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Where did it go wrong for Jose Mourinho at Manchester United?

CONTRIBUTOR
Feature
2.04K   //    22 Jan 2019, 13:32 IST

A Legend of the past?
A Legend of the past?

Many would not have found it the perfect match when the 'Special One' arrived at Manchester United in May 2016. But it wasn't a match that United were looking for at that point. It was an answer. 

An answer to their city rivals who had appointed Pep Guardiola in November 2015. United looked to respond, in a way, by appointing a man who had broken Pep's brilliance before in Spain, and probably the only man possible to do so in England.

Jose Mourinho guaranteed success. He has won everywhere he has been - with Porto in Portugal, Chelsea in England, Inter in Italy and Real Madrid in Spain. Gary Neville recently revealed in a Sky Sports Interview, " I did not for once think, that Jose Mourinho would leave Manchester United without winning the League ". Very few would have disagreed with him when Mourinho joined the Red Devils.

But what went wrong? Just what did Mourinho do for ensuring Neville was proved wrong? 

The most notable shift from the Mourinho teams of old to his United team was the fluctuating back 4 and his lack of trust in his defence. Many managers get along with it, but not Mourinho. Jose builds teams from the back and at United, he didn't have that (part of which maybe his own fault).

Moreover, Jose's signings never clicked well, be it Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Alexis Sanchez or the injury-prone Eric Bailly. The biggest impact maker arguably was Zlatan Ibrahimovic, for whom United didn't pay a penny. 

Of course, Mourinho's discontent with Ed Woodward's willingness to spend also played its part. The hottest topic of debate at United in the summer was the need for a new central defender.

Woodward, on his part maybe justified to question that decision considering the performances of Eric Bailly and Victor Lindelöf but at the same time, Mourinho was given a contract extension in January 2018. Extending the contract of a manager means that the club had sufficient faith in him and could not escape from backing him financially.

If Woodward had doubts over Mourinho's ability to bring the best out of new signings, then why was he given an extension in the first place? And if that was not the case, why was Jose undermined for his want of a new centre-half?

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Soon, there was a toxic air of negativity around Old Trafford. Mourinho's public revelations did not help either. Comments like "Everything is very bad" and "It is going to be a very difficult season" during the very first press conference of the season only contributed further to the tension and possibly also took a toll on the confidence of the players, who were coming into season on the back of an exhausting World Cup too.

Mourinho also did not hold back in criticising his players publicly. Such antics worked in the past but clearly don't, now.

Here are some of his quotes in post-match interviews and press conferences.

"The way some of the players played today, if I knew before the game how they would play, I would not pick them," on 10 September 2016, following a 2-1 home defeat to Manchester City in only the fourth game of the League. 

"I could not convince my players the importance of the second position," after United's defeat away to Brighton at the end of 2017/18 season

"I prefer to say Matic and Lukaku have been performing at the top level because I cannot tell you the ones that are not performing," on United's Champions League exit to Sevilla in March 2018.  

Considering he never really got the best out of his players through such criticism, maybe his man-management could be questioned. More so, when its highly rare today to see managers publicly criticise the performance of their players.

Mourinho's desire to stay at the club long-term was always in question considering his accommodation pattern. As surprising as it may seem, Mourinho never acquired a property in Manchester throughout his time at the club, but rather chose to dwell in the Lowry Hotel throughout his tenure as manager. 31 months is a highly long period to reside in such a manner and certainly does not give a sense of intimacy.

United's performances deteriorated in the 3rd season and also matched the exit of Mourinho's long term assistant, Rui Faria, which raised questions of how instrumental Faria might have been to Jose's past triumphs.   

Perhaps more than anything, it could most importantly be concluded that it was Mourinho's mentality that lead to his downfall. It was the same mentality that helped him achieve various laurels in the past and the same mentality of which he was extremely proud.

But in all fairness, football revolutionized but Mourinho did not evolve with the game. The most notable example being his relationship with talisman Paul Pogba and the role given to him on the pitch.

Pogba was bound to attract criticism keeping in mind the amount of money spent on him and his attention-grabbing antics off the field. But on the pitch, he was a shadow of his former self primarily due to the lack of freedom he was granted. Despite the presence of Nemanja Matic, Pogba was still expected to do the defensive chores of the team as well as provide an attacking threat.

The days of box-to-box midfield are gone. Today, midfielders are either attacking midfielders or defensive midfielders. It seems like Mourinho was never able to decipher as to which category his star man belonged to and Pogba was stuck in the middle of nowhere.

Ole Gunnar Solskjær has arrived at United, has given Pogba the freedom to attack and the man is simply on fire. Alternatively, one could also analyse the limited attacking threat United's full-backs provided under Mourinho, whereas in modern football, those positions are highly pivotal to a team's attacking efficiency.

Ten years ago, full-backs may not have been so crucial to a team's attack, and this is another classic example of how Jose stuck to his tactics of the past.      

Summing that all up and with due respect to Mourinho's previous accolades, it could be concluded that there was a significant generation gap at United between the manager and his young group of players.

How many times does it happen that you converse with an elderly person and do not relate to their philosophies simply because they were a thing of the past and are obsolete now?

United's dressing room might have been victim to a similar position where the 55-year-old manager failed to understand the needs of his players and vice versa. Perhaps that explains why comparatively younger managers like Jurgen Klopp, Pep Guardiola and Mauricio Pochettino have seen more success in the Premier League lately and probably also indicates the direction in which United need to head in pursuit of their next permanent manager.

As for Jose Mourinho, he was indeed a footballing genius, whose failure to evolve with the game made people question his intellect.

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