For a short while it looked – on paper at least – as though Manchester United had recovered from their poor start to the new season and Jose Mourinho was back on track. Wins in tricky matches, such as the 2-1 at Bournemouth before the international break and a 2-1 win in Turin against Juventus, had the hallmarks of vintage Mourinho.
Successive league games without victory, along with a wholly unconvincing last-minute win against Young Boys, has reopened the debate. It should never have been closed.
Mourinho’s complaints against his own players and general hostility in the media have long portrayed a man desperately trying to preserve his own image rather than protect the club or its players. A few wins should not have stopped pundits from questioning his methods and certainly should not have made anyone assume the Portuguese had the support of the United players.
Even when winning United have been unconvincing, their performances coming in bursts of quality or emotional comebacks – a sure sign the players are not being coached effectively. There is far too much volatility within each 90 minutes for the dressing room to be feeling genuinely affectionate towards their manager. And why should they? Mourinho has thrown his players under the bus countless times over the last two years with no clear game plan. It hasn’t worked.
Man Utd are lucky to be as high as seventh in the Premier League table. Having started matches so poorly and rarely (if ever this season) looking like the better team, it was only poor opposition finishing that prevented them from losing several matches they ultimately won – including Bournemouth, Watford, Everton, and Leicester. It is simply good luck that separates their points tally this season from Chelsea’s abysmal points tally in 2015/16.
But this is a results business – and Manchester United is increasingly little more than a business. The owners won’t care about performances until it begins to affect their commercial revenue, which is why Mourinho’s tediously dull football is tolerated – for now. Surely eventually, and sooner rather than later, the monotony of their football matches will impact how the club is viewed globally, negatively affecting their commercial interests.
That’s the main reason why pundits assume Mourinho won’t last beyond the current campaign, something the manager also seems to think (judging by his self-preservation tactics after every United game). However, it is certainly possible Ed Woodward will pull the trigger much sooner.
United currently sit seven points off the Champions League places. That is the one fact that Woodward will not be able to ignore. Mourinho would be due a huge compensation package should he be sacked this season, and yet this financial loss pales in comparison to the money they would lose from failing to qualify for Europe’s premier competition. Money governs everything United do these days – and Mourinho could be about to cost them tens of millions.
Anything less than victory at Southampton will pile the pressure on Mourinho and onto Woodward to act. Should the gap between United and the top four widen between now and Christmas then it seems unlikely Mourinho will last the whole season.
There are lots of people at Man Utd to blame for the malaise since Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement, and yet Mourinho must take the brunt for a dreadfully dull couple of years at Old Trafford. His time is surely coming to an end.
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