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Comment: How Jose Mourinho's non-press conference has put more pressure on Manchester United, not less


Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho

Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho

Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho

When a manager has used media performances as much as Jose Mourinho, and works at a club where public image has become as commercially important as winning titles, it is only natural that those performances will come in for almost as much analysis as his team’s actual games.

The great wonder from Friday, though, is what the Manchester United manager’s game was here? Was it just another so-calculated performance, or a natural part of the typical Mourinho end-game?

It didn’t take long for his press conference ahead of a Tottenham Hotspur fixture already so elevated in importance to end.

The United boss came out 30 minutes early, and only stayed for four minutes and 19 seconds of the broadcast section, barely answering any of the 13 questions put to him with more than monosyllabic responses.

Given that many of the media hadn’t even arrived by the time Mourinho had finished, and he spent so little time there, it’s obvious that he just wanted to avoid all the increasingly pressing questions about United’s problems right now: the situation, the performances, the relationship with the squad and Paul Pogba, the relationship with the executive vice-chairman.

It’s just that gives rise to the biggest question out of all this: if Mourinho is so reluctant to give answers… is it because he now has none?

It would fit in with what we saw on the pitch at Brighton and Hove Albion, as that looked like a team not responding to him.

There’s also the way neither Pogba nor Mourinho will even really discuss each other in public, and generally want to evade the topic, which is a very different captain-manager relationship than football has become used to. It would also fit with increasing murmurs from Carrington that Pogba communicates much more with Michael Carrick than Mourinho.

“Paul said it, so he has to answer for his words,” was the manager’s only response to questions about the French star and his comments after the 3-2 defeat to Brighton and Hove Albion. “If you want any explanation about Paul's words you must get him and ask him.”

It was at least more than he said about Woodward. When asked whether their relationship was “fine”, Mourinho merely said “of course”, and then “no” as to whether there is a problem between them.

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But this is where we get to the crux of this entire issue.

It is well known that there have been problems between Mourinho and Woodward and, if the most favourable interpretation of Friday is that this is just another performance to try and eventually get a response from his squad, it wouldn’t take that much of a performance. It has just been a continuation of his actual mood from so much of the summer.

And sure, Mourinho is known to have studied and practised how to use the press for psychological advantage and he has put in these press conferences in the past - particularly in his last stint at Chelsea, but not really in that miserable last 2015-16 season. And those previous stunts stood out precisely because they were so out there, because they went beyond his usual tone and mood. That is not the case now.

It is genuinely as if he’s in a terminal sulk. It really doesn’t seem like a performance.

And it is natural to think this is all another part of the predictable “Mourinho season”. That was Antonio Conte’s term in reference to what he took over at Chelsea at the end of 2015-16, but the Italian also had another phrase from that campaign that is relevant to his great rival.

“The truth is on the pitch.”

The same is true of Mourinho and everyone else in football. Ultimately, no matter what happens in any media appearance of press conference, it will all be dictated by what happens on the pitch.

The only provable way to bring smiles back in football and make problems go away is to win matches.

That doesn’t necessarily mean Mourinho would be smiling on Monday, given that’s another stunt he’s pulled in the past. You only have to remember his curiously constrained demeanour after his launchpad achievement, the 2004 Champions League win with Porto.

But this doesn’t feel like a stunt. And it has actually made Monday on the pitch matter all the more.

That is all this has served to do. The surly lack of words has only added to the pressure.

And by refusing to answer questions, he has only given rise to more. United, more than ever, need an actual response.

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