make a mistake.

His players are wrapped in fear, perennially erring on the side of caution. That has been the case from the get-go this season. Right from the very first game against Leicester, United players have been playing it safe when some departments had already proven that running security is not their best virtue.

Paul Pogba has found himself in the eye of the storm time and again this season
Paul Pogba has found himself in the eye of the storm time and again this season

It took the players a clear peek at the gates of doom to finally tear their baby face masks off and go to war; to truly live up to the moniker - The Red Devils. The wrath was inflicted and timidly absorbed by Rafa Benitez's men who walked out for the final 45 minutes of the game at Old Trafford to see off the formalities.

On the same tufts of grass that they were running riot, all of a sudden, the Toon Army was backpedalling. That's what this United team can do when they go about their business with gumption. They can shatter any team's sense of security, upend their pawns and combust their blueprints.

But it shouldn't take for even their own fans to shake their heads in contempt for them to spring to life. It's perhaps one of the unsolicited byproducts of the siege mentality that Jose Mourinho is (in)famous for instilling in his teams.

It also shows why, in the absence of a leader in the dressing room, teams can often stray from the path and eventually lose their way. The departures of Wayne Rooney, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, and Michael Carrick have definitely impacted the dressing room dynamics.

Mourinho hasn't exactly aged well either. His steadfastness with the outdated authoritarian gaffer model typifies his sense of self-righteousness and inability to evolve and adapt to the demands of an entirely new generation of players.

Is Mourinho's siege mentality now outdated?
Is Mourinho's siege mentality now outdated?

Most thriving coaches have pulled a stop to being the dictatorial father figure and have embraced the code of a big brother battening the hatches while patting the backs of those who are loading the cannons.

Why, Mourinho himself spoke about how the cathartic half-time team talk against Newcastle inspired one of the comebacks of the season.

“During half-time we opened our hearts and we spoke about tactical changes for two minutes.
"Then we spoke for eight minutes about other things that I thought would let the players be a little bit more free to face the second half and it became 3-2. Amazing.”

What United fans should feel optimistic about is how Mourinho was willing to lend an ear to Pogba's suggestions and how well the team did because of the consequent decisions.

Pogba suggested he play deep so that he can bring the ball out from the back. His industry and street-wrecking cruises into the opposition's boxes yielded two spectacular goals in the last 15 minutes of the game.

There could have been plenty more if United weren't so lenient about the punishment they were meting out to their opponents. But this should not stop here. In the worrying predicament and the outrageous amount of media scrutiny they find themselves in, Manchester United are always going up against the odds from now.

Manchester United came back from 2-0 down to beat Newcastle United 3-2
Manchester United came back from 2-0 down to beat Newcastle United 3-2

If staring at a 2-0 defeat is what urges the team to give it their best shot, they need to realise that their situation in the grand scheme of things is not any different. Manchester United are 2-0 down and they need to fight for themselves and fight for the fans.

If the unrest against Mourinho was existent, their second-half performance against Newcastle United is a clear indication that the players are willing to bleed for the Old Trafford faithful. It is on this sentiment that they need to build the rest of their reason on.

It is ironic how an article about Manchester United be defined by the word 'divided'. But the gears at the bottom have shown signs of meshing. What about those at the top?

Manchester United might be a fractured club at best right now.

But fractures heal, don't they?