Wednesday 22 May 2019

Comment - Why the countdown is on to Jose Mourinho's date with destiny at Manchester United

Jose Mourinho on tour with Manchester United in the United States (Nick Potts/PA)
Jose Mourinho on tour with Manchester United in the United States (Nick Potts/PA)
Kevin Palmer

Kevin Palmer

We are a matter of days away from discovering whether the Manchester United hierarchy are still fully behind Jose Mourinho and if the mood of the manager who has chosen to place himself in the eye of the storm is any guide, it appears he may already know the answer to that question.

When Mourinho handed United's executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward a list of five players he wanted to sign this summer, he would have anticipated a minimum of three being delivered to him by the time he returned to pre-season training.

Part of Mourinho's stated strategy for this transfer window was to get his work done early to ensure that his new signing would be able to take part in a portion of what was always likely to be a truncated pre-season programme, disrupted by the World Cup finals.

Tottenham defender Toby Alderweireld, Inter Milan winger Ivan Perisic and Chelsea playmaker Willian are believed to have been on that list, yet we are about to reach the first day of August and none of those established names appear to be close to arriving at Old Trafford.

In addition, many of the players he decided were free to leave at the end of last season - and Anthony Martial is believed to have been on that list - are still at the United, as the club have stalled in their backing for a coach who has rarely seem out three seasons at the same club in his combative career.

Indeed, the startling lack of transfer activity at club that has signed star names like Paul Pogba (£89m) and Romelu Lukaku (£75m) during Mourinho's time at the club gives a glaring indication that those who sign-off on the cheques at the world's wealthiest club are reluctant to spend big-money propping up a manager whose sullen mood and equally morbid brand of football has seen a large section of fans turn against him in recent months.

While few have been better than Mourinho at winning trophies over the last 15 years, the sideshow that comes with Mourinho has long since been hard to admire.

Those of us who reported on Mourinho's first coming in English football with Chelsea in 2004 will recall a jovial, cheeky, feisty character who was good to be around, but the humour has been syphoned out of this battle-scarred tactician and in its place is a sullen character who doesn't try to hide his annoyance for the position he now finds himself in.

Mourinho could justifiably suggest progress was made last season as United finished second in the Premier League behind runaway champions Manchester City last May, but the methods he deployed for much of the campaign and the manner of their defeat in the FA Cup final against Chelsea saw the popular vote swing against Jose among many of the club's supporters.

A large section of United fans were repulsed by the prospect of street-brawler Mourinho being handed the keys to power at Old Trafford when he took over from Louis van Gaal in the summer of 2016, but guiding the club to two trophies in his first season kept those reservations under wraps.

Only when a second season of uninspiring and ultimately trophy less football came to an end did the question marks start to get voiced about Mourinho's long-term future at United and it may be that those sentiments were also raised among Woodward and the club's owners.

United are not short of cash as they flounder to sign the players Mourinho has requested, so the only conclusion will be that they are no longer backing the man at the helm if their transfer activity this summer ends with the £52m arrival of Brazilian star Fred from Shakhtar Donetsk.

Mourinho must have thought long and hard about how he would handle his press conferences in America, as he knew questions would flow about a lack of signings and what, to outsiders looking in, appears to be a lack of support for him from the club's owners.

So when he suggested United are 'in trouble' ahead of the Premier League season that kicks off in less than two weeks, few were in any doubt that he was using his profile to put pressure on Woodward to give him the players he wants.

"I would like to have two more players," he declared. "I gave a list to the club of five names a few months ago and I wait to see if it is possible to have one of these players. If it is not possible we keep fighting, working and believing in the players that we have."

This was a classic case of Mourinho getting his excuses in ahead of a season that is likely to be his last as United manager unless his attitude on and off the pitch changes to the point where the club feel they can back him once again.

Indeed, unless United's transfer purse is opened up between now and the August 9th deadline, Mourinho will have to conclude that he is no longer the special one at Old Trafford.

What happens at that point is anyone's guess.

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