Tag Archives: jose mourinho

Highway To Hell

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Good old Juan Mata. Whilst everyone was losing the plot after the Champions League exit, the nicest man in football™ also proved himself a master of understatement by summing up events as merely, “a complicated week.” That’s one way of putting it, though I can’t help thinking ‘calamitous’ might have been a more fitting adjective.

After Ben Yedder’s 2nd goal prompted the mass exodus from the ground, the mood walking away wasn’t one of resigned disappointment, it felt almost mutinous. I know plenty of people have never really warmed to Mourinho, but I was genuinely surprised at the level of invective being aired. This wasn’t just the usual handful of gobshites sounding off, it was more than that. It felt like a tipping point had been reached.

Jose, true to form, came out swinging. Whilst he was obviously correct in pointing out that our recent Champions League is poor and home exits are nothing new, it was pretty disingenuous of him to ignore the fact that he was brought here to try and change that. Yes, he may well have been in charge of Porto and Real Madrid when they knocked us out, but using that fact to justify failings on his current watch was somewhat spurious reasoning.

As regular readers know, I’ve always defended Mourinho and would have been happy to see him appointed as Fergie’s successor 5 years ago. We needed someone with the same self-belief, drive and winning mentality who would be completely unfazed by the size of the club and level of expectation. Clearly he has his character flaws, but then so did Ferguson. We revelled in his malevolent side and siege mentality for many years, reaping the rewards of his similarly gargantuan personality and monstrous ego.

The major difference between the two was hammered home after the Seville game, however. Whereas you always sensed Ferguson took defeats personally and everything we experienced (good or bad) could be used to impact on his players’ long-term development, there was no evidence of that from Jose’s reaction. He didn’t defend his tactics or his squad, or even seem that chastened by the result – he merely used the opportunity to defend his own reputation.

Needless to say, it wasn’t great timing by Mourinho to remind us of his previous successes over United in the competition. We’re acutely aware of his past pedigree as it’s one of the main reasons he was appointed manager in the first place. His press conference might have been better received if he’d at least sounded contrite rather than brushing criticism away and offering the somewhat lame excuse of, ‘well you’ve seen all this before, haven’t you lads?’

He wasn’t done yet. Jose was back in front of the press prior to the Brighton game, this time armed with a list of Rafa-style facts detailing each of our European exits in recent years. His tone was just as bullish as had been 3 days earlier, although this time he was at pains to stress that the Seville result needed to be viewed in context. His main point being that this United team are still a work in progress lacking experience at the very top level. A fair point I suppose, and at least this time he resisted the temptation to big up his own past achievements.

Manchester United v CSKA Moskva - UEFA Champions League

At least the defeat took the ongoing beef with Pogba off the back pages briefly, but that one is certain to rear its head again given his ongoing absence from the starting line up . The fact he was left out for the biggest game of the season speaks volumes, and that’s before you consider the minimal impact he had after he eventually came on as sub. Regardless of form, I don’t think any of us would picked Fellaini over Pogba versus Seville, especially as we were starting another 2 holding midfielders in Matic and McTominay. Relations between the pair don’t appear to have improved and as I said last month, it won’t come as much of a surprise if Pogba’s gone in the summer.

Ditto Luke Shaw, another player subject to Jose’s oft-schizophrenic approach to motivational techniques. Now we all know that Shaw needs a regular kick up his sizeable arse and it’s long been a cause for concern that his attitude and approach require constant tuning. Mourinho isn’t the first coach to experience this and I doubt he’ll be the last. However, it was only 6 weeks ago that Shaw was being praised for his consistency and a new contract was being mentioned. Was this just an attempt to alert potential suitors? If so, why the abrupt change of heart within a couple of months?

Another in the firing line is Alexis Sanchez, a player whose descent into utter mediocrity has been impressive even by recent United standards. I mean, at least Di Maria gave us 6 weeks of good form before downing tools and viewing apartments on the Champs-Élysées. It came as no surprise to see him dropped for the Brighton game as he’s been absolutely shocking since he signed. Fingers crossed we’ll start to see the best of Alexis after he’s had a break in the summer and a full pre-season behind him.

The FA Cup, as it has been on a couple of notable occasions in United’s history, could turn out to be Mourinho’s salvation in what has become a very testing 2nd term in charge. That however, remains a very remote possibility considering the state of our record against both Spurs and potential finalists Chelsea in recent years – we haven’t beaten either team away from Old Trafford since 2012.

All things considered, last week’s international break probably came at the right time to give several figures in the dressing room a few days break from each other. Just be thankful for Will Grigg and Wigan Athletic’s recent heroics, otherwise we might have been facing a genuine end of days scenario in the not too distant future. Watching City win the treble would be the most “complicated week” imaginable.

Copyright Red News – March 2018

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Reasons To Be Cheerful, Part 3

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Well December went well, didn’t it? It all started so well with that memorable win at the Emirates, but sneaking out of there with 3 points unfortunately meant that we’d used up an entire month’s worth of luck in the space of 2 hours. By the time Boxing Day arrived it felt like Van Gaal had returned like the Ghost of Christmas Past. The players appeared to sense this too and joined in by attempting a macabre re-enactment of the infamous Norwich home game that ruined Christmas 2015.

Factor in a 0-0 draw against Southampton a few days later and it momentarily felt like we’d regressed 2 years. We haven’t, thankfully… I genuinely believe that. It was just a hefty kick in the bollocks that needs to be kept in perspective. Since I wrote here a month ago we’ve played a dozen games and suffered a major dip in form. Injuries, fatigue, a post-derby hangover… blame whatever you want. Yet we’re 2nd in the league and comfortably reached the CL knock-out stages – so we’re not doing all that badly.

Let’s be realistic here: over half of United’s squad still comprises of haphazardly recruited, distinctly underwhelming footballers – good players, but not great players. Most will be replaced as soon as their contracts are up. Forget the net spend figures and Jose/Pep comparisons being bandied about as they’re irrelevant for the most part. Looking at the talent we have in place, I maintain that we’re overachieving with what we’ve actually got.

Unfortunately, the gargantuan ball ache that nobody anticipated this season was Manchester City’s ridiculous form. The fact they’ve amassed an unprecedented points total at this stage skews the picture to the point that any progress made by United has been obscured. 2 years ago we’d have been 3 points clear at the top of the table with 47 points after 22 games. Instead, we’re sat 15 points off the pace so understandably, the mood about the place is poised somewhere between subdued and clinically depressed.

So, what to do? According to your average, internet-based moron, being 15 points behind City and with everyone feeling a bit sorry for themselves, it’s time to sack the manager. Quite how anyone could reach that conclusion is baffling, but such a mindset does exist out there. Can you imagine the alternative to Mourinho at this juncture? I can. United hovering just above mid-table with Giggs and Phil Neville in charge whilst Paul Scholes sits in the ITV studio claiming we’re ‘doing pretty well’ all things considered. Meanwhile, the entire footballing world pisses themselves laughing at our expense. No thanks, I’ll stick with Jose if you don’t mind.

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That doesn’t mean to say I don’t think Mourinho has to change if he is to succeed in the long-term at Old Trafford. I think we were all guilty of underestimating the extent to which Guardiola would impact on City’s fortunes this season, but does Mourinho have to ability to drag this current United squad up to their current level? Either by instilling some radical shift in mindset and tactics, or by making some unforeseen changes in personnel.

To put this another way, Ferguson re-invented his United teams numerous times due to the shifting demands of what he deemed necessary to succeed. He famously gambled on youth in 1995, built a team of warriors to out-battle Arsenal, then set about constructing a side that proved even more consistent than Mourinho’s powerful 2005 Chelsea vintage. Basically, we might need a re-think if we’re going to get anywhere near City over the next couple of years – it’s not enough just to keep our fingers crossed hoping they won’t quite hit the same heights next season.

Take Lukaku as an example here – signed at huge expense to lead our attack for the next 5-6 years. Although his goals contribution has been respectable, I don’t think I’m being that unkind in suggesting he’s not the most fluid, all-round footballer to have graced the No.9 shirt at OT. Even as a flat-track bully, he doesn’t do that much bullying and he manages to miss as many sitters as both Rashford and Martial combined. I’ve no desire to kick Romelu whilst he’s down here at all, he’s clearly trying his hardest. I’m merely suggesting that Jose might benefit from re-visiting his plan of having him as our attacking figurehead for the next 5 years.

If you don’t agree with this harsh assessment of Lukaku’s form, then take some solace from the fact that regular whipping boy Jesse Lingard has improved immeasurably since being singled out for a slagging off here a couple of months back. Whilst Lukaku and the returning Zlatan have looked well off the pace, Lingard has carried the team over the last couple of months and proven himself United’s most potent attacking threat by miles. Fair play to him. I will happily admit to being wrong and I genuinely hope he maintains this new level of consistency he’s reached. I still think he’s a bit of a dickhead, and acknowledge the fact he’s quite entitled to hold the same opinion of me.

Despite the team’s solid progress overall, we’re left facing the grim prospect of watching City steamroller towards the title for the next few months. As unpalatable as this may be, we’re just going to have to suck it up as every minor setback befalling United is inevitably blown out of all proportion. We’ve still got much to play for despite the league summit being out of reach; still in the FA Cup and worse teams than ours have won the Champions League in the not too distant past. I appreciate I’m clutching at straws here, but how sweet would that be? Shades of ’68 as City win the title whilst United usurp them by claiming the big one. Lingard screamer to win it in the last minute, anyone?

Copyright Red News – January 2018

www.rednews.co.uk

Nowhere Fast

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I honestly try not to get too wound up about football these days, but I was approaching apoplectic after Huddersfield away. The performance, the post-match monsoon and the hordes of deliriously happy locals made for a thoroughly toxic combination that’s still irritating me now, nearly a month on.

Firstly, Huddersfield itself. Wow, what a place. Now it’s easy to be dismissive of the provincial backwaters we get to visit on our travels, but this lot earned top marks in the ‘how to behave when Man United come to town’ stakes. We’re talking Swindon levels of giddiness, here. The fact they’d barely managed a shot on target in their previous 7 games and then set about United like they’d received a bye to the World Cup final was predictable enough, but seriously… a brass band? I don’t think I’ve ever encountered anything so completely and utterly Yorkshire.

Once upon a time we’d go to these places and swat them aside like the swaggering, metropolitan sophisticates we like to think we are, but those days are long behind us. That first half… where to start? Herrera loves to talk the talk about ‘getting’ United and what it means to play for the club but it shouldn’t draw attention away from his regular sub-par performances. Lingard too gets a lot of stick, but also has many defenders due to the ‘boyhood red’ thing. I’m sorry, but running round aimlessly whilst doing lots of pointing just doesn’t cut it. It happens too many times. It’s one thing taking Swansea apart in the League Cup, but when it really matters he’s routinely nowhere to be seen.

Now from the merely bad, to the downright atrocious. People have justifiably pointed out that we shouldn’t write-off Victor Lindelof too early due to the likes of Pallister and Vidic having inauspicious starts to their ultimately fruitful United careers. However, the fact he looks acutely unaware of whether to head the ball or whether to pass it doesn’t bode well for a 23 year old central defender. ‘Rabbit in the headlights’ doesn’t even begin to describe his afternoon. Delving even further into the past, Pat McGibbon and William Prunier both endured similarly nightmarish debuts and neither was ever heard of again.

In truth, the entire afternoon was the culmination of what had been coming for about 6 weeks. Injuries mounting up, the first choice XL dismantled and we steadily reverted to the stumbling, directionless football witnessed for much of the last 4 years. We can carry the likes of Mata and Mkhitaryan with a full strength team, but they lack the cojones to get you through situations like being 2-0 down facing essentially crap, albeit temporarily inspired opponents like Huddersfield.

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After this setback, the team roused themselves to earn a hard-fought, narrow victory over Spurs before suffering the now annual defeat at Stamford Bridge. This game was notable due to Mourinho deviating from his usual Cat A away game script by sending the team out to attack. Sadly, that was the only surprise of the afternoon as otherwise it was standard United at Chelsea fodder. A few bright moments, home team settle down, we concede after a defensive lapse and then rally too late to do anything about it.

We never seem to get any luck there, but in truth we didn’t deserve much this time out. Aimlessly punting long balls towards Fellaini for the last 10 minutes is a tactic that has failed us repeatedly, so I’ve got no idea why we still persevere with it. I can just about stomach the ultra-negative, defensive football Mourinho employs at times as at least it can bring results. Launching it forward to the big feller in the box NEVER works though. It’s desperate stuff, and we’ll never become a truly great side whilst it remains our only viable Plan B.

Despite recent results accentuating the sense of doom around the place, it clearly isn’t the root cause. As numerous commenters have noted, Jose is oozing bad vibes at the minute and doesn’t look happy with life at all. On face value, United are still doing okay. 7 wins and 2 draws from the first 11 games isn’t terrible by any stretch. We’re 2nd in the league and virtually home and dry in the CL group stages, but you wouldn’t guess that based on Mourinho’s expression or any words out of his mouth over the last few weeks.

So is it the lack of progress on his new contract, Woodward’s failure to land Perisic in the summer or merely a passive-aggressive response to the plaudits heading City’s way at present? Who knows. In all likelihood it’s a combination of each of these factors. Mourinho’s many detractors would no doubt claim this is just par for the course, given his previous managerial gigs have imploded following similar periods of pent-up acrimony.

I suppose worst case scenario is that this is all part of some underhand masterplan to try and force an exit and fall into the open arms of PSG. Taking a completely impassive stance, you can see why such a switch might appeal. It would be a shithouse move for sure, but avoiding the spectre of Guardiola domestically whilst taking him on with an unlimited budget in Europe must seem quite an enticing prospect.

On the other hand, this could all prove to be nothing more than speculative clickbait. I don’t want Jose to be content with being 8 points behind in November. I expect him to be angry about it and for his foul mood to persist as long as we’re trailing behind City. I also expect him to exert maximum pressure on Woodward to land designated transfer targets and to vent his dissatisfaction whenever they don’t happen. The constant background noise, his sour disposition… well that’s just how he gets results. This is just Mourinho being Mourinho, isn’t it?

Copyright Red News – November 2017

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