The Meltdown

November 1, 2017 Tags: Reads 12 comments
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We’ll always have Wembley and Stockholm. Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s late header, Paul Pogba’s long-range strike, Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s flicked finish. These are the feel-good moments that football fans savour – the stuff from which memories are made. They’ll be more of these moments under José Mourinho. After all, he has spent a career hoovering up trophies. Mourinho has also spent much of the past two decades combusting in the most spectacular fashion. It’s never a good look and the writing for José’s Manchester United future is already on the wall.

Mourinho’s preponderance to conflict is essential to his philosophy. Where the potential exists he will magnify it; where there is none, he will create it. He uses conflict to build and test loyalty, and to increase performance. Mourinho wants players that will run through a proverbial wall – and distrusts those who will not.

"The meta concern is that the pattern repeats: conflict with owners, players, the media and supporters. The end result is a manager out the door."

Mourinho’s conflict building at United had been confined to a perpetual war with the media and to a select group of players. This week, however, the former Real Madrid and Chelsea manager intensified his campaign against United supporters, seemingly having been irked by what he claims was an injudicious reaction to Marcus Rashford’s substitution in the Premier League fixture with Tottenham Hotspur last weekend.

Jose Mourinho

There were audible jeers as Anthony Martial joined the game in place of Rashford, with Mourinho believing that the reaction was targeted not at the younger men, but fellow striker Romelu Lukaku.

“I would like the supporters to explain to me why they don’t support him so much because he gives everything and I think it is not fair when scoring the goal or not scoring the goal makes the whole difference,” Mourinho said. “I don’t think it is fair at all. So I’m a bit disappointed, but not with him. I really don’t understand some reactions. Are they [the fans] Red Devils?”

Mourinho preempted his comments by placing his fingers over his lips after United’s victory. It was seemingly a message to supporters to quieten any protests. The coach made another hand gesture towards supporters – this time chattering his fingers – after United’s win against Benfica on Tuesday night.

Supporters might tell a different story of the reaction to Rashford’s substitution on Sunday. It’s a story of growing frustration with Mourinho’s self-limiting tactics, and the failure to get more out of the talent at his disposal. The football is moribund, if normally effective.

Martial and Rashford are a case in point. In the pair Mourinho possesses two of the finest young forwards in Europe, but is unwilling to fully unleash the talent at hand, effectively reducing two talents to one by making them job-share. Indeed, Sunday’s crowd reaction was surely of disappointment that the ever excellent Rashford was departing the scene, not a commentary on Lukaku’s performance or Matial’s entrance.

Mourinho when further, writing in his match day programme column that he hoped supporters “enjoy the game more than some of you did against Tottenham.”  What his comment added as a passive aggressive jibe, it lacked in sincerity. He went on to note that “fans normally are behind the team,” in what appeared to be a dig at the Old Trafford atmosphere.

Manchester United fans

“There are differing views amongst supporters on precisely how to interpret the manager’s comments,” the Manchester United Supporters Trust, countered on Wednesday.  “However it’s probably fair to say there is a universal desire within the stadium to see atmosphere improved.”

In fact, the decline in atmosphere at Old Trafford has long roots, dating back to all-seater stadia, ticket price increases, and the ever growing prevalence of United as a tourist destination for visitors around the globe. That poor atmosphere is put into sharp contrast by United’s excellent and very noisy away support.

All of this would look better if Mourinho hadn’t spent so much time fluttering his eyelids at Paris Saint German in recent times – a contract negotiating tactic no doubt, but one that calls the manager out as a hypocrite for questioning supporters’ loyalty.

Outside of this week’s Mourinho versus-the-fans spat, the Portuguese is demonstrating the kind of edge-of-reason behaviours that got him sacked at Chelsea – twice – and Real Madrid. Check for evidence.

While the perpetual war with the fourth estate is part of Mourinho’s MO, it is typically counter-productive. If he is after better column inches, killing them with kindness is normally a stronger strategy. Mourinho’s increasingly tetchy and occasionally incoherent press conferences have become car-crash TV – worth the MUTV subscription alone.

Perhaps more concerning is Mourinho’s self-confessed rush to judgement about players, including Bastian Scheweinsteiger who was unceremoniously dumped into the reserves and even removed from the clubs books as an asset. The manager was later forced into a climbdown.

Meanwhile, his public humiliation of Luke Shaw continues, the latest instalment a bizarre admission that Shaw isn’t featuring because there is too much competition at left-back – despite the squad containing no other natural left-backs. Then there is the inconsistent handling of Martial, Mkhitaryan, and Ander Herrera, and public criticism of some players. Making tough decisions is what a manager must do, but Mourinho doesn’t always keep it behind closed doors.

Luke Shaw, Jose Mourinho

Indeed, this trait eventually got Mourinho the sack at Madrid, where the Portuguese coach took on Sergio Ramos and Iker Cassillas – and eventually lost. At Chelsea, the first time around, Mourinho sought increasing control against the oligarch owner – conflict he was never going to win. Back at Stamford Bridge for a second spell, such was the poisonous atmosphere that he built, his players downed tools and the two-time European Cup winner was sacked by December.

In the breakdown at Chelsea 18 months ago, Mourinho took on an increasingly dishevelled look – that of a park drunk howling at the moon. It is surely concerning that Mourinho’s aura recently has the look of a man living on two hours sleep a night. Just perhaps Mourinho is realising how big the United job can be?

The meta concern is that these patterns repeat – conflict with owners, players, the media and supporters. The result is always the same: a failing team, a manager on the edge, and then out the door. It hasn’t happened at United just yet. But there’s that nagging feeling, isn’t there?


Reds4life - November 2, 2017 Reply

I know right…he does look suicidal. The United job it seems is sucking the souls out of these recent managers. Fergie did it for 25 years without looking suicidal and miserable.

Ashish - November 2, 2017 Reply

I’m sure everyone associated with the football club must have been aware of what sort of person Jose is and how he operates.

We all knew that he’s a pragmatic soul who only wins by using attrition tactics, the style of football that he believes in isn’t exactly exciting and fluid, we also know that he has a propensity to self-combust. Yet despite knowing all this, Woodward and co chose to hire him because he remains the best bet for delivering silverware, no matter how dour that approach is.

Jose is clearly not someone who can be used in the long run but before he self-combusts, let’s hope he gets the club the silverware it desires (Read Premier League trophy) and then self combust.

Ben - November 2, 2017 Reply

I think he started playing up when he concluded that Utd aren’t going to be able to get ahead of City. He doesn’t want the fact that he come second in a straight contest to be noticed, so he is picking fights to provide distraction and, probably, to make his position untenable as quickly as possible. “More money for the club…” – that’s the core of the issue: the Glazers won’t authorise more player acquisitions, and he believes (correctly) that our squad is weak. Therefore, his job is difficult. Therefore, sulking and drama. As Red Rants has written, why are we surprised?

Julian - November 5, 2017 Reply

I think that’s probably spot on. Even at full strength JM knows he can’t really compete with City. Pep has landed with his proverbial bum in the butter which was by design of course. He wanted to go to a club which would provided him with the wherewithal to create another Barcelona without too much trouble. The infrastructure was there too with people he knew. JM would have preferred that too but the glory of becoming United manager covered up the immense challenges which he is finding out now – the expectation and the lack of quality in depth. Last season was his first and it went reasonably ok with two trophies, But this one was supposed to be the real one with the PL trophy at the end of it. That ain’t going to happen and it may not happen for some time until United spend sufficiently and wisely enough in the transfer market. No wonder Jose’s a bit depressed right now.

A Fellow Red Devil - November 2, 2017 Reply

tbh i think whatever Jose has said is justified. The atmosphere has indeed declined and the fans need to get behind the team, support them not only when we are winning, but also at times when they need it most, like when chasing a goal, instead of being the antithesis and further lowering the team morale. For OT to become a fortress again, the fans need to be in full voice and create a vociferous atmosphere. Hopefully Jose’s intentions are not misconstrued, but rather, seen as an emphatic cry for the Reds to rally and bring back the good old days.

Denton Davey - November 2, 2017 Reply

“Pochettino has been lauded for Tottenham’s improvement but Mourinho suggested he and United are judged differently. He has won 25 trophies, whereas the Argentinian is yet to secure a first piece of silverware as a manager but the sense is that Mourinho is irritated by the compliments a peer receives.”

Rightfully so, I think.

In this regard, Jo$e has an easier target in Pocchetino than he has with Pep who has won lots AND done so in style.

Right now – early November – it looks like the gap between Shitty and UTD is unbridgeable. BUT it would be absolute schadenfreude if ManShitty were to fail to win this season – they’ve looked tremendous going forward. Watching the first half of last night’s match v. Napoli was like watching a different kind of game – forward passing, touch-and-go, and always positive. Compared to the dross that Jo$e’s team regularly serves up – it was tough to take.

Still – it’s a long season and no one has ever won a title before Guy Fawkes Day.

bobbynoble - November 2, 2017 Reply

Gunpowder, Treason and Plot?

Michael Warburton - November 2, 2017 Reply

Really great piece.

pelican tangerine - November 3, 2017 Reply

It appears that unfortunately history is repeating itself once again.

Somehow I thought that the job as manager of MUFC would be the Holy Grail for JM but by his behaviour and his manner it could be suggested that this is not the case. What irks me more than anything else is the childish, petulant behaviour that purveys throughout everything he does, seemingly lacking any insight or regard for how he appears or comes across. You would think someone would say to him “Jose, stop acting like a knob, because it makes you look like a…knob…”. Surely his employers at MUFC would ask him to settle down, although I suppose they just look at results and watch as the money rolls in rather than giving a shit about those tired old tropes like, you know, respect and dignity.

His morose TV interviews, his treatment of certain players, his snide comments about fans and PSG et cetera is twattish beyond measure but throw into the mix boring, functional, dour, joyless football and it definitely isn’t party time. I’d sooner the Ron Atkinson perma-tan one trophy every two years or so but exciting football than this dogshit. Fergie could be petulant but Christ on a bike he’s like Mr. Tumble compared to JM.

I do actually think he suffers from a form of personality disorder (I work in mental health) judging by his actions, manner and demeanour and personally I never wanted him at MUFC and can’t wait until he f$cks off.

Right, that’s my two-penneth. Thanks.

Thank you for the always excellent podcasts and articles.

subterranean steve - November 5, 2017 Reply

“He’s not the Messiah. He’s a very naughty boy.” The words of Brian’s mum could well apply to United’s latest ‘saviour’. Initially, ‘the chosen one’ spoke about United being his dream job, so there was hope that he might settle down and take United forward. No such luck, this leopard hasn’t changed his spots. The master of football’s darkest arts is alive and well.

An excellent article and equally interesting comments.

Jay Wizzle - November 7, 2017 Reply

Re: the title, there is still some hope to be had. We’ve played two of the three most difficult games of the season already, Anfield Away and Stamford Bridge Away. We have players coming back, with Zlatan, Rojo and Pogba on the verge. City have been sharp, but somewhat fortunate with injuries, except for Mendy. Having a Kevin De Bruyne and/or Gabby Jesus get injured seriously impedes their ability to play that kind of football. All hope is not lost.

As for Mourinho, if he’s sees the end of 2018-19 it will be a shock. But we knew this was coming. More worrisome for me is, who can we replace him with? We need a Mauricio Pochettino-type, who can make use of the academy (something Mourinho deserves some degree of credit for, however little), but knows how to build a competitive team. There aren’t exactly lots of those out there. I have zero interest in Simeone. A David Wagner is still too inexperienced. Who is there?

Siddharth - November 7, 2017 Reply

A very well written article and I agree that the atmosphere inside Old Trafford has changed over the years. Manchester United being one of the greatest club in world attract new fans and commercialization of the name over the last decade has led to the increase in these numbers. I agree that the fans in Manchester are more passionate, hold the badge close to the heart and love to sing songs to tribute the club. There has been efforts to have better acoustics at Old Trafford and they even hired professionals to provide a better atmosphere. Well, I always see the issue of more tourist coming to Old Trafford brought up and how that has impacted to the decay of atmosphere. I do not completely agree on this, why are there no efforts made to engage these fans from different parts of the world and help them contribute to the match day experience as a passionate local fans. On top of head I can quickly think of a chant sheet, flags etc as options, if efforts are focused on this, then we could make use of one part of the issue as our strength. I know some of the solution might seem cliched and we are not a club that does that. I have been a United fan for almost 15 years but I have learned chants in the last two years after going to a local United pub. I love singing them and makes me more close to the club. I wish we would somehow engage tourist feeling the passion and pride in supporting Manchester United.

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