“My Manchester life is a disaster,” said Jose Mourinho, in a recent interview, who is a temporary resident of the top-floor suite of the upmarket Lowry Hotel.
The unhappiness of staying away from family - wife Matilde Faria and two kids still live in London - and living through take out food seems to have crept into his work as Manchester United, despite acquiring specific targets during the summer window, are no better off than this time last year.
Quantitatively, Manchester United might only be eight points of the top of the table but the quality of its recent performances, especially after making a promising start to the season, has been levels below rivals Liverpool, Arsenal and Manchester City. The one performance that epitomises the crisis that plagues the club is the 4-0 defeat United was handed at Mourinho’s former stomping ground.
Chelsea dominated United from the first minute as the Portuguese was clueless in countering Antonio Conte’s tactical masterclass. With pretty much the same core, Chelsea, which spectacularly crashed and burned under Mourinho last season, is a completely revitalised team and is just a point off the top.
One trick pony?
Is this a case of Mourinho lagging behind his more inventive counterparts? The English media seems to think so.
“He’s beginning to look like an old-school manager,” says The Times’ Alyson Rudd. “He’s suddenly looking quite old because you’ve got young managers like Pochettino and Klopp who have refreshed the way football is played in the Premier League and what they demand from their players.”
“He can only win ugly,” said The Sun’s Antony Kastrinakis. “He can never win the Pep [Guardiola] way or the Klopp way. That’s his nature. His behaviour was worse at Chelsea [when United lost 4-0]. What Mourinho couldn’t take was that [Antonio] Conte took the same players that he had last season, and gave them a lesson in football.”
Kastrinakis’ assessment, however brutally honest, particularly surmises Mourinho’s style of football. Mourinho has prided himself in winning with grit, and style and sophistication were never, and still aren’t, part of coaching notes.
Compare his philosophy (United fans are probably sick of this word) to Pochettino and Klopp’s fast paced game, Guardiola’s sophistication, Conte’s tactical overhaul and Wenger’s tried and tested passing game and you can see why Mourinho’s game feels, and is, very jaded.
Added to that his handling of players - particularly banishing Bastian Schweinsteiger to the reserves and refusing to play Henrikh Mkhitaryan despite recovering from injury - and his recent outbursts against referees, Manchester United has got a potential ticking time bomb on its hands.
Of course, the Premier League season is still at its embryonic stage and it is most definitely premature to rule Manchester United out of the title race. But, it will be an uphill climb for Mourinho if he has to push and shove his way past the teams above him. After all, if anybody can do it for the Red Devils the right man for the job is Mourinho, who was employed to inject the winning mentality into a club that has been hibernating since Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement in 2013.
The team is still a work in progress, with the best yet to come from Paul Pogba, Marcus Rashford and Henrikh Mkhitaryan (if and when he does play). Injury to Eric Bailly (undoubtedly the club’s best summer signing) has not helped matters but Ander Herrera and Juan Mata are showing what they are capable of if given minutes on the pitch (Louis van Gaal, what were you thinking?!).
The problem with Mourinho is when things go south, he really does crash and burn as was evident from his last three out of four tenures (barring his successful spell at Inter Milan between 2008 and 2010). Surely, history won’t repeat itself?
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