Dragging Mourinho through the mud seems like a separate sport discipline in the media these days. Transfer fees are mentioned, non-existing playing style even after more than two years in charge, and Jose himself doesn’t help with his media outings, blaming everyone from bottom to the top of the club – everyone but himself.
I’ll try to evaluate just exactly how justified Mourinho criticism is, and what does the future hold for Manchester United.
Mourinho’s football was always pronounced for two things: hard and disciplined defensive setup and fast and efficient counter-attacks. This approach requires somewhat specific mentality, the one that’s completely focused on the team and doing everything for the win, even if it means going against the rules. Mourinho’s also known for his honest and direct approach to his players. For example, when Jose joined Inter, he held a private meeting with Dejan Stanković and told him “You are second best box-to-box midfielder in the world. Frenkie Lampard is the best. We will try to get him, but if we fail, you will be my main man out there.” Stanković appreciated almost shocking directness and later on became crucial part of Inter’s treble-winning team.
When he arrived to Manchester, he got his superstar box-to-box midfielder in Pogba as a move-in present. The young Frenchman was regarded as the biggest midfield talent in Europe, playing key role in Juve’s 2015 hunt for European glory where they were only stopped by the unstoppables that season – Lucho’s Barca. Needless to say, Juventus won both league and cup trophy. From personal standpoint, Pogba was scary good that season – played with so much maturity, flair and strength, it seemed like he was made in Mourinho factory.
Pogba’s not the only one who joined in making the new superteram – Mou’s favorite soldier, Ibrahimović, was on his way to prove he can terrorize traditionally physical English defences. Interesting story It’s well-known that Zlatan prefers Mourinho to every other coach, as they share similar outlooks on football and life. Their special relationship was result of their high-intensity approach, and there’s an interesting quote on this.
He was very angry and upset as he came at me. He was shouting, ‘We are champions, I helped a lot to make you champions, now nobody’s helping me. I want to [come off] now’.
“But I pretended not to understand him. I said, ‘What? What? Do you want a drink, do you want some water?’ and I threw him a bottle. I told him, ‘Here, take a drink and go’. A few minutes later he scored a beautiful goal.
Other than superstar duo, Bailly, promising 22-year old centre-back and flairy offensive midfielder Mkhitaryan joined to challenge for the title led by the man who brings success – Jose.
Mourinho used the first season to evaluate and assess the situation at Manchester. There weren’t many complaints, although it was clear the team has no identity on the pitch, unlike Conte’s Chelsea or Pep’s City, but if one man had the credit, it was “The Special One”. Still, the team won the Europa League which, of course, gave Mou some bragging rights.
Things started clicking in the second season. Manchester newcomer, Romelu Lukaku, scored at will, with 27 goals in 44 appearances to his name. Pogba looked like the leader to be followed by the team. Unexpected gem was found in Lingard, who scored 13 goals, while running his heart out whenever he was given the opportunity. Manchester United came up second in the league, behind unparalleled City. Concerns started raising, because, even though the result was satisfying, the performance wasn’t. It was already clear that the team doesn’t have identified structure or idea with the ball, and even less off of it. Wins were scraped, mostly relying on individual quality, but the avalanche of problems was peeking just below Jose’s sight.
In general, Mourinho’s teams rely on fanatism, and the newer generation of players doesn’t share the mentality. In the words of Gatusso*:
When I lost a match I broke down in frustration. Today players lose, take a selfie and put it on the Internet. They make me sick.
*I’ll do my best to include Gatusso in every future blog post in any way possible
Pogba is marketing-driven superstar. New haircut is often as important as his performance on the pitch. He doesn’t fit Portugese’s “me vs the world” agenda, and it hurts Manchester on and off the field. Big part of the blame is on management, who also brought Alexis, even though Mourinho’s favorite was Croatian workhorse Ivan Perišić.
At the start of the third season, BOOM. The problems just came running riot. This time around, unattractive football was complemented by poor results, including losses to Brighton and West Ham. Even bigger problem than the results is the impression that Manchester United simply isn’t good enough. Defeats to Tottenham, City and Liverpool displayed sadness, lack of power, and only hope that opponent won’t have their day. Mourinho made zero progress in getting the most out of his players and that’s the biggest issue. Feud with Pogba didn’t help things, and this time around, maybe first time in his career, Jose is all alone in harsh world of football. It’s only fitting that he turns it around in the way he only knows how, or at least that’s what I hope for as someone who grew up on his Porto and Chelsea side.
It’s now or never for Mourinho, and Champions League might just be his last ticket to making history once again. It’s unlikely, but it’s also Jose.