Premier League 2018/19: Should Manchester United really sack Mourinho?
Everyone can see Manchester United failing. Everyone can also see Jose Mourinho failing. So when the two are failing together, you know that the media is in for the time of their lives.
It all began on 27 May 2016, when the biggest club in the world signed the most controversial manager in football. Mourinho, having won the league at every club he had coached, was expected to bring instant success to a club that was but a shadow of its former self. Having finished 7th, 5th and 4th in the league since Sir Alex’s departure, United were desperate to mount a challenge, both in England and in Europe. Mourinho himself was coming on the back of a highly unsuccessful title defence at Chelsea, where he was sacked after losing nine of their sixteen Premier League games.
There were doubts at the time, of course. Many believed that his tactics were outdated and that his controversies with the media would not augur well at a club like Manchester United. Also, his history of falling out with star players was also expected to cause problems. The unease temporarily subsided when United secured a champions league spot by winning the Europa League along with the EFL Cup.
The team was expected to peak and mount a genuine title challenge during Jose’s famous “second season”. However, in spite of finishing second during the 16-17 season, few would consider it as a title challenge. They were also knocked out during the round of 16 of the Champions League by Sevilla, following a highly insipid display.
There were reports regarding growing unease in the dressing room, mainly regarding his 100 million signing, Paul Pogba. The reports peaked at the start of this season, the infamous Mourinho “third season”, and the performances by United and Mourinho have done nothing to quell the rumours. Unnecessary post match comments, Instagram posts, leaked videos, controversial line ups - the last month has been nothing short of a spectacle at Manchester United.
They have now begun their season with their worst ever start and following 4 winless matches, the alarm bells are ringing loud and clear - for both Mourinho and Woodward. The internet has been full of articles and videos as to why Mourinho should be sacked. Listing out the same here would be redundant. So let us see the reasons why sacking Mourinho might not be the right decision.
The primary accusation against Mourinho has been that he has been unable to get the best out of his star players - the likes of Pogba, Sanchez, Rashford, Martial. Critics claim that Mourinho restricts the attacking influence of such midfielders by forcing defensive duties on them. But is that really the case?
Ronaldo, arguably, had his best season under Jose Mourinho; the Frank Lampard we know is primarily due to Jose’s early tutoring; the Inter Milan treble winning side of 2010 was led by Wesley Sneijder. Hazard revealed that it was Mourinho who really enforced in him the belief that he could be the world’s best. Ozil, Fabregas, Joe Cole, the list of attacking players who have thrived under Mourinho is not a small one.
Another accusation frequently made against Mourinho is that he plays boring defensive football. Sure, he emphasizes on defensive solidarity and occasionally uses highly defensive tactics to grind out results. But is his football really that boring?
His teams in the past have broken records such as most goals scored, most points in a season, best home record, most away wins. The counter attacking system he introduced at Real Madrid was carried on by succeeding coaches and has played a major part in their recent record breaking successes. Is all this really that dull?
The third major criticism against Mourinho is that he frequently criticizes his players in the media and brings a lot of negativity to the squad. While it may seem like this is what is going at Manchester United, it has not always been the case. Many of his former stars have described him as being fiercely loyal towards his players.
There has also been widespread praise for his man management and his ability to bring out the best in his players. He is known to trigger players into performing better, by criticizing them openly. While it may be true that such methods might be obsolete in a time where players are known as much for their wages and social media profiles as their performances , it is also true that Manchester United knew that this is what they signed up for.
Mourinho is a manager who has always been known as an authoritarian figure, and is a person who expects total commitment and loyalty from his group of players. The players knew that, the fans knew that, Ed Woodward knew that.
So what really is the problem at Manchester United? Sure, the Portuguese has his part to play. His comments have been uncalled for at times, he has often hung his players out to dry, and the performances simply have not matched the talk. But I believe the problems are much more wide spread than just the manager.
What he described in his post-Sevilla press conference last season as “footballing heritage” is something one must seriously consider. United have been disappointing since the retirement of Sir Alex and have had limited exposure to European competition as well as title races. Most of their players have not been around at the club for more than three seasons.There is a genuine lack of leadership at the club.
Compare this to their fiercest rivals , Manchester City. City have finished in the top 4 consistently over the past 7 seasons and have even won it on three occasions. They have played highly competitive matches in the Champions League. They have title winning veterans like Kompany and Aguero to mould the winning mentality into youngsters. The same applies to Chelsea.
One might also argue that United's players simply are not good enough. Is Romelu Lukaku, in spite of his goalscoring record, really that good? He has been highly wasteful in front of goal during his time at United. Is Pogba really worth all the hype? Despite winning the World Cup with France, his performances over the past couple of seasons have been abysmal more frequently than they have been good.
Is United's defence really a title winning defence? Not a chance. The very fact that Mourinho is unable to find a consistent centre back pairing shows the inconsistency of the backline. We just do not have the calibre of players to compete with the likes of De Bruyne, Hazard, Salah, Firmino in our squad. Can a squad so devoid of game changers really pose a threat?
Then there is also the question of the players attitude. The players are simply not giving it their 100%. Pogba consistently loses the ball in important areas and does not break his neck in trying to recover it. Martial is nonchalant to what goes on around him. Lukaku’s movement at times has been extremely lazy, to say the least.
Even in situations where we would normally expect a strong response from players, the attitude has been very poor. We simply cannot attribute this to Mourinho. Mourinho’s squads are known for their fighting spirit and their desire to win. This United squad does not reflect that attitude.
They should be giving it their all on the pitch irrespective of what the dressing room situation is. As Roy Keane recently said - “When you walk out on that pitch you're playing for your pride, you are playing for your family, you're playing for your city".
So what can the board do to address the present situation? I believe that Mourinho should given a chance to finish the season. The “Special One” might not be as special anymore and his approach to management might have been more suited for the players of yesteryear, and his media remarks probably need to stop, but all said and done, he is one of the greatest managers ever, and his record speaks for itself.
His tactical prowess still remains unparalleled,and there have been many instances of the Mourinho Masterclass in the past two years.( The comeback at the Etihad, 2-1 against Liverpool, the Europa League Final, 2-0 Chelsea, 2-1 Chelsea etc). His performance against big teams has been excellent. And there is also the fact that there is simply no one to replace him.
The possible options as of now are Giggs and Zidane(who had the best defender, midfielder and forward in his Real Madrid squad). Do they really have the experience to manage such a big club at such a turbulent time, especially given that the league is the most competitive it has been in years.? Also, as Giggs pointed out, sacking Mourinho would just add further instability and nullify any hopes of progress.
What United should do is stick to Mourinho and get him his signings during the winter transfer window. They should also let the squad know that he is here to stay, and that if they want to retain their positions they should start giving it their all on the pitch. Creating an environment of stability is what is essential. If he is still unable to deliver, then they are justified in sacking him.
Mourinho faces the biggest test of his career right now, one that could probably shape his future as a manager, and there is no better time for him to prove that he really is a great. It would be sad to see United sack him, because that would mean that United are no different from Chelsea. As Liverpool’s recent resurgence has shown, maybe sometimes patience is the best option. Let’s just hope that Jose Mourinho can get the Reds Marching again.