Mourinho and Manchester United: Where is the problem?
Manchester United fans have been subject to a lot of pain and suffering in the last five years. Ever since the great Sir Alex Ferguson retired, the club has seen some turbulent times. However, it has hardly felt worse than last week's defeat to Tottenham Hotspur. Under the Old Trafford lights, Mauricio Pochettino's men trounced the hosts 3-0. A second defeat in a row means it is the club's worst start ever to a Premier League season.
It cannot be said that nobody saw this coming. The signs of turmoil at the club were visible in pre-season itself. The cracks are now wide open for the world to see. There are questions for a lot of people to answer and blame for everyone to share.
When a team is underperforming, fingers are inevitably pointed to the manager. For Manchester United with Jose Mourinho at the helm, things get worse. The Portuguese is someone who attracts constant scrutiny. Sometimes by his own doing, sometimes as a convenient target. Over his career, a lot of criticism against him has felt overblown. One can definitely emphasize with his calls for 'respect'.
A past to remember
No one can take away from what Jose Mourinho has achieved in the sport. If the Manchester United boss does not manage another match in his career, he has done enough to cement his status as an all-time great. His trophies, laurels, and achievements speak for themselves. Even if today, he does not get the adulation he expects, the history books will be extremely kind to him.
Mourinho will always be a hero at most of his past clubs. At both Inter Milan and Porto, he will be fondly remembered. Under him both clubs a rare and historic European Cup. While he is at a direct rival now, when the dust settles, his legacy at Chelsea will stand strong too. Mourinho was the architect of the club's first league title win in 50 years. At Real Madrid, the Portuguese might not have the same bond with the fans but no one will forget that he broke Barcelona's dominance.
As he was quick to mention on Monday, Mourinho has a special legacy in the Premier League. Since the rebranding of the league in 1992, only Sir Alex Ferguson has won more Premier League titles than Mourinho. With three winner's medal to their name, Jose Mourinho sits second on the list with Arsene Wenger.
However, the present does not make pretty reading for Mourinho. He has only won two league titles since 2010 having won six in eight seasons before that. The Champions League has not bought any happy memories for Mourinho since he lifted the trophy with Inter Milan. While his record in the period is not the worst, it is not anywhere close to the standard he set for himself.
Much of Mourinho's defence of himself has revolved around his past. First, it was reminding the world of the times when he knocked United out of the Champions League in March. Or now, by mentioning his three Premier League title wins, which he won at Chelsea. At some point or the other, Manchester United fans are bound to ask about what has done for their club.
Into Mourinho's third season at the club, Manchester United do not even look close to winning the title. His first season was a chaotic one that saw the club finish sixth in the Premier League. However, winning the League Cup and Europa League more than made up for it. Last year the Red Devils did secure a second place finish but 19 points behind arch-rivals Manchester City. The turbulent start to the current campaign suggests the title remains a far-fetched dream for the Old Trafford faithful.
Although, there has been definite progress for Manchester United under Jose Mourinho. On the basis of results, the club has seen definite improvements after where David Moyes and Louis Van Gaal had left them. But, the problems for the Red Devils are far more than just the points table.
As most of his critics would be quick to point out, the style of play is a big concern. More often than not under Jose Mourinho, Manchester United have played football that has been sore to the eye. The Portuguese have picked caution over adventure while his setting up his team. On the attacking front, the team has seemed to lack a pattern to the naked eye. In the first half against Tottenham when the Red Devils were pressing high up the pitch and taking the initiative, it took many by surprise. For a club of Manchester United's stature, that must be the norm, not an exception.
Further, the performance of a lot of player's cries out as a huge concern. None other than Paul Pogba symbolizes that. His quality was there for everyone to see at the World Cup. Over his Manchester United career, as it was visible in the last two matches, he has never played at the same level consistently. Someone like Alexis Sanchez has firmly established himself as the one of the best in the world. However, since coming to Old Trafford in January, the Chilean has looked a shadow of the player he was at Arsenal. Both the centre backs that were signed by Jose Mourinho Eric Baily and Victor Lindelof have barely made the defence better. Both Anthony Martial and Marus Rashford have not shown the progress that was expected of them after their first season at the club. While Romelu Lukaku has largely done well, he scored nine goals fewer in his first season at Old Trafford compared to his last season at Everton in the Premier League. Henrikh Mkhitaryan, who is no longer at the club, never seemed a proper fit at Old Trafford.
With so many players underperforming, the manager has to face some tough questions
Looking at the events in Manchester, do not be surprised if Chelsea fans claim a deja-vu. From the troubled preseason to a fall-out with the board and players and word by word in interviews, the current Manchester United season is turning identical to the ill-fated 2015-16 season at Chelsea. A lot of the same also happened in Mourinho's last season at Real Madrid. For the third time in a row, in the third season, things are falling apart for Jose Mourinho. Quite evidently, the blame lies with him somewhere or the other.
While opinions are divided in Manchester, the feeling from the outside is that Mourinho largely retains the support of the Old Trafford faithful. It is not hard to imagine why. This is the club of Sir Matt Busby and Sir Alex Ferguson; managers who were at the helm for 25 years. If Jose Mourinho gets the sack, he will be the third manager let go in six years. The short-termism is something the fans are not used too and something they do not appreciate. More importantly, Mourinho has looked the closest to get them back to their glory days since Sir Alex Ferguson.
Further, finding a manager of Mourinho's pedigree will be near to impossible. Only time will for how long he retain's the backing but for now, a lot of them feel the problems at United are not the manager but his bosses. They are not wrong.
At the end of last season, the need for a centre-back, right-winger and two full-back's were clear to one and all. However, the summer transfer window only produced a midfielder and a 19-year-old fullback for Manchester United. One cannot deny that enough investment was not carried out to help the Red Devils catch up with the defending Champions Manchester City.
Some media outlets claim that the Manchester United board vetoed most of Mourinho's target this summer. Reports suggest that the club's hierarchy felt the identified targets are extremely short-term. With most names being linked nearing the age of 30 and the past few transfers not working, the decision in isolation makes sense. However, that begs the question if the club did not trust Mourinho, why was he offered a new contract a few months back?
The more significant issue is who is taking these decisions? With whatever information is available, the club CEO Ed Woodward seems to hold all power. This brings up an essential aspect of why is a non-footballing person taking these decisions? Is a Charter Accountant, the person who should decide which type of players should or should not the club sign?
Make no mistake about it; Woodward is an essential person to the club. Under him, the club has attracted a host of new sponsors and have doubled their commercial revenue. He is one big reason United have the money to spend in the first place. Ed Woodward must only handle the financial and commercial aspects at the club and not the footballing side.
The cons of the arrangement at United is visible to one and all. Since Sir Alex Ferguson's retirement, the club has spent an enormous amount of money but have lacked a direction. Nothing exhibits that more than United's decision to replace Louis Van Gaal with Jose Mourinho. Both are coaches whose philosophy is on extreme ends of each other. This led to Mourinho arriving at the club with many players on the roster who did not compliment his style.
The need for a director of football at Old Trafford is dire. The club needs to bring a person with footballing experience to take decisions related to the sport. As visible with Txixi Begiristain at Manchester City, this formulates a structure, ideology, and direction at the club.
One thing that strikes you about the current Manchester United squad is the amount of deadwood. There are a lot of players in the first team who are just not good enough for Manchester United. In many ways, their presence on the roster has prevented the club from signing better players.
The 13-time Premier League Champions have had a tough time to get rid of certain players like Matteo Darmian and Marcus Rojo. The lack of interest from other teams is not the reason, but no one willing to match their wages. At Manchester United, every player is at an immensely high wage. While the club having the lowest wage to revenue ratio in the league can afford it, the ill effects are visible when they try to offload these players. Not to forget, it is also forcing the club to pay higher than normal money to buy new players. Ed Woodward will be best-served revisiting and revising the club's wage policy.
Ultimately, it is players who have to go and perform on the pitch. In no way, can they be excused of any responsibility. A lot of high-profile players have barely performed anywhere close to their potential. At the moment, some of them are hiding behind their manager.
A lot of question's about the mentality about the current squad also emerge. Against both Brighton and Tottenham, United conceded two goals in quick succession. There is an obvious issue in how this side reacts to adversity. If the team is to turn around their fortunes, it cannot happen without the big players stepping up to the plate.
Manchester United have the most decorated manager of the current generation at their helm. At his disposal, is a squad full of talented and accomplished players. There are all the tools in the box to turn around their fortunes. It will not shock a lot of people if these conversations sound a bit naive and premature in a few months.
However, Mourinho's third season syndrome does not give hope in that happening. If things do not change, it will be his head that will be first to fall. The attribution for a lot of blame falls on him and rightly so. Getting rid of the Mourinho might be a step; the club is forced to take.
Having said so, Manchester United's problems are not going to go away by just by sacking a manager. The club needs to do a lot more work from top to bottom if they wish to return to their glory days.