Wednesday 22 May 2019

Comment: Jose Mourinho’s moaning shows Special One facing familiar tests ahead of third campaign at Manchester United

Talking point

Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho. Photo: Nick Potts/PA Wire
Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho. Photo: Nick Potts/PA Wire

Miguel Delaney

Around the Manchester United camp this summer, some are now actively stepping out of Jose Mourinho's way, as he cuts such a frustrated figure looking for answers he's not getting.

The questions he's asking are the same as ever, but the urgency has changed, as has the tone.

Who are United going to actually sign, and when? And - something that is now a source of almost more irritation for Mourinho, because of how it is increasingly connected to the first - who are they going to sell, and when?

"Everything is really bad," the Portuguese said last week, not least his mood and that around the club. That could change if Mourinho gets the answers he's looking for, but this ties into the biggest questions from Mourinho's reign; the most profound debate about his managerial career.

Is the theory of his troubled third season true? Is he stuck in this cycle, and also then stuck in the past as a manager?

The 2018-'19 United season will essentially serve as a referendum on all of this. The question is itself worth of a much grander debate but, for the moment, it is impossible not to notice that there are many parallels with another key Mourinho pre-season. It was at a different place, but the same timescale: that third pre-season in that second spell at Chelsea.

Just like then, match performances are poor and uninspiring, and so much of the time around them is occupied by the manager's moans about transfers. There's just not a promising tone.

Just like then, too, mind, it's equally impossible not to accept Mourinho has a considerable point. He has made specific requests regarding transfers for the last few windows, and the club has only occasionally seen them through. One thing they haven't really seen through at all is sales, something that is causing Mourinho all the more hassle given how that affects budget and how honed he wants his squad. There are around seven players he has wanted rid of for a few windows now that are still there, and look like they will remain. Daley Blind is the only discardable player that has left.

This just doesn't suit the efficiency Mourinho tries to instil in his squad in general.

On the other side, Ivan Perisic's explosion in the World Cup only serves to highlight the manager's understandable irritation as regards purchases.

United didn't get him for the difference of a few million last summer, and the Croatian is now valued at so much more, having proved precisely how his style could make such a difference for Mourinho's system. The fact Perisic will turn 30 years old in a week means United naturally won't pay up to £80m for him now.

A common source of irritation for Mourinho has been how the club so often pursues players of certain "names", rather than those of certain qualities that he wants.

Had they completed a deal for Cristiano Ronaldo, for example - although that was never considered realistic this summer - the manager would not have expected the funds for it to come out of his budget.

This in itself speaks to the different directions in the strategy, with the gaps having already seen Javier Ribalta fall through, as he leaves the club.

Some of those who work at United feel there are deals to be done for Leo Bonucci, Robert Lewandowski and Thiago Alcantara - who all would come - and that it will be very telling to see what the club does if it goes closer to the end of the window and they go no closer to completing other signings.

Mourinho wants that winger like Willian or Perisic, or even Ante Rebic, as well as an experienced centre-half, but is seeing nothing really coming through in any area.

He has grown so exasperated regarding defenders that sources say he has even been considering adding to his list of targets Gary Cahill, a Chelsea player once a brilliant lieutenant for him but has now for at least two seasons shown signs of decline.

And this is also where the question comes in about Mourinho's own possible decline, over whether the spark has gone -and not just in this window.

In another parallel with 2015, it's similarly impossible not to wonder whether Mourinho takes his complaints too far, and whether this just takes problems already manifesting in the previous season even further. Is he again talking the team into trouble, by just creating excuses and problems?

One troubling truth is this: if a difficult Mourinho third season requires a certain amount of prerequisites apparently inherent to his career, virtually all of them are now in place.

There was already considerable tension between the manager and the playing squad, and will that really be helped by the Portuguese making it so known how much of a toil he is finding it right now. What must those currently on the US tour be thinking?

There's then the wider fact that this is Mourinho's fifth transfer window, and he still doesn't feel much closer to a team he would see as an ideal - or a title. He should be, like Pep Guardiola, at least closer to the point where he only needs one or two signings to keep things ticking over.

There is similarly the lingering suspicion that he is trying to pre-emptively shift blame for any struggles, any failures, and it is also telling that there isn't exactly much confidence around United that they will challenge for the league this season.

That is despite last season representing their best finish since Alex Ferguson retired. It has instead just fed in to what has felt like their worst summer since then.

It should be remembered that this can change quickly. If Mourinho gets the two signings - at least - that he wants, he will immediately be much happier. Some of the verve will return.

Right now, only problems are returning, and there are far more questions than answers. (© Independent News Service)

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