Most Manchester United articles are of the mountain out of a molehill variety as it gets reads and attention. However, this is no publicity stunt, I genuinely believe that chaos is bubbling under the surface and there is potential for a classic Mourinho third season meltdown. It is with no pleasure whatsoever that that is written, it is painful but my honest feelings going into this season.
I have tried to paint a positive picture in my head, and there have been good things, don’t get me wrong: Andreas Pereira has looked good in pre-season, Fred has been bought to release the chains from Paul Pogba, Alexis Sanchez should benefit from ending his visa restrictions and a first pre-season with United, Romelu Lukaku should go from strength to strength in terms of goal output.
Even those cannot mask the pessimistic undercurrent that things will come to a head in one way or another this season and a storm is brewing.
In an ideal world, United would be stewing and hurt after seeing City dismantle all in front of them to comfortably win the title last season. They would possess that wounded animal intent, which most recently saw them scoop their last title win after City inflicted pain the season before. The key difference that season was, of course, the goals of Robin Van Persie, yet United have not captured the imagination with that type of stellar buy to say, right City we are coming back at you hard this season.
I may have landed a few cheap shots on Jurgen Klopp for going back on his word about spending, but that does not alter the reality that he has identified Liverpool’s areas of strengthening and has acquired his desired targets with ample time to spare.
United, on the other hand, appear to be floundering without a clear picture of who their primary targets are. Everyone can see that United are evidently lacking a quality, natural left-back, centre-back and right-winger. The incessant rumours seem to be just hot air, rather than potential reward.
For instance, you could have guessed that a pursuit of Gareth Bale could ultimately come to nothing, especially with his chief problem, Zinedine Zidane, no longer in the picture. So chasing alternatives is the natural solution. Even they, Perisic, Willian, Lozano, appear fruitless.
The scenario is mirrored in the centre-back area. As expected, negotiations with Daniel Levy regarding Toby Alderweireld are as complex as history dictated they would be. Again, where are the alternatives? Supposedly, there is a seven or eight man shortlist, yet how many are actually attainable or just Woodward’s fantasy buys? You can bet your bottom dollar Raphael Varane figures prominently on that list but again, realistically, that is a total non starter. The hottest rumour presently is Harry Maguire for £65 million, who could have been snapped up for £10M had his promise been seen at Hull City, following their relegation. Forgive me, as much as he would fit the criteria, improve our defensive options and I wouldn’t object to the signing, it appears a bit knee-jerk and desperate on our part.
United have been set back with the likes of Schneiderlin and Darmian for too long now and this has coincided with a fall from their previous heights. How is Darmian still at the club, by the way? Links to players who quite clearly are not United calibre have been plaguing us and there is no sign of that dissipating- Marko Arnautovic acts as the latest case in point.
In short, Liverpool have been ruthless, clinical and paid their money to get their players, which is how it has to be done in today’s market. United need to wake up and smell the coffee.
As it stands, United are going into battle under equipped, over the trenches unarmed. No battle or war is won like that.
Away from the recruitment, as that has always been a huge Achilles heel in the post-Ferguson days even in the Ferguson days, and Jose Mourinho’s manner is actually riling me a great deal.
Man management is one of the biggest tests and strengths that a manager needs to be successful and I do not consider this to be an area Mourinho thrives in, in fact quite the opposite. Players are human beings ultimately and each have a different level of need. In any work environment, you would not treat each person the same. Some need an arm round the shoulder, others tough love, bottom line is everyone operates differently and players cannot be painted with the same brush. Going back to the Ferguson days, Roy Keane needed to be on the edge, Nani needed an arm round the shoulder, Cantona needed his ego to be massaged.
With Mourinho, it’s a pre-set idea and if you do not comply with it, you are fed to the sharks. I am not making players exempt from responsibility- ultimately they have it once they cross the white line- but keeping players content is an absolutely essential recipe in delivering success. I put it to you that Guardiola and Pochettino, brilliant man managers, are not griping that the majority of their players are recuperating after the World Cup and not fully participating in pre-season. Mourinho, on the other hand, has essentially questioned what is he supposed to do with the crop he has in the States.
Has he somehow erased it from his memory that Shaw, Bailly, Valencia, McTominay, Mata, Martial and Sanchez all were established first-teamers last season? What a confidence boost that must be, effectively saying that Mourinho is being robbed of his big hitters in the interim. The ‘prove me wrong’ approach spurs some people, but knocks and even alienates others. When you hear the manager say he is worried ahead of the season, how is that meant to inspire the fans, even if it is being truthful? The start of the season is one of the few times fans believe anything is possible.
At the minute, all that seems possible is unrest, disappointment and an all too familiar ending for Mourinho. A previously unshakeable pre-season buzz has now been shook and it does not feel nice.
In what seems a do or die season for Mourinho, he is getting his excuses in early.
People have lived to regret writing off Manchester United teams too early, but something has to give this season.
I welcome anybody to contribute a positive view on United’s chances this season but the consensus I have gathered from those close to me do not fancy our chances this season in the slightest and it is hard, at this present moment, to disagree.
Let the madness commence…