herald

Wednesday 17 October 2018

This season will prove the acid test for Mourinho

Jose's negative attitude may be a sign of trouble ahead at Old Trafford

GRUMBLING: Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho. Photo: REUTERS
GRUMBLING: Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho. Photo: REUTERS

Jose is conflicted. A tortured soul, the Manchester United manager seems in danger of becoming his own worst enemy.

Even before the new season kicks off, Mourinho has been sulking and bleating and about ... well, just about everything, it would appear.

Permanent petulance seems to be the manager's default position these days.

So much so, it has led to speculation that Jose is setting the scene for a dramatic exit from Old Trafford. Pundits point out that he has form in this area, never staying much longer than three years with a club.

When he took over from Louis van Gaal in the summer of 2016, Mourinho declared: "I want to win the title and I want my players to feel it."

As he prepares for the start of his third season in charge, Jose seems to be getting his excuses in early.

Listening to Mourinho, you might think Man United CEO Ed Woodward was a miserly skinflint with no ambition for the club and had lumbered him with a pub side to compete against Europe's finest.

Publicly sniping at his players may not be Jose's brightest strategy.

But he's beginning the new season much as he closed out the old, when he ranted that his players needed to "grow up".

There's a danger that Mourinho's constant whingeing could destabilise his squad.

It's already devaluing the manager's self-assessment of himself as "The Special One."

Mourinho has been wily in the past. He's inspired teams to victory by instilling an aura of self-belief in his players and also by diminishing the authority of the opposition.

It may be that he thinks he's playing a crafty game, hoping to bamboozle his opponents while simultaneously lowering the expectations of Man United supporters.

If that's the case, it's clearly a high-risk strategy.

Far from being "The Special One", Mourinho's interminable sarcastic protestations are taking the shine off what once was a charismatic personality and relegating his achievements to history's wastepaper basket.

Defeatist

The constant defeatist static coming from the manage r is at odds with the mood of determination and optimism that's presented across football in an era when, for vast television audiences, the sport is portrayed as a joyous and spectacular family entertainment.

Compared to the philosophy of "Sarrrismo", the new Chelsea boss, Maurizio Sarri's insistence that football should be attacking and fun, or Jurgen Klopp's regular Cheshire Cat impersonation at Liverpool, Jose's downbeat demeanour seems like a malign infection.

More and more, his anal-retentive attitude and stingy brand of football is looking out of step with the times. At 55, Mourinho is taking on the appearance of a relic of a former age.

Of course, results are what really count. But, despite adding the Europa League trophy to the Old Trafford silverware vaults last season, trailing home 19 points behind rival Pep Guardiola's Manchester City is a second place that might too easily be confused with second rate.

Being overshadowed by Guardiola, who appears fresh and dynamic by comparison, is bad enough but Mourinho's thin-skinned ego and battered ambition are unlikely to tolerate much more of the humiliation those 19 points represent.

There are are plenty who'll point to how rival managers can dramatically improve players while Jose would seem unable to get the best from proven talent in his squad, Paul Poga being the most glaring example.

It's no surprise that Mourinho has been complaining about not being able to strengthen his squad ahead of next week's league kick-off.

Despite having had €405 million to rebuild his squad, in March, Jose outlined how he'd like things to evolve.

"If the clubs who are in a better situation than us stop investing and we invest, we are side by side. If they keep investing the same or more than us, it's difficult. It's as simple as that."

With €60 million already spent on Brazil midfielder Fred from Shakhtar Donetsk and €22m for Porto defender Diogo Dalot, Man United are scrabbling about attempting to satisfy Mourinho's demands, at a realistic price.

"I gave a list to my club of five names a few months ago," said Mourinho last weekend, pointedly passing the buck. "And I wait to see if it's possible to have one of these players."

Given his track record, it's easy to understand the concern generated by the sight of an impatient Mourinho.

Admittedly, he signed a new improved managerial contract in January, which should see him in charge at Old Trafford until 2020. But recent histrionics have the potential to alienate both his players and his bosses and could signal choppy waters ahead.

When assessing young talent, Alex Ferguson would look for strength of character and the right attitude.

"It's all about a balance," he said.

In Fergie's thinking, the only obstacle to a talented player making the grade lay within the person himself.

"Sadly, it doesn't always work out for a player," he noted.

Having been through Porto, Chelsea, Inter Milan and Real Madrid, at this point in time Manchester United presents Mourinho with a glorious opportunity to consolidate his place among the immortals of football management.

Is Mourinho playing a skilful game in his bid to make Manchester United great again? Or will he walk away blaming others or engineer a sacking scenario that he might argue was unjust?

This coming season looks set to present the acid test.