Manchester United, a brand synonymous with winning. Jose Mourinho, the biggest winning coach in the sport. When the pair was combined, everyone in world football seemed to sit up and take notice. United, a club whose supporters proclaim proudly they’re ‘Not Arrogant, Just Better’. That seems like the title Mourinho would give his autobiography. The pair seemed to embody each other in the desire to be the best and rile everyone else in doing so. Two and a half years later, the pair have parted ways. Here, we look at Jose’s time at Manchester United, the first job he has failed at in an otherwise brilliant career.
A good starting point is Mourinho’s first press conference. There is a quote within the exchange that would always be in the minds of United supporters. A quote where Mourinho boldly announces his ambitions –
‘It would be easy, honest and pragmatic for me to focus on the last three years, and the fact we didn’t qualify for the Champions League, and to say, ‘Let’s work, let’s try to be back in the top four, let’s try to do well in the Europa League’, but I am not good at that, and I don’t want to be good. I prefer to be more aggressive and to be more aggressive is to say ‘we want to win’.
The statement embodied what every Manchester United fan wanted their manager to be saying. Mourinho then followed his talk by making four astute signings, including Paul Pogba at an eye-watering 89 million pounds.
Fans of the club warmed to the season ahead. United did wobble in the league, with 10 draws at home. United fans did see a counter-attacking style of football, with plenty of chances being created. Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s profligacy in front of goal meant United dropped points that were considered winnable on paper. On the European front, United found the right mix of pragmatism and flair through Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Marcus Rashford to win the Europa League. The Red Devils won the final against the youthfully exuberant Ajax, with a shrewd tactical display from their manager.
The win, coming so soon after the tragic events at the Ariana Grande concert in the Manchester Arena helped heal their city. The red side of Manchester was certainly united and there was plenty of joy amidst supporters and staff alike. As the break dawned, United fans were buzzing. A seat at the Champions League beckoned the following year.
Romelu Lukaku was the marquee signing to herald the start of Mourinho’s second season. This was widely expected to be the year United kicked on towards a league title. The 13-time Premier League champions played with vigour, scoring goals and keeping a good defensive record. The club’s fixture against Liverpool on 14 October would be a marker in Mourinho’s time at United.
A negative, timid display against a Liverpool side short on confidence seemed to put a spanner in the works. United continued to falter, with a 1-2 home defeat against Manchester City in December all but extinguishing their faint title hopes. The cliche of ‘form going out of the window’ in derbies did not ring true as their rivals continued their onslaught with United only securing a measly 35% possession, their lowest at Old Trafford since 2003-04 at the time.
The moment that caused a split in Mourinho’s relationship with the club’s fanbase occurred in the Champions League last 16 tie against Sevilla in the second leg. With United contesting the fixture at Old Trafford, fans were optimistic, given that the side had beaten Liverpool on the weekend leading into the fixture. What followed was a collective horror show. For the first time, the strained relationship between starman Pogba and Mourinho became evident as the Frenchman was left on the bench.
His replacement, Marouane Fellaini, slowed United’s transitional play in an embarrassing 1-2 defeat. But it was not the defeat as much as Mourinho’s now viral ‘Football Heritage’ rant in the press conference that enraged fans. “It’s not the end of the world. I sit in this chair twice in the Champions League and I knock out Man Utd at home, at Old Trafford.“ The quote was circulated widely, and it was the first time Mourinho had been rattled on the job. The eagerness to first defend his track record ahead of the football club he represented hurt many. It was seen as a selfish, arrogant move. And one that would have made United stalwarts squirm with unease
Mourinho headed into this third season on the back of a 1-0 defeat in the FA Cup Final against an Eden Hazard-inspired Chelsea. He was, however, optimistic of receiving the full backing of Ed Woodward. After all, amidst the comments about Football Heritage, Mourinho also said,
‘The good thing for me and the amazing feeling for me is that I am exactly on the same page as the owners, as Mr [Ed] Woodward, Mr [Richard] Arnold, we are on exactly the same page, we agree on everything, on the investments, that we have what we have, the investments that we are going to do will be season after season, we are exactly on the same page, so life is good.’
Mourinho proposed five signings, including an experienced centre-back and a right-winger. He ended up with talented Brazilian Fred and promising youngster Diogo Dalot, hardly the ready veterans he likes in his teams. Mourinho also bemoaned the lack of available players on United’s preseason tour, even asking whether a player of Alexis Sanchez’s quality would be happy playing with inexperienced youth players. The seeds had been sown for the rot to infest.
United very quickly fell apart. The harsh isolation of many of their talented stars, including Pogba, Anthony Martial and Eric Bailly has seen a collapse in dressing room dynamics. The likes of Nemanja Matic and Romelu Lukaku, widely considered as the manager’s favourites have been in shocking form and have also looked tired and unhappy. Defeat after defeat has emerged as a result of United’s porous rear guard. United seem to be a defensive team that cannot defend.
With players confused and manager powerless, the once outright pacemakers of English footballer have spiralled out of control, with a dreadful showing at Anfield as the final straw. United were peppered with 36 shots on their goal, as a humiliating defeat ensued. On the other hand, they recorded an embarrassing 6 shots throughout the match with 2 on target, out of which one was Jesse Lingard’s goal on the back of an Alisson error. Soon, Mourinho’s misery was at an end.
Why has Jose Mourinho failed? Because he spent a large portion of his time at this club ostracizing elements that make it great. Its fans, and forcing them to lower their expectations. The talented players in the squad whom he’s banished for wanting to play football the United way. And above all else, putting himself above the collective of Manchester United. The vision of Sir Matt Busby and Sir Alex Ferguson was always to make United the best club in the world through a combination of hard work and flair. A club of the working masses, yet an ideal on a higher plane to their mundane lives. That embodies playing football ‘The Busby Way’. Could Jose Mourinho have tried harder to grasp that at the club he’s wanted to work for his whole career? Only he knows.
Edited by Srinivas Sadhanand
Feature Image via Sky Sports
Mourinho Image via Eurosport
Image 2 via Yahoo
Pogba Image via The Independent
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