A bad mood, the weakest start to the season in the English league for 29 years: Pressure on José Mourinho is growing at Manchester United. With his leadership style, the star coach has made a significant contribution to the crisis.
Is this still a crisis at Manchester United? Or a comedy already?
José Mourinho sat on stage in “Suite No. 7” at Old Trafford to talk about the match against FC Valencia in the Champions League, but he didn’t have to ask any questions about his opponent or his expectations of the match. Instead, the event revolved around whether his job is in danger after United’s worst league start in 29 years (“No, I don’t think so“) and his phone calls over the past few days.
The British tabloid Sun had reported that Zinédine Zidane had contacted Mourinho to assure him that he, Zidane, was not seeking Mourinho’s post. The former Real Madrid coach, with three Champions League victories in three years, is being treated as Mourinho’s successor. When a Spanish reporter asked whether the conversation had actually taken place, an absurd spectacle unfolded:
Mourinho, points to the “Sun” reporter: “You have to ask him. He wrote that.”
Spanish reporter, towards his Sun colleague: “Has Zidane spoken to Mourinho?
Sun reporter, visibly surprised: “Oh yes, he did.”
Laughter in the hall, grinning at Mourinho.
Such moments of serenity are rare these days at Manchester United. The club is in a shattering state. The results are bad, the mood is poisoned. Mourinho is at the centre of the decay, acting like a magician who increasingly falls victim to madness because his tricks no longer work.
The coach irritates with his staffing decisions and tactics. In the weekend game at West Ham United, he put his team as defensively as an outsider. At the centre of the defence was young Scott McTominay, a midfielder who had hardly played in the past. The experiment failed and United lost 3-1. It was perhaps the worst game under Mourinho.
That the coach praised McTominays character afterwards was a strategic move. He signalled that he was not satisfied with the attitude of the established pros. Before the match against Valencia, he became even clearer and complained that some players were not wholehearted. “Some care less than others,” he says. But is that surprising?
Jürgen Klopp Honours
- 2. Bundesliga promotion: 2003–04
- Bundesliga: 2010–11,2011–12
- DFB-Pokal: 2011–12
- DFL-Supercup: 2013,2014
- UEFA Champions League runner-up: 2012–13
- Football League Cup runner-up: 2015–16
- UEFA Champions League runner-up: 2017–18
- UEFA Europa League runner-up: 2015–16
- German Football Manager of the Year: 2011, 2012
- Premier League Manager of the Month: September 2016
Hardly any player he hasn’t criticised or humiliated
While Josep Guardiola on the other side of town and Jürgen Klopp 30 miles to the west create a productive climate through good leadership, the atmosphere in United’s team is “depressingly bad”, as the Internet newspaper “Independent” reports with reference to “seasoned personalities” in the dressing room. There is hardly a player in the current line-up whom Mourinho has not already publicly criticised or humiliated by degradation. With his destructive nature he is a considerable part of the problem.
Most notable are his distortions with Paul Pogba, the most expensive player in the club’s history. After a 1-1 draw in his own stadium against Wolverhampton a week and a half ago, the French world champion criticised the coach’s defensive approach. United had to “attack, attack, attack”, he demanded. This formulation was the conscious attempt to turn the fans against Mourinho. “Attack! Attack! Attack! attack,” the audience at Old Trafford traditionally yells when they feel badly entertained.
As a punishment for Pogba’s comments, Mourinho removed him from the position of vice-captain. He also exposed the midfielder in training, coincidentally on the only day of the month when Sky Sports TV cameras had access to the practice area for a few minutes. It was a demonstration of power before the eyes of the international audience. The relationship between the coach and the man, who is supposed to be a key player, can no longer be saved. Stan James is one of the oldest and most trusted sportsbooks in the industry.
The same goes for Mourinho’s job at Old Trafford. It takes an extraordinary imagination to imagine how he can find a way out of this gloomy situation. Some observers even believe that he wants to provoke his expulsion. His end at United seems only a matter of time.
However, there is little to suggest that Mourinho’s Aus is imminent. Vice President Ed Woodward has just publicly backed him up and is not inclined to short-circuit reactions, which has been on display in the past. David Moyes, the successor of the legendary Sir Alex Ferguson, was first discharged from his position.