Jose Mourinho’s open courting of PSG makes relationship with Manchester United less special, magic or fantastic
Manchester United may have been in the course of winning three consecutive games in all competitions in late October but, as seems to just be Jose Mourinho’s way at the moment, he wasn’t completely happy. Something was at him.
It was actually the Champions League week around his side’s 2-0 home win over Benfica, so the Portuguese was talking to compatriots from the club at the Lowry Hotel he is currently living at, and where the Superliga champions were staying. They spoke about a few issues, but also the current economic climate of the game. One comment stood out. High-level sources say Mourinho talked about how difficult it can be to compete “against a state”, or the financial power one can provide.
Whether he was making a reference to Manchester City’s Abu Dhabi ownership and something that he will soon bring up more publicly remains to be seen, but there’s also the edge it is a comment that would even more cleanly describe Paris Saint-Germain - the club he seems to have been so openly courting over the last few weeks.
Whatever the context, Mourinho has made it clear he finds the PSG project “special… magic… fantastic”, something that has suddenly made his relationship with his current club a little less than special, magic or fantastic.
Again, there’s something not quite right at the moment.
There are some close to the French club who claim that all of this is entirely one way and that the PSG hierarchy are not really interested in appointing Mourinho due to his approach, and their wider goals for the game. If that is true, it would tally with what some at Old Trafford believe: that this is all just to get a better contract and improve his power at the club.
Others at United are still fairly asking why he has taken this tactic right now, why he is talking like this, as well as creating other needless headlines like questioning supporters on Romelu Lukaku.
Some of this is of course just his core nature. It is what the chief executive of one top European club described to the Independent as “the level of noise you just have to accept if you appoint Mourinho as manager”. While he most famously uses elements outside the club to get a response from his players, he will most infamously create issues himself to get a response to his own power plays.
The question in this case is what the point of this noise is, and it’s difficult not to think it’s the latter; some kind of play well beyond the players. But there are still questions as to what exactly is bothering him, what the ultimate plan of all this is.
Sources within Old Trafford say Mourinho had seemed content up until the Liverpool game. He then got publicly irritated with some of the coverage of that 0-0 draw, only to then let his private irritation at some of the transfer business be known after the subsequent 2-1 defeat to Huddersfield.
Whereas he had previously been praising some of the work in the market, he was suddenly raising the failure to sign Ivan Perisic very regularly, especially since a winger like the Croatian was so key to his attacking plans. Mourinho is also said to feel the delay in buying Nemanja Matic affected the midfielder’s pre-season and thereby brought this slight recent drop-off.
That drop-off has of course coincided with this drop-off in league form, and City streaking away with such stunning form. That is likely one of the main issues bothering a serial winner like Mourinho, especially since those close to him say he really wants to win the Premier League again before Pep Guardiola.
Some around the club have even wondered whether he has realised what a massive task it will be to match City. That could explain some of the irritation, some of the talk about a potential future elsewhere, and also add an extra element to private mentions of competing “against a state”.
While the fact United have spent similar amounts to City in the last three transfer windows and pay similar wages greatly dilutes such debates, it is still true that Mourinho has faced more constraints. He hasn’t got the specific players he wants in the same way because of some of United’s policies and approaches to the market. Perisic is not the only example, but that has further stoked this situation.
There is also the simpler possibility he is tired of hotel life.
The stance at the club is still of course that they want Mourinho to stay in the medium to long term, that they greatly value the stability and basic competitiveness he has restored.
They are still relaxed about what could happen, mind, and naturally looking at the progress of other managers. Some within the United hierarchy still feel they should have pushed for Mauricio Pochettino, while Marco Silva has been noted as one to watch for when Mourinho does go.
When that exactly will be remains the great unknown.
All that is known for certain is that, right now, all is not quite as happy as it should be.