Eliminated from the Champions League, feuds with several key players, and bizarre statements to the media: there are worrying signs that the cracks are finally starting to show for Jose Mourinho at Manchester United, writes Stephen Fox.
There have been very few managers in the 21st century who have been as successful as Jose Mourinho.
The Portuguese has won the UEFA Cup and the Champions League with Porto, lead Chelsea to multiple league titles and other trophies, Inter Milan to their very first treble, and prevented Pep Guardiola’s all-conquering Barcelona side from winning a fourth straight La Liga title with Real Madrid.
Only Sir Alex Ferguson and Guardiola can say they have been as successful as Mourinho this century, but despite all of his success as a manager there are not that many clubs who are willing to touch Mourinho, let alone have him be the manager at their clubs.
Everybody already knows what to expect from him. While he’ll guarantee any club he works for trophies and success, it’s only short-term.
Mourinho is not the kind of manager who will not stay at a club for long before moving onto the next challenge.
On the face of things, that shouldn’t be much of an issue in modern day football, where most clubs seemingly do not have any kind of long-term plans, and even someone like Guardiola is not known for staying at his clubs for too long.
But the difference between what Mourinho and Guardiola leave behind at these clubs is staggering.
Guardiola builds a project at the clubs he goes to, and leaves them in a position for further success, while Mourinho prefers the option of burning everything in his path on his way out the door.
Manchester United knew exactly what they were getting themselves into when they hired Mourinho in the summer of 2016. He had been pining for the job since the day he first left Chelsea back in 2007, and the challenge of replacing Ferguson would have certainly appealed to his ego, but the club opted to go another way.
Sir Bobby Charlton had made his feelings about Mourinho perfectly clear back in 2013, and the club opted to appoint David Moyes instead.
United wanted a long-term option to continue on from Ferguson, but sacked the Scot less than twelve months after appointing him.
The appointment of Louis van Gaal was made in the hope that the Dutchman would lay a foundation for the club to build from.
Of course, that didn’t happen either, and the club started to seriously lag behind the rest of the top clubs in England.
United decided to throw any last shred of what they were holding on to as a club from the Ferguson era when they hired Mourinho, opting to try and get the club back to the glory days of success, even if it was only for the short-term.
Mourinho has, to his credit, achieved that partially at Old Trafford. He managed to win two trophies last season in the form of the league cup and the Europa League, along with having United positioned second in the league with top four being guaranteed short-side of any kind of massive slip up in the league.
On the face of things, everything should look alright for Mourinho so far. It’s only when one looks beyond that is when you see the old familiar patterns starting to emerge with him.
Cowardly and spineless performances over two games against Sevilla saw them dumped out in the first knockout round of the competition. United were not favourites for the competition by any stretch of the imagination but they were expected to get through against a team that was sixth in La Liga.
United’s performances and Mourinho’s tactics were not helped by the performances of the other English clubs in the competition, as although both Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea were also eliminated, those two were up against far stronger opposition in both Juventus and Barcelona. Tottenham and Chelsea put up far more impressive performances against two teams who will be expected to go very far in the competition.
Mourinho’s post game press conference would not have endeared him to the United fanbase. He mentioned how he was a manager who had knocked United out of the competition twice before, and how several Sevilla players could get into the United side…
If being eliminated from the Champions League wasn’t enough, Mourinho has found himself embroiled in feuds with several of his players – Luke Shaw in particular.
Whilst Shaw has had problems with fitness and injuries throughout his time at United, he has also worked hard to improve himself. He worked his way back into the team this season, only to be dropped for mysterious reasons, and it is looking likely that he will now leave the club in the summer.
Shaw is not the first player that Mourinho has had issues with at United – he has had similar issues with the likes of Paul Pogba and Anthony Martial. There’s an air of negativity around Old Trafford at the moment, which isn’t being subdued by Mourinho at all.
There will be those who will point to the fact that Mourinho is not the first manager to criticise Shaw for his apparent lack of fitness, but this isn’t anything new for Mourinho either.
At Real Madrid, Mourinho famously had a feud with Iker Casillas, and then Juan Mata, Eden Hazard, and the entire medical team at Chelsea.
The issues Mourinho has had with players or staff caused multiple factions to grow within the club, and turned the clubs into a boiling pot of negativity which resulted in no other option but for Mourinho to leave the club in order to resolve the problems.
This old, familiar pattern is happening at United, and it isn’t what they need at the moment.
The biggest cause for concern should be on the pitch. Whilst United are second in the league and they are doing much better than they have since Ferguson retired, many are still not satisfied with the performances.
Nobody should be surprised that a Mourinho team is not playing exciting football, it should be expected, but the cause of concern should be that United still do not look like a team that actually knows how they want to play.
United will often have games where the players continually look lost, they make the wrong pass, or make the wrong runs.
The players regularly lack any kind of chemistry, playing as eleven individuals as opposed to an actual team.
Mourinho has struggled to get the best out of his star players in Pogba and Alexis Sanchez, stubbornly going with formations that do not seek the best out of them, Pogba especially.
Likewise, while United concede very little, it isn’t always because they have a great defence. Their defending is lackadaisical at times, and relies on the heroics of David De Gea far too much for a team as high up in the league as they are.
Mourinho won’t be going anywhere at the end of the season. He’s only recently signed a new contract with the club, and they are more or less guaranteed a spot in the top four barring any kind of major slip-up. On top of that they are still in the semi-finals of the FA Cup.
But there are cracks starting to show with Mourinho. The same cracks that showed during his spells at Real Madrid and Chelsea, and this could be worrying for United’s future.