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In the wake of Manchester United’s 2-1 defeat to Fenerbahce yesterday, my timeline teemed with United fans slamming their players, denouncing the squad as not good enough, listing those that must be immediately jettisoned and demanding that Jose Mourinho be given the length of his four-year contract to fix whatever has gone rotten at the club. Even newly-minted loudmouth Paul Scholes said the following:
“We’ve had a painful three years and I think the next 18 months to two years could be very similar until this manager has three, four transfer windows.”
Generally, I am in favour of giving managers time. The world of football is full of far too many that want instant gratification, or feel entitled to it. The desire of fans to see one man remain at the helm of a club for some time and build something lasting is one I share. The ideas, however, that United’s squad is not good enough and that Mourinho is the manager to whom the club should entrust its future are both absolute nonsense.
Let’s first tackle the issue of the squad. A world class goalkeeper. Two perfectly serviceable right-backs. Luke Shaw, whose career has been disrupted by injury but who can and should become the best left-back in the country. In Smalling and Blind there’s a centre-back pairing that even the much-maligned Van Gaal coached into a solid, reliable partnership. Now there’s Bailly as well.
In midfield, Herrera and Schneiderlin are excellent players. Carrick provides composure, ball retention and experience. Pogba is a deliciously skillful if tactically problematic maverick. Fellaini genuinely shouldn’t be at the club. Schweinsteiger and Rooney are neither here nor there. Mata has shown his worth. Lingard is a squad option. Mkhitaryan is one of Europe’s best attacking midfielders. What Mourinho is doing with him is unfathomable.
Martial is a pacey, skillful wide forward or striker who did brilliant things, and scored plenty of goals last season. He is a bona fide wonderkid. We only don’t see him that way any more because Marcus Rashford – one of Europe’s most promising young strikers – stole that limelight from him. Meanwhile, up front is Ibrahimovic, one of the game’s best and most decorated strikers, who showed last season and in the first few games of this that he is most certainly not over the proverbial hill.
Could the squad be improved? Of course. How many squads couldn’t? The point is, though, that there is more than enough talent at Mourinho’s disposal. To suggest that he needs three or four more transfer windows to produce a decent team is to admit that he cannot coach the best out of the talented players he already has. Which, of course, is the crux of the matter.
The whole point of a coach or manager is to improve footballers. In the Premier League, to name but a few, Arsene Wenger improves his players. Pochettino improves his players. Eddie Howe, Antonio Conte, Jurgen Klopp, Ronald Koeman and of course Pep Guardiola are all improving their players. Could you imagine the current group at Manchester United performing this badly under any of those coaches?
The point of a manager is not to spend billions and three years replacing your whole squad because you can’t motivate or improve what you already have. If that’s what Jose Mourinho needs to be successful then he quite simply isn’t a top quality manager anymore. Not to mention, the man’s transfer record in his second stint at Chelsea was absolutely abysmal – and while his early moves at United seemed initially to be settling in well, Bailly is now injured and will also be unavailable during the African Cup Of Nations, Mourinho has not found a way to maximize the effectiveness of the world record signing, the Mkhitaryan mystery will only be revealed to us when Wikileaks decides it’s time to act and Ibrahimovic has never in his career looked as bereft of confidence as he does now, under his supposed favourite manager. Is this who one gives four transfer windows?
The idea of Mourinho being around for four years or more is laughable, anyway. If history is the best indicator of future behaviour, we know the expiry date on the relationship between the Theatre of Dreams and the king of drama. The man has not been able to keep a squad of players on side since his Inter Milan days.
It used to take around three years for players to get sick of his whining, his criticism of them, of referees and opponents, of pundits and journalists. It seems that his spiel is starting to wear thin on players a lot quicker now.
Where it also used to take him some time to move through the gears, it also seems that he is now willing to plough through his siege-mentality playbook at greater pace than ever before. He comes off like an impatient Football Manager player, taking over a rich club, buying a few of the world’s best players, shoving them into a recognizable formation, ignoring the details and only pausing from hitting ‘continue’ to storm out of the occasional press conference or denounce a player’s recent form.
Jose Mourinho has displayed absolutely no patience at Manchester United. Manchester United should display none with him.