This article was first published on Beyond The Score with Devavrat Bhotica
Manchester United were knocked out by Sevilla in the Round of 16 of the 2017/18 UEFA Champions League in embarrassing fashion. Despite that, there was a lot of hope and aspiration from many a Manchester United fan after the club finished 2nd in the Premier League, Manchester United’s highest league finish since the legendary Sir Alex Ferguson retired as manager, albeit ending up with 19 points lesser than local rivals Manchester City.
United fans looked forward to their club building on the previous season. They expected necessary transfers in positions that needed strengthening and youth players to be given a chance in the first team. There was a desire amongst fans to witness better-attacking football and for the team to compete for the Premier League title. Besides that, they hoped for a strong run in the Champions League and maybe a domestic Cup triumph.
There was an anticipation that the club would sign 3-4 first-team players in the summer transfer window at the minimum, including a top-level established centre-half, a young right full-back, a central-midfielder, and a right-winger. When the transfer deadline passed, to their disappointment the club only managed to sign a centre-midfielder in Fred from Shakhtar Donetsk for around £47m, a young right-back in Diogo Dalot from FC Porto for £19m who was injured at the time, and an unnecessary third-choice aged Goalkeeper in Lee Grant from Stoke City for £1.5m. The club managed to spend £67.5m and still failed to address many vital areas and weaknesses in the squad.
Some of the outgoings were even more bewildering. Fans were displeased with the transfer of Daley Blind back to Ajax for an initial £14m (potentially rising to £18.5m). Blind was consistent, a good reader of the game, and displayed his versatility playing in different positions such as a centre-back, left-back, and at times as a defensive midfielder for United. Some would argue that selling some of the inconsistent, under-performing, and injury-prone defenders in Marcos Rojo, Phil Jones, Chris Smalling, or Matteo Darmian would have been a much smarter decision.
United also parted ways with academy graduate goalkeeper Sam Johnstone for £6.5m to West Bromwich Albion. The players to go out on loan, all of whom were United academy graduates were – defender Timothy Fosu-Mensah to Fulham, Axel Tuanzebe to Aston Villa, Joel Pereira to the Liga NOS Portuguese side Vitória Setúbal, Cameron Borthwick-Jackson to Scunthorpe United and James Wilson to Aberdeen.
The outgoings brought in £20.5m, taking United’s net spend to a meagre £47m, not even 10% of United’s all-time high revenue of £590m for the year ending June 2018, at a time when the squad needed improvements. The 2018 summer transfer window was depressingly underwhelming for Manchester United.
United started the season by scraping a win against Leicester City, not the most positive of starts if you had to judge the performance.
The worrying signs were there to be seen, but most fans wouldn’t have dared to think that the upcoming few months would turn out to be as disastrous and soul hurting as they did. Not only were the performances on the pitch abysmal, but there also seemed to be significant disagreements, fights, and fallouts between José Mourinho (the Manchester United manager at the time) & the players. Mourinho even publicly criticized players or as some would call it “throwing players under the bus”.
Mourinho’s arrogant and uncalled for statements in which he unnecessarily tends to boast about himself and his achievements didn’t help the situation. An example of this characteristic of Mourinho was highlighted when Manchester Evening News Football reporter Liam Corless asked Mourinho about his love for United, after being humiliatingly thrashed 3-0 in the previous Premier League match by Tottenham Hotspur at Old Trafford. One would have expected Mourinho not to hype himself up in any way in response to that question, but Mourinho being Mourinho, he replied by saying “I am the manager of one of the greatest clubs in the world but I am also one of the greatest managers in the world.”
He publicly slated Luke Shaw & Anthony Martial on occasions. Previously José had already publicly blamed the defender after Watford defeated United in September 2016, and on another occasion when United drew 1-1 versus Everton in April 2017, that too thanks to a penalty earned by Shaw that was consequently converted. José said that the left-back used his own body but with José’s brain – “He was in front of me and I was making every decision for him”.
In a Spanish TV interview with Hristo Stoichkov, Mourinho called United’s younger players such as Martial, Shaw, Rashford, and Lingard spoilt kids and said they lack maturity, character, and personality.
The most shocking beef of them all was the one with Paul Pogba.
José told Pogba he is no longer United’s “second captain”, reportedly because he was concerned about Pogba’s attitude. “The only truth is that I made the decision for him not to be second captain any more but there is no fallout, no problem,” Mourinho said. He also casually remarked, “I am the manager; I can make these decisions”.
There was even a video leaked of José Mourinho having a sudden uncalled for verbal go at Pogba as the latter was seen routinely greeting United’s coaching staff at Carrington. It was indicative of an evident fallout between the manager and player to the public.
Mourinho had created a toxic atmosphere around the club. He reeked of negativity to the fans, players and many others associated with Manchester United. All signs pointed to him, heading towards the exit door.
After enduring the lot, Manchester United’s fans, players and other stakeholders breathed a sigh of relief when José Mourinho was finally inevitably sacked on 18th December 2018 after losing 3-1 to arch-rivals Liverpool FC.
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