The ‘Bitter One’ : Man Utd – On the brink of a crisis
What next for Man Utd and ‘The Bitter One’?
It may still only be August and the Premier League season just a few games old, but the pre season hope and optimism that accompanies all teams at this stage of the season is dissipating from the old Trafford crowd almost as quickly as the patience for their controversial manager.
Heading into the new season, there was a point to prove for Manchester United following a season in which they finished 19 points behind local rivals and runaway champions Manchester City.
Supporters of Mourinho would say they finished 2nd in a season that saw arguably the best team the Premier League has ever seen. Nay-sayers would say that the final position was almost irrelevant, such was the gulf between the 2 clubs, and the distance between Man Utd and a legitimate challenge.
Having spent 100s of millions of pounds since he arrived at Old Trafford, Mourinho has failed to capture the imagination and more specifically the support of the Man Utd faithful. An uninspiring summer that saw their lone marquee signing of Fred brought in, was made harder for Man Utd fans to stomach by the apparent surpassing of them by bitter rivals Liverpool. Jurgen Klopp spent a whopping £177million on Allisson, Naby Keita, Fabinho and Xheridan Shaquiri. Throw in they’ve started like a house on fire, winning 3 from 3 and playing expansive, attacking football and it feels that there is something uncomfortable brewing at Old Trafford.
Man Utd secured a hard fought victory in their opening game against Leicester but did little to convince detractors that they had made enough progress to challenge their 2 local rivals. Then last weekend they were simply abject against a superb Brighton team and were convincingly and deservedly beaten. Ultimately its results on the pitch that count most, and simply put there is no more successful manager in the game than Jose Mourinho. But something’s changed. Something’s not right.
It seems a lifetime ago that Mourinho boldly declared himself as ‘The Special One’ in his introductory press conference at Chelsea. In actual fact it was 14 years ago that Roman Abramovic prized the then 41 year old away from Porto as one of the most highly regarded young coaches in the game, having just won the European Champions League with Porto. 19 trophies and nearly a decade and a half later, and ‘The Special one’ cuts a different figure these days. In his time at Chelsea he was lauded for his charisma and his fresh approach to dealing with the media. He was engaging and funny and seemed to relish the spotlight that fell upon him. He developed a reputation as a ‘players manager’ who would do anything for the people in his club. Unsurprisingly – success followed. Everywhere. From Chelsea to Inter Milan, to Real Madrid, back to Chelsea and now at Man Utd.
But the once affable and entertaining Mourinho seems a distant memory. Hardened by the scars of life in the spotlight at the games biggest clubs, he seems a shell of his former self. Though he may have lost that twinkle in his eye and that cheeky self assured demeanor, he does however carry himself with the unwavering knowledge and is stoically adamant that his record is unquestionable. And it’s this that is becoming his downfall.
A public dispute with the clubs prized asset and most expensive player Paul Pogba continues to undermine everything else at the club. But more importantly it is the problem that the dispute represents. It would be impossible to argue that Mourinho has failed to get the best out of the World Cup winner, and this is highlighted by the Frenchman’s talismanic all action displays we see when he represents his country. Is this Mourinho’s fault? Not necessarily, but it doesn’t help when players that cost that much don’t do it for you. Then there is the style of play which plays into this. Players like Pogba, Martial, Rashford, Mata, Sanchez, Lingard that all seem to either excel or have excelled elsewhere but are like different players for Manchester United. This has to fall on Mourinho and his discipline first structured style of play and management.
Just this week he epitomised his own change by his behavior in the pre match press conference for the media on Friday. He showed up to the conference 30 minutes early. Nothing wrong with that right? Punctuality is a positive trait, especially when such events tend to run later rather than earlier as a rule. Right? Not so much. Mourinho’s new found punctuality just so happened to mean that only a hand full of press had actually arrived and so 75% of the invited press missed out on the chance to speak to the Man Utd manager ahead of a huge match with Spurs following another tough week at the club. But did the select audience mean a prolonged meeting with the manager and dedicated time? What do you think? The press conference lasted a grand total of 4 minutes and 19 seconds before Mourinho called time. This behavior comes on the heels of branding cross city rivals Man City ‘classless’ following the release of their tell all behind the scenes documentary release least week on Amazon Prime.
But the truth is, amongst all of this – there’s only one person coming across as classless. And that’s the Special One himself.
There are certain clubs that have an identity that is more important than their success or lack there of. This might sound odd, but to fans of some clubs, how they go about things is the single most important factor in the on field presentation. Teams like West Ham, Newcastle, Liverpool, Sunderland, Sheffield United, Millwall, Leeds to name a few. Whether it be free flowing attacking football with an emphasis on flair, or investment in youth and development of home grown players, or a sheer doggedness and never give up 100% commitment approach. These mean more to the above clubs than a more modest form of success but with the values compromised. For Manchester United, fast, attractive and direct football has been the top of the list going back to the Busby Babes. As it turns out, this approach has been hugely successful too. But as David Moyes and Louis Van Gaal found out, these things are a priority and not a ‘nice to have’. It feels as though Jose is not far from finding out the same thing.
But Mourinho is too proud and stubborn to sacrifice his own ideals to that of a football club. Albeit the biggest one in the world. In his head, he has the track record, so the club should be made in his mould. However, he is and always will be just an employee. The ethos and fan base will be there long after Mourinho. Whether he wins or not.
With Mourinho in charge for another season, I’d fully anticipate a top 4 finish and a probable ‘title challenge’. But I highly doubt that it will be in a ‘shackles off’ and free flowing attacking manor in which the Man Utd fans expect.
The truth is in football, that when the crowd turn, they rarely turn back.
It seems that something has to give at old Trafford, and the former ‘Special One’ seems unlikely to change. Although he has already changed so drastically. So what happens next for the ‘Bitter One’?