Jose Mourinho will be deploring the current state of affairs at Manchester United. One of football’s most competitive, win-at-all-cost managers snapped at the chance to take on what was believed to be his dream job and, to this point, he has failed. Success is the name of the game for Mourinho, winning is his bread and butter, yet he has not found a way to make an expensive Manchester United side perform any better than his maligned predecessors, David Moyes and Louis van Gaal.
The cost of team should really have little relevance to what is expected from them, but in the modern game that is far from the status quo. The world record fee flaunted for Paul Pogba, the expense dropped for the currently isolated Henrikh Mkhitaryan and the eye-watering wages shelled out for Zlatan Ibrahimovic made major silverware a must in the eyes of many. In fairness to Mourinho, and the players in question, the disrepair of Manchester United’s squad – which goes back to the latter years of Alex Ferguson’s regime – was severe. Weaknesses throughout the squad blighted the club and, partly because of Ferguson’s magical final season Premier League title, made Mourinho’s task far harder from the off.
Rebuilding a squad takes longer than one summer of monstrous spending. Even Moyes and Van Gaal were given unfair criticism for the weaknesses in the squad. Overachievement from Ferguson papered over gaping cracks in the squad, making it yet harder to follow his tenure. Mourinho, however, is struggling even to keep his own team’s head above water. Time to embed new players, patterns of play and styles is one thing, but the amount that was spent and the stature of the club demands that the team produces more than they have shown so far.
Their current position is equidistant between the top of the table and the relegation zone, that is clearly below where United want to be, and the quality of performance offers scant consolation.
Aside from doubts over the quality in the squad, Mourinho had personal issues to resolve too. The new manager perhaps felt he had to give Wayne Rooney an opportunity before taking the obvious decision to exclude him from the starting line-up. The politics of the club were always going to be an extra hurdle, and we are yet to discover – and may never know – what went on internally at the club throughout the Rooney situation. Whatever happened, the whole early season charade to justify his decision to drop a player with such a career behind him was an unwelcome distraction from moulding his team. Bastian Schweinsteiger and Morgan Schneiderlin have both been alienated by Mourinho as well, which has been a particularly puzzling decision given the Red Devils’ weaknesses in the deep midfield roles. Schweinsteiger has been recalled to first team training this week, something that could suggest a rare admission of a mistake by Mourinho.
Instant success was always going be the expectation given Mourinho’s reputation and the signings that were made. It may have been slightly excessive after the dismal seasons Manchester United have endured since the retirement of Ferguson, but the current performances and results for Mourinho’s side are almost inexcusable. Challenges are presented with squad management and balancing a team of so many immensely gifted individuals was always going to throw up plenty of questions, yet Mourinho is failing in many markedly un-Mourinho ways.
He is still a great manager, one of the best even, although he is no longer the undoubtable, guaranteed winner that he once was. The demise of Chelsea in 2015/16 and the beginning of his Manchester United tenure have shown a man who has become even more stubborn, become increasingly agitated and perhaps lost his clear-thinking tactical nous that gave him the edge over the majority of managers on the planet.
There were predicaments aplenty on Mourinho’s arrival, but he has added to his list of difficulties more than solving them, so far at least.