These are strange times at Manchester United. Strange and unsettling times. The worst that could be said about United’s defeat at Fenerbahçe on Thursday is that the result wasn’t unexpected. Victory would have been met with relief such has been United’s form and poor away record in Europe. Instead, José Mourinho will have to pick through the wreckage of this latest set-back and try to steady the ship.
Management, for better or worse, is about making tough decisions. There is a line between loyalty to a player, friend, or employee and what is best for the club. Players, for all of their ephemeral worth, are never more important than the club itself. Whatever is best for the club must prevail. In this spirit, despite José Mourinho’s long-standing relationship with Zlatan Ibrahimović, it may be time for the Portuguese coach to make another big decision.
Three months, 14 matches and a quarter of the way into a new season. Isn’t it time that new manager Jose Mourinho found an identity for his Manchester United’s side, if not the songsheet for a successful future. It’s a question on the lips of many supporters after the Reds’ decidedly inconsistent start to the campaign.
Fans think of footballers as solely that, heroes with a ball, rarely considered beyond the pitch. Despite players’ outrageous wages, they all lead lives outside of their football. They have wives, girlfriends (boyfriends), mistresses, children, friends, pressures and stress: the same as everybody else. Much of it holds little interest for supporters. For players, including Anthony Martial, real life can get in the way.
As the saying goes you’re only as strong as your weakest link. It certainly applies in football. For all a team’s strengths, opponents will target and exploit any weakness. World’s best attack? There’s little point if the midfield can’t deliver the ball or the defence can’t keep opponents from scoring. This is the difficulty of team building, as José Mourinho is discovering.
Patience is a virtue, they say. Not simply waiting, but the ability to maintain a positive attitude throughout. This can be tough for footballers. Sitting on the bench watching your teammates play is no mean feat for men made of equal parts ego and talent. Top players believe in the very best of their abilities, and it is hard for them to take being told to “take a seat.”
Derby week is done, with round one taken by United’s noisy neighbours as the world’s gaze focused on Manchester for the season’s most anticipated match. Manchester City won a tough battle 2-1, with an electric opening period enough to secure Pep Guardiola victory at Old Trafford.
On the surface José Mourinho and Pep Guardiola appear to be polar opposites; the brash Portuguese man of war against the Catalan revolutionary, the pragmatist versus the visionary, the provocateur of “anti-football” dancing with the purveyor of “tiki-taka.”
Competition for places is a necessity for success. It keeps players at their sharpest, maintains motivation and, ultimately, is a factor driving the club forward. The introduction of a new manager can create a situation where competition is particularly important. Early performances create lasting impressions – a fact players under José Mourinho’s new regime already know.
When José Mourinho waltzed into Old Trafford eyes were quickly cast at the playing squad. Who would be retained; who would be shipped out? There were a few names that immediately stood out as destined for the chop, but after the Community Shield and first couple of Premier League fixtures a number of these unlikely lads have stepped up to prove their worth to the Portuguese manager. Some could become components in a potentially successful season.