During his time at Chelsea, every Mourinho smirk, quip and raised eyebrow had the English press pack in raptures. In case you hadn’t noticed, there’s a very different narrative being played out now he’s Manchester United’s manager. José is the out-of-touch dinosaur and instead it’s Pep, Poch and Jurgen Klopp getting journalists into an engorged state. That’s absolutely fine. The rush to hand out plaudits and prizes after 6 or 7 games is utterly laughable, as City’s recent coronation as ‘the invincibles’ proved quite succinctly.
When I was a kid, I can recall my old man telling me not to even bother looking at the league table until after 10 games or so. At that point, you get a fair indication of what’s what given each team will have played a couple of tough fixtures so you can properly assess form. It’s pretty obvious stuff, really… but football in 2016 doesn’t care for a sense of perspective or reality, it’s all about hyperbole. As Sparky notes elsewhere in this issue, everything either has to be “the best ever” or “the worst ever.”
The truth of course, is that United are somewhere in-between. I closed last month’s optimism-fuelled column with a note of caution regarding the impending Manchester derby – a wise move given how it duly managed to obliterate the early season feel-good factor within the space of 45 minutes. How very sobering. Even more depressingly, the resultant hangover has proven difficult to shift as we head into a very testing autumnal run of fixtures.
The 1st of these, away at Anfield, was negotiated successfully with the deployment of some vintage Mourinho nullifying tactics. As unpalatable as some might find it, the ‘go for a 0-0 and anything else’s a bonus’ mindset was entirely predictable and executed perfectly. 35% possession would have made Van Gaal wince and despite the lack of chances, in this instance the end result justified the means. With Chelsea and City around the corner, the last thing required was another defeat.
Clearly, a United team being sent out with such limited ambition is going to irritate a sizeable number of people. Mourinho’s willingness to exercise such a game plan was cited as a reason some were against him ever being given the job in the first place – his propensity for negativity being a ‘betrayal of our attacking traditions’ and all that.
Personally, I don’t see a problem. If he was setting us up to bore teams into submission every game like we tried to for much of the last 3 seasons, then I’d be complaining as loud as anyone. But he isn’t. It’s not Southampton at home, it’s Liverpool away… and the result is everything. There have been plenty of abject games at Anfield over the last 20 years, where typically we’ve turned in half-hearted performances and been soundly beaten. The last time we went there and properly dominated them was the 3-1 win back in December ’97 – it just doesn’t happen very often. So all things considered I’m quite content with a single point, thank you very much.
If Mourinho has discovered that his time as the darling of the English press is over, it’s nothing compared to the mensis horribilis that Wayne Rooney has just endured. Despite the fact that the football watching public have long been frustrated by his fading abilities, it’s only in the last 4 weeks that the cabal of media/ex-pros and managers have finally admitted the game’s up too.
It probably took me longer than most to recognise change was needed as I’ve usually sported a pair of blinkers where Wazza’s failings are concerned. I’ve been content to overlook his leaden feet with increasingly redundant arguments about his effort and work rate – a will to win that was still good enough to craft us an FA Cup winning goal from nothing as recently as May, let’s not forget. The reality however, is that the bad has outweighed the good for months, if not years now.
The ongoing debate about his current/future position has always been skewed by the fact that many people can’t admit the most obvious detail – Wayne simply isn’t a top class midfielder. He just doesn’t possess the requisite touch and passing consistency. The notion that a striker can drop back and influence games from a deeper role as the years take their toll is a convenient one, but how many players have truly managed to achieve this? Charlton, Dalglish and Keegan perhaps… though none of these played in the current era with its unrelenting speed and intensity.
The desire is still there with Rooney, his effort and work rate haven’t diminished despite regular claims to the contrary. The problem is simply down to his declining physical state – he’s just not as quick as he was 10 years ago. The brain sees the pass/anticipates the incoming tackle, but the feet are no longer as quick to react. Sadly, it’s probably just a natural consequence of him doing this week in, week out for the last 14 years.
And for 12 of those years, Rooney has been wearing a United shirt – a key performer during the most successful era in the club’s history. 500 games, 250 goals… yet many will be delighted to see the back of him when he inevitably moves on at the end of the season. Not me. Nor am I joining in with those gleefully revelling in his current predicament and enjoying the opportunity to stick the boot in. Despite the fact his career at Old Trafford seems to be heading to a somewhat ignominious conclusion, he deserves far better than that.
Copyright Red News – October 2016