Wednesday 18 October 2017

Comment: Mourinho's moaning is becoming tiresome

United have endured a draining schedule but bulk of it is behind them

Jose Mourinho takes on Arsene Wenger once again, his oldest rival in English football. Photo: PA Wire.
Jose Mourinho takes on Arsene Wenger once again, his oldest rival in English football. Photo: PA Wire.

Paul Wilson

The whining noise coming from the direction of Old Trafford has become steadily more audible in recent weeks, with Jose Mourinho mixing traditional gripes about exhaustion and fixture overload with some inventive new ones that would not occur to many other managers, such as complaining that his injured players seem to lack the will or competitive drive to return more quickly.

By rights it should be a member of Manchester United's much put-upon back line doing all the moaning. Luke Shaw has been treated with something between mistrust and outright dissatisfaction all season, and could not get any sympathy from his manager even when ligament damage forced him off the field against Swansea.

In urging Phil Jones and Chris Smalling to ignore their toe and leg injuries and put the club's need for central defenders first, Mourinho not only raised eyebrows among medical specialists but sent out a public message that he had little confidence in Daley Blind's ability to cover.

Blind may not be a specialist centre-half but not only has the Dutch international been one of United's most consistent performers this season, he has managed to keep himself fit through a very busy April.

Does Mourinho value his contribution and his versatility? Not that you can tell from his public pronouncements. Blind simply joins a list of players - Anthony Martial, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Matteo Darmian and Wayne Rooney among them - whose confidence has been undermined by their manager's words or actions this season. This is perhaps one reason why Mourinho has not tended to stay at the same club for more than two or three seasons. That would appear to be the recommended dose of a manager some players warm to and others find irritating. Any longer and the cons tend to outweigh the pros, the scapegoats begin to outnumber the favourites.

Mourinho can, and does, ridicule Arsene Wenger as a specialist in failure and a dweller in the past, but two decades at the same club is not something the United manager is going to approach. He would say he has no wish to, of course, and there might be something in the theory that a coach can give his very best for only a relatively short period of time before both parties begin to need a new stimulus, though let us not forget that Alex Ferguson was even longer at United. Staying the course for more than 20 years is not necessarily a recipe for underachievement and supporter unrest, it just happens to require an adaptability and emollience that Mourinho does not possess.

Even as Mourinho prepared for another battle with his oldest rival in England, complaining as he does so that accumulative tiredness might force him to make a few changes at the Emirates , the difference in attitude between the two managers was noticeable.

Wenger, the one lower in the table and in real danger of missing out on the Champions League for the first time this century, has been perfectly chipper and positive. Mourinho, even in victory at Celta Vigo , was unhappy with the finishing, the result and the injury situation, just about everything in fact except the application of Marcus Rashford. So, going into the match that will probably decide whether United finish above Arsenal, has it been a good season at Old Trafford or not? Moaning might be Mourinho's modus operandi, but has the United manager actually got anything to complain about, or would most other managers happily swap places?

United might not make the top four. That would be hard to take normally, though at least Mourinho and his players took the Europa League seriously from the start and have that means of Champions League qualification as insurance. It is a long and draining competition but the bulk of it is behind them; United should not falter from here and can claim a second trophy of the season in Stockholm on May 24.

Mourinho says his players are suffering through having to play more games than anyone else. To an extent this is true, though as United know better than most, it is the price of success. Stay in a European competition until its closing stages and the games mount up. Playing nine or 10 games in April is nothing new for United and the workload was the same for most of the semi-finalists in this year's Champions League.

United have lost key players through injury. They have been unlucky in certain areas, notably in losing Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Marcos Rojo to serious knee injuries at the same time, though Mourinho does have one of the biggest and most capable squads at his disposal.

His cover at centre-half includes Eric Bailly and Blind, and Smalling is available again, while in Martial and Rashford he has two of the most exciting young forwards in the Premier League. Rooney and Ibrahimovic was never a partnership that seemed likely to work, in view of the age and mobility of the pair, and it is important to remember that United were dominating games without scoring the goals necessary to kill off opponents long before Ibrahimovic was ruled out for the season.

Mourinho needs to get more penetration and end product from Mkhitaryan, Juan Mata and Jesse Lingard next season, or buy in the type of player who will score 20 goals. At the moment Antoine Griezmann and Kylian Mbappe are being mentioned as transfer targets and United are one of the few clubs that could raise the money.

United are so overstretched they are apparently going to play a team of kids against Arsenal to give themselves the best chance of reaching the Europa League final. Some managers at some clubs might consider doing that, this one at this club probably will not. United have standards, after all, and so does Mourinho. He has yet to lose in a competitive game to Wenger in more than a dozen encounters, and is not about to offer his head on a plate. United might come off second best when they travel to Spurs next Sunday, but they are not in anywhere near enough trouble to start making life easy for Arsenal.

Observer

Arsenal v Manchester United

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