A week fails to go by nowadays without more melodrama being added to the enigmatic events taking place behind the scenes at Manchester United. For José Mourinho and his players, these past few days has seen further strained relationships, with one video clip making it clear to the public his palpable tension with former vice-captain Paul Pogba.
After the embarrassing and humiliating Carabao Cup exit to the hands of Frank Lampard’s Derby County, Mourinho has a testing challenge away at the London Stadium against West Ham this weekend. Should he find himself on the losing end and dropping more points so early on in the Premier League season, his position as head coach might just become untenable.
The United fans have already shown their anger, frustration and disappointment in the way Mourinho has led them out so far. Mishandling of players, especially, appears to be at the top of their list in he wrongdoings committed by the Portuguese manager – one of those players being Anthony Martial.
For one reason or another, Mourinho has never warmed to the French winger. At a time when United are on the ropes and in need of creative ingenuity, the former Chelsea manager appears reluctant to throw Martial into the mix and does it while biting his tongue. In the two recent games in which he has started, against BSC Young Boys and Derby, Martial came away with his head held high after two very direct and positive performances in which he showcased his talents.
Instead of building on that momentum he mustered up in Switzerland during the opening round of the Champions League group games, Mourinho opted for the out-of-form Alexis Sánchez against Wolves. The Chilean lasted just past the hour mark before being taken off – just as he has done for the majority of his lacklustre appearances this season – with Martial coming on at the same time and, although not affecting the result, did provide bright glimpses of what he is capable of yet again.
Whether it is Mourinho’s lack of understanding of the younger generation of footballers coming through as to why he appears callous and cold towards them remains to be seen, but his stubbornness in refusing to change some of the players in his team is causing Man United to stifle and become very easy to play against.
Mourinho’s men have been outplayed by five of their opening six opponents so far in the league this season – a damning indictment given this was supposed to be the season where the Portuguese boss would finally cement a proper title challenge.
The treatment of Luke Shaw over the past two years has been mind boggling as well. After claiming last January that the England international was one of the best left backs around, Mourinho went on to drop him to the bench for the following game and only featured Shaw in six of the remaining 15 games in the Premier League. So far this season, it can be said that the former Southampton defender has been one of United’s best players and has been deserving of his call up back into Gareth Southgate’s England squad.
Mourinho expects players to sacrifice themselves for the cause, but the way he has gone about it and pick on certain players in the media has been befuddling. Just this week, after the penalty shootout loss to Derby, Mourinho openly mentioned that he knew they were ‘in trouble’ when Phil Jones and Eric Bailly were the only outfield players left to take a penalty. Hardly a leader that inspires when he doesn’t even pretend to have full confidence in his own players, nor attempt to motivate them in his post-match comments.
Another player who has lost his way in a Red Devils jersey has been centre back Bailly. Signed as one of Mourinho’s first transfers from Villarreal, the Ivory Coast international has been a fan’s favourite and has consistently been United’s best defenders. While he makes mistakes from time to time, he is still only 24-years-old and has a few years to go before coming into his prime. However, according to some reports, Mourinho has not forgiven Bailly for missing a game in April of this year due to illness, and therefore doesn’t feel as if he can trust the Ivorian to step up to the plate. Most would say that is incredibly petty, and they wouldn’t be wrong, but Mourinho’s stubbornness and absolute circle of trust will not change for any player.
Mourinho has gone down this destructive path that was seen most recently at Chelsea in which he isolates his players and causes fractious relationships in the squad. There is a time and a place to pick out players publicly, but with the way United are at the moment, Mourinho doesn’t have a leg to stand on in terms of shaming them. While his players might not be performing to level expected, that could quite easily be due to the negative tactics deployed by the manager himself – but of course he would never admit to that.
The coveted manager might have won the Premier League just three years ago with Chelsea, but it appears as if the game has moved on without him, while he is still trying to emulate the same characteristics that won him an unprecedented amount of success when first coming onto the scene. Instead of adapting to modern times, with players who have had a completely different upbringing than the generation before them, Mourinho has remained rooted in his own timeframe, expecting others to bow to his demands or risk being ostracised from his squad.
Manchester United are in a crisis period on and off the pitch in footballing terms, but Ed Woodward, the executive vice-chairman, will not think about pulling the trigger until he thinks revenues might decrease. For the Red Devils are now commercially-driven and football matters appear to be only second best.
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