By Manish Pandey.
All it takes is one bad week at a club like Manchester United and the doom and gloom sets in. A club the stature of Manchester United should not be having a week where they lose 3 games in a row.
Yet it has happened. More than the outcome, it is the way in which such a week has unfolded which is troubling. Full of optimism before the derby, there is now a feeling of impending crisis at the club with Mourinho at the centre of that.
Paul Pogba has not produced. Wayne Rooney looks finished. Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s performances have deteriorated. There is little defensive discipline. And yes, Jose Mourinho has started to publicly criticise his players.
An argument can be made that it is too early to make any kind of judgement on Mourinho at United. However, the signs at the moment, are not encouraging at all. Mourinho’s powers look to be on the wane.
Mourinho at the minute, resembles a man who is not in control. He seems startled at the size of the club and the job in hand. He has shown no clarity in decision making.
Mourinho at his peak- between 2004-2010- was a man who knew what he wanted. He had a formula for success. Defensive discipline, tactical awareness and a powerful team which had control of the game. He was the man who was the banker in the big games.
Currently, it is the complete opposite. There is no set way of United playing football. For a man who many thought had plans ranging from A-Z – there now seems to be no Plan A. At best, United have been a long ball team. Long balls against City, Feyenoord and Watford represent a hopeful strategy.
Defensively, United look even more susceptible than they did under Louis van Gaal. There seems to be a real lack of organisation. Not something associated with a Jose Mourinho team.
Ruthlessness. A trait in many Mourinho teams and the manager himself. The team have been far from ruthless, not taking the few chances they’ve created. The manager has shown himself to being weak by persisting with Wayne Rooney.
Rooney has had a great career and still has much to offer. Without doubt, however, the time has come for Rooney to increasingly offer his services from the bench and not the starting XI. There are players who are better equipped to doing what Mourinho is currently asking of Rooney, and players who are in far better form than Rooney.
The Rooney problem is small relative to the wider problems at the club, but is perhaps symbolic. His power at the club is so great than managers since Sir Alex Ferguson seem unable to reduce his role.
Instead of trying to shoehorn his captain into the team, Mourinho needs to do what is best for the team. Rooney is not the best in any position that he plays, of the players available.
Mourinho needs to take a look across Manchester and see how Pep Guardiola has created his Man City team.
Guardiola came in with a set of ideas, a system he prefers and he chose the players best suited to that system. That meant no place for Joe Hart, Yaya Toure or Samir Nasri. Formidable footballers, but not part of Guardiola’s thinking.
On the contrary, Mourinho is the man with no plan. He has shuffled his starting XI often, showing no idea of knowing what his best team is. There is no idea as to what his best centre-back partnership is, what the best midfield combination is, nor who his best wingers are. These are significant areas of the pitch.
Muddled decision making has been best displayed in the derby and against Watford. Jesse Lingard and Henrikh Mkhitaryan were brought into the derby despite the fact that they had barely played any football all season. They looked off the pace and were subbed at half-time.
Against Watford, Mourinho played Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford, despite the fact that they had played just 3 days earlier. Memphis Depay came on for Luke Shaw at left-back in the closing stages. Baffling.
Michael Carrick has not played a single second of football this season. What was the point of him signing a 1 year extension?
Increasingly, Mourinho’s demeanour is now resembling that of a Mourinho who is in the midst of a meltdown. We have seen it before at Real Madrid and Chelsea.
The blame of the referees. The public shaming of his players. The lack of taking responsibility himself. An inability to understand medical welfare (his reaction to Anthony Martial’s injury was bizarre).
Mourinho of old, on the way up, made players love him. Now he expects them to obey him. Criticising players publicly can be dangerous and can impact dressing room morale.
He no longer has the shine of the old Mourinho. The charming man, who was cocksure and so full of self-belief. His antics whereas entertaining before, now seem tiresome and boring.
Now he seems full of self-doubt and negativity. The reasons behind this can be seen through his tactics, and more deeper, his time in Spain.
His experience of Spain has undoubtedly dented his confidence and belief.
Mourinho prior to his time at Real Madrid, was the leading tactician in the world. He had a script and the game would often play to that script.
At Real Madrid, however, he encountered a challenge and a foe which has left him badly bruised and feeling tactically vulnerable. That foe being Barcelona and Pep Guardiola in particular.
Guardiola’s brand of football has been revolutionary in the modern day. Many have said it was due to having Xavi, Iniesta and Messi that he was successful. But just looking at the way his teams have played subsequently at Bayern Munich and currently at Manchester City, it is clear that his idea of football is something great.
The football has been scintillating. It has been attacking, striving for perfection. It has been a style of football that makes Mourinho look outdated.
Mourinho never found a solution. He tried very hard, putting Pepe in midfield, tinkering with the tempo and fluidity of the game. Never did he find a way to overcome which would work. We saw it in the derby. It looked like City had 15 men on the pitch they were finding that much space.
There is no doubt that Mourinho is less effective now than before 2010. His main success came within 6 years (2004-2010), at a time when Europe moved to a more defensive brand of football. Since then, a return to a more attacking mindset has seen Mourinho win only 2 titles this decade.
The other super-coaches in the premier league, Guardiola, Jurgen Klopp and Antonio Conte have a fresh energy about them- much like Mourinho did when he first arrived in England.
The teams they manage also play with positive energy, looking to attack and score goals. In contrast, Mourinho seems old, tired and yesterday’s news.
Even the title that Mourinho won with Chelsea in 2015 was not a typical Mourinho title. He did not storm the league and charge over the finishing line, rather limped to success. Within that, his dealings in the transfer market left much to be desired.
Of course it is dangerous to write off a coach with the CV of Mourinho. It is key to remember that most coaches (with the exception of Sir Alex Ferguson) enjoy 10 years of greatness. The game moves on fast.
Mourinho is resembling Roy Hodgson more than he is vintage Jose Mourinho.
He needs to find his best team. He needs to get the best out of Pogba. He needs to build positivity, not negativity amongst his squad. He needs to be ruthless and drop players out of form. He needs to increase the energy and intensity of the team. He needs to do this fast.
14 defeats in his last 32 games suggest a deeper issue with Mourinho, one which should cause concern for Manchester United fans.