If you abstained from independent thought and believed wholesale what you read in the newspapers then right now you’d be under the impression that Manchester United are mired in crisis.
It may briefly cross your mind that not a single ball has yet been kicked in competitive anger and you may find that somewhat odd, certainly premature. But then along comes another apocalyptic headline; another back page full of doom and gloom, and you know from learned behaviour what the end game is.
Soon the manager will be sacked – nobody resigns these days due to the millions they miss out on – and until that day comes the results and performances will suffer and the club will only fragment further. We’ve seen it all before several times over.
Yet what is remarkable about United’s present stasis is that in no way, shape or form can it realistically be deemed an actual crisis. They have one of the world’s top three goalkeepers. They have a manager who can organise a defence better than his peers.
In midfield Paul Pogba, unquestionably a magnificent talent and so recently a World Cup winner, roams among a collection of attacking superstars most other clubs would sell their soul for while up front they boast a centre-forward in Romelu Lukaku who has scored 101 Premier League goals from 220 appearances.
Last season United finished second and there’s absolutely no shame in taking the silver medal behind a record-smashing City side. Furthermore, in proving themselves to be the best of the rest they comprehensively out-performed Liverpool, Spurs, Chelsea and Arsenal accruing 18 more points than the latter.
Two years ago they won the League Cup and Europa League and there is truly no pettiness intended in pointing out that is two more trophies than Spurs or Liverpool have won in that timeframe.
Add the permanent pluses into the big picture – not least United’s global renown and their astonishingly broad fan-base and significantly too a largely sycophantic press who are desperate for them to succeed because the sales spike – and you have a goliath in rude health all things considering.
This then is not a crisis in fortune but rather an existential cataclysm and what is most remarkable is that the origin of their troubles is not external. Instead it’s been created, exacerbated and outright encouraged by their own manager.
Mourinho has form for this. Of course he does. We witnessed him do similar at Chelsea when he self-combusted and did his level best to bring down the house with him and with everything not going his way at Old Trafford most of us expected him to press the detonator once again. That’s what he does going into his third season. That’s what he does as a manager. He half-builds a citadel then blows it up with dynamite.
Even so, witnessing his wanton sabotage never fails to astound and so surly and toxic has been his demeanour while on tour in the US that it’s led once again, just like at Chelsea, to conspiracy theories. He is trying to get himself sacked. Perhaps. He is attempting to force the board into releasing more transfer funds. More likely.
Yet there is another consideration that is wholly applicable here, one that you won’t see anywhere in the mainstream media simply because they can’t say such things. But here it is: Jose Mourinho is a psychopath.
That word is not used loosely. In 2017 Psychology Today laid out a list of character traits that define a psychopathic mind and from calculating callousness to an inability to feel guilt or shame; from blame externalisation to a grandiose sense of self-worth; from an incapacity to plan long term to sociopathic selfishness all these things pretty much sum up the Portuguese eye-gouger to a tee.
More so, we can debate and react to Mourinho’s actions until the sun goes down but sometimes the truth is simple yet ugly. He is a toxic individual. He is neither ‘flawed’, complicated or charismatic. He is uniformly despicable.
In this context his latest alienation of a star player – on this occasion Anthony Martial for wanting to be present at the birth of his son – comes as little surprise because it’s straight from the Mourinho textbook. Frankly, it’s tempting to believe that he would willingly sacrifice the good name of anyone or anything in order to preserve the reputation he deludes himself into thinking still exists. His overt pessimism meanwhile can be put down to pre-emptive excuse-making.
His persistent sniping aimed at the club’s youth system however; well that’s a different matter entirely.
Every manager knows the importance of a club’s identity. Bar the slagging off of fans (something Mourinho has previously done at Chelsea incidentally) it’s essentially the only topic off-limits. You can criticise the ground. You can diss any player you like. You can even throw barbed comments in the direction of the owners and still see your stock rise as is so often the case with Rafa Benitez.
A club’s identity though is its soul; it’s raison d’etre. It’s what a club stands for and makes it meaningful far beyond being a structure of bricks and mortar containing rich employees. To disrespect a club’s identity is to spit on its badge.
And we all know what United stands for, the two attributes it treasures over and above league placing and transfer coups: its rich heritage of bringing through academy players and its traditional adherence to playing adventurous football.
That Mourinho has seemingly gone out of his way to dismantle these institutional concepts – first by sterilising the United brand to the point where watching them is only marginally preferential to seeing paint dry and now by throwing the kids in his charge under a proverbial bus by claiming repeatedly they are not players who represent him on the pitch – is staggering, even from a man with no moral compass.
“He’s going to kill the club”. That’s what an old bloke said in my local last night, a Red who used to travel home and away to see Busby’s great side and later Ferguson’s until age got the better of him. “And if he doesn’t kill it he’ll ruin its reputation forever”.
Only he won’t do either of those things. Not at all.
Mourinho is presently a pimple on a model’s face. He can cause immense damage to individuals – from those approaching their peak such as Martial to kids just starting out – and that is a genuine concern. But United’s identity will remain unharmed and when he leaves, as he surely will soon, it will be reborn as if nothing ever happened.
That’s why Everton still have pride in their School of Science even after Allardyce crapped all over it. It’s why West Ham still has a ‘way’ no matter which mediocre man stands on their touchline. A club’s identity is immune to temporary dishonour. It regenerates.
There is a scene from the hit series Mad Men where the main character Don Draper – a guy who has reinvented himself many times over – visits a female colleague in hospital. She has just given birth and intends to give the baby away so as to resume her career.
“It will shock you how much it never happened,” he says and that is what I’m saying to United fans now. When Mourinho is gone and a new coach comes in, a coach who respects the traditions and identity of the club and cherishes its vitality, these past couple of years will quickly feel like a strange dream.
A strange dream featuring a psychopath motivated only by the hatred he has for a world that once venerated him.