Friday night’s comfortable 4-0 win over Yeovil Town in the FA Cup completed a very good week for Manchester United. On Monday weeks of speculation ended when Chilean forward Alexis Sanchez was confirmed as a United player. Then came the news that manager José Mourinho had signed a contract extension keeping the Portuguese manager at the club until at least 2020, with an option for another year.
“It is as bad as a defeat,” admitted José Mourinho after Leicester City scored a last-minute equaliser at the King Power Stadium on Saturday night. Manchester United created the best chances and spent 20 minutes with a man advantage, yet left the East Midlands feeling despondent. Two disastrous results inside three days will do that. As for José: he threw his players under the bus. Twice.
There have been three occasions on which Manchester City has visited Old Trafford with the clubs occupying the top two spots in the Premier League. Yet, the latest instalment has an entirely different narrative to it than those that proceeded.
The rivalry between José Mourinho and Pep Guardiola is one of modern day football’s great dramas. The duo have crossed swords numerous times, with Mourinho cast as the master of the dark arts, while Guardiola is portrayed as the idealistic purist. It is a story riddled with feuds, tetchy conflicts, and no shortage of bad blood dating back to the time when the pair were in charge of Spanish giants, Barcelona and Real Madrid.
The director of football, or sporting director, may seem like a modern phenomenon, but the role has existed for decades. Fundamentally, the role is an intermediary between the board and the first team manager, with a task of creating continuity: in the long-term direction, playing style, transfers, hiring and firing, and bridging the gap between the academy and the first team. Given that managers and players often focus match-to-match, the former with the intention of keeping his job and the latter with hope of staying in the team, the sporting director is charged with executing a long-term vision.
José Mourinho’s side never recovered from October’s international break, or more specifically, autumn’s momentum was shattered as the Portuguese sent his high-flying team out to defend at Anfield on 14 October. In the interim Mourinho’s side has failed to convince in any of the six league and cup fixtures since the bore draw on Merseyside. Victory over Tottenham Hotspur was hard-won, but defeats to Huddersfield Town and Chelsea have left United well off the Premier League pace. As November’s break comes to a close, the Reds face 13 fixtures between now and the end of the year. It’s a period that won’t make United’s season, but it could certainly break it.