When Jose Mourinho complains, you start to block it out. We’re used to it by now. We know what he’s like.
A Europa League campaign which has seen the club take in trips to Ukraine, Holland, Turkey, France, Russia and Belgium is the latest bee to get trapped under Mourinho’s bonnet, but the question should be what the Manchester United manager expected?
After a traumatic last half-season at Chelsea, Mourinho found himself landing the job may assumed he always wanted in the first place. And yet, surely he knew what to expect. A six-page ‘love letter’ was, apparently, one of the ways in which the Portuguese manager wooed the club over a year ago, in a treatise detailing what was wrong with the current squad and how he’d fix it. It seemed he’d given a great deal of thought into the position in which United had found themselves.
And yet, he’s spent most of the season complaining about European away trips and fixture congestion.
He knew this already, of course. You can say he just likes to complain, but it’s a ploy to build a siege mentality in his squad in the build-up to a rough run-in. There’s no doubting that the games are about to come thick and fast for United, and their Premier League schedule makes for difficult reading, too.
All of this means that the Manchester United manager is about to ramp up his complaints and his pre-emptive excuses. But it is all starting to feel more and more out of place. United’s current place is below the Champions League, and nine home draws this season shows that they don’t necessarily belong among the elite.
Win the Europa League, of course, and they will get there. Guaranteed a place in the group stages, they won’t even have to qualify. But the feeling of entitlement that bounds out of Old Trafford is anachronistic; it doesn’t sit well.
And yet it might just be the only way United can regain their spot at the top of the Premier League and at the summit of Europe. The cash reserves and corporate pulling power that Manchester United have amassed over the past few seasons have allowed the club to take their very specific approach to the problem of their team’s decline: spend their way out of stagnation. It’s this arrogance, this ability to stick their fingers in their ears and shout at the tops of their voices ‘we are a massive club’ that has allowed United to keep their status even if, over the last four years, they certainly haven’t deserved it.
And if that doesn’t sit well, it’s because it shouldn’t. Not to anyone who isn’t a United fan. But Mourinho doesn’t care. In a world of fake news and misinformation, it doesn’t matter who hates you as long as it works.
Having spent most of the season in sixth place and built the most underwhelming, unproductive unbeaten run in Premier League history, some might say that it hasn’t worked for United.
But if their strategy is to maintain their status as one of Europe’s elite simply by saying it and acting like it, Mourinho can’t accept the Europa League as a good thing – even though it looks like the only route back into the big time.