Jose Mourinho has managed to court plenty of negativity from Manchester United fans this summer following his downbeat comments during the pre-season. He repeatedly bemoaned the fact he didn’t have more players available to him, largely due to the World Cup, played down the performances of those that were on tour, and gave the impression that he had already conceded the title.
Mourinho refused to be drawn in to discussions about the players he wanted but made it clear he had let Ed Woodward know who we should sign. By and large, Woodward failed to deliver, with the June signings of Fred and Diogo Dallot, and Lee Grant I suppose, the only players to come through the door.
It felt as though Mourinho had already given up without a ball even being kicked. Anthony Martial’s agent has repeatedly claimed the player wants out, with the manager seemingly indifferent, which has irritated those who see the huge potential in the Frenchman. When reports emerged this week suggesting that Barcelona wanted Paul Pogba, and that the player was open to the move, shit really hit the fan for Mourinho as far as lots of supporters were concerned. Some even called for him to be sacked.
However, on transfer deadline day, a series of events has lead to the fans gravitating to Mourinho in regards to where our loyalties lie (not that we were ever on Woodward’s side, but were happy to attribute plenty of the blame to the manager).
Mourinho delivered an impressive press conference where he started to show the fighting spirit we’ve been crying out for. He took a pop at the press, not so subtly, for bigging up Jurgen Klopp and Mauricio Pochettino for finishing below us and winning nothing, while tearing us apart.
“It’s difficult for me to believe that we finished second,” he said. “When I listen and when I read, which I don’t do a lot, but sometimes I do, it’s difficult to believe that we finished second because you are capable of making people who finished second look like they’ve been relegated. And you’re capable of making people who won nothing and finished below us look like serial winners.”
Mourinho chose not to make a big deal out of the fact the club hadn’t signed the defensive players he wanted and said that people could judge whether his team were titles contenders or not as the season goes on.
“I have my players,” he continued. “I like my players. I like to work with my players… I like my group. I enjoyed the last season’s fight to finish where we did and to manage the best position for the club for the last five years. I’m going to enjoy this season again. I know the words you want me to say. Words for me don’t come easy. I think by the end of November or December you will see which teams are candidates to win the Premier League. In this moment, words are not important. Let’s play football.”
In response, Woodward, in all his wisdom, decided to brief the press with the club’s perspective on where it all went wrong in the transfer window.
The Guardian reported on the club’s reasons for not backing Mourinho in the transfer market. Apparently, the club’s view is that Mourinho has been searching for a short term fix, which would mean the club overpaying for players like Toby Alderweireld. Their take is that the players Mourinho want would cost a lot of money and not improve the team enough to be worth the fee.
With no disrespect intended to Phil Jones and Chris Smalling, who have both contributed in some way to United’s success over the years, they are not the answer to United’s defensive problems. It’s true that United had a great defensive record last season but we can probably agree that David de Gea deserves more credit than anyone else for that. Mourinho sets up his teams defensively, that’s his thing, but his lack of trust in the defence means he is likely to play more defensive tactics than necessary. He’s never going to let the attack go full throttle when that means his defence will be exposed, if he doesn’t have faith that his defenders can cope on the counter.
Alderweireld or Raphaël Varane, who Woodward reportedly met with Florentino Perez to discuss this summer, wouldn’t resolve all of United’s issues, but they would certainly be a step in the right direction. Short-term fixes are what United need. That doesn’t mean sign a squad full of players who are in their late 20s or early 30s, but if United have to pay over the odds for an ageing player who could help make the difference between the club challenging for major honours or not, that’s what they should be doing. We weren’t complaining when they did exactly that to sign Robin van Persie to bring home our 20th title. Back in 2012, £24m for an injury prone 29-year-old striker was seen as a gamble, but it paid off. Neymar’s transfer fee has inflated the market but, as the most valuable club in world football, we should be better able to cope with that than most.
Jurgen Klopp, despite claiming he would leave football before attempting to buy success and that he wanted to win trophies in a different way to United and other clubs, has overseen a fortune being spent. They’ve splashed out over £100m more than us this summer and have addressed the problems that have prevented Klopp from finishing higher than fourth or winning any silverware before now. I don’t mean to sound like I belong on the playground, and say ‘anything you can do we can do better’, but, essentially, anything they do we should be doing better. There’s no reason why Liverpool should be spending more money than us to improve the squad when we generate much more money than them (are you listening, Glazers? No, didn’t think so).
If United don’t want to do things the way Mourinho wants to do them, then they shouldn’t employ him. They shouldn’t have extended his contract. You back him or you sack him. We finished 19 points behind Manchester City last season yet we’ve spent just £10m more than them in the market this summer (to put that in to perspective, Southampton have just agreed to pay £20m for Danny Ings). Last season City spent £140m more than us. The season before they spent £30m more. The season before that they spent £50m more.
The cost of your team isn’t necessarily the be all and end all, but when you’re competing with a club that outspend you every year, pay their players more money and have a manager with the ability and experience of Pep Guardiola, what do you expect to happen? United fans bleat that any season we don’t win the title is a failure, so spoilt are we from the Sir Alex Ferguson era, but which manager, other than him, could beat City to the title in this situation? If Guardiola was managing the opposition to a team in City’s circumstances, he wouldn’t be winning the league. If he didn’t need to spend more money than everyone else to be the best, he wouldn’t be spending more money than everyone else.
Mourinho has identified several players he believes would help bridge the gap between us and City. The fact that Woodward, an investment banker, is in a position to judge whether a football player is worth the money or not, means we are in big trouble. The club needs to appoint a director of football, sign the players Mourinho wants, or find a new manager who is content with being outspent every year in the transfer market. Those are our options. Pochettino certainly doesn’t seem to mind falling behind others when it comes to cash spent, so let’s just give him the job and win nothing like Spurs have done every season for the past decade.
The current model of getting a list of players Mourinho wants, only to sign no one if they aren’t young enough or cheap enough, is utterly bizarre. It’s hard to imagine any other club functioning in such a dysfunctional way, let alone one of the biggest in the world.
Things need to change, and it’s too late for this season, but that doesn’t mean that Mourinho should be excused for failing to deliver. Worse teams than ours have been successful in the league and Europe in recent years, so Mourinho needs to adopt a siege mentality that is off the scale, pick our best players instead of his peculiarly chosen favourites and inspire a hunger for winning that hasn’t been seen since the Fergie days.
But after what felt like the most depressing start to a season that I can remember, there is now a renewed sense of positivity and hope, which has been inspired by Mourinho. In response, the players need to play their part and do whatever is necessary to get us the three points against Leicester so we can drunkenly stumble home chanting “United, top of the league!”. We need a good start to shut everyone up and the players and the manager are responsible for ensuring that happens.