News analysis

Mourinho's diversionary tactics can't mask problems at United

In a world where attention spans are forever shortening, everything appears to happen sooner these days.

Even Jose Mourinho may be affected. His traditional third-year problems, which usually culminate in his departure, seem to be occurring in his second campaign at Manchester United.

Relationships are frayed with some of his players, plus referees, pundits and his fellow managers, even if not, he claims, with his employers.

Mourinho has cut a sulking figure for much of the last couple of months. His mood deteriorated as it became apparent that Manchester City - and his nemesis Pep Guardiola - are too good.

This year seemed to represent his best chance to flourish in Manchester. Mourinho had his personal version of second-season syndrome, an immaculate record everywhere of winning the league in his sophomore campaign, when he has a core of his signings and before his intensity becomes too draining; before he falls out with too many people.

After a third-placed finish in the first season of his second stint with Chelsea, he won the EPL title in his second term in 2015 - that was his last towering achievement in management.

By objective standards, United have improved in his second campaign: they have more points, more goals and a better side than 12 months ago. But everything is comparative. United languish 15 points behind City, who have progressed more dramatically and more stylishly.

While they have generated odes of praise, Mourinho has engaged in verbal warfare. Mind games can look part of a master plan, diversionary tactics with a purpose.

Yet indiscriminate attacks, such as when he accused Paul Scholes, who is famously uninterested in money, of being jealous of Paul Pogba's salary, give the impression of an angry figure lashing out.

A manager who used to protect his players criticised "childish" decision-making after they conceded a late equaliser to Leicester. It revived memories of his blame culture when his second spell at Chelsea ended. His refrains about City's spending appear attempts to escape responsibility and protect his reputation, though they imply he cannot win without vast expenditure.


Jose Mourinho has cut a sulking figure for much of the last couple of months. PHOTO: REUTERS

Now a man who still lives in a hotel has stated reports he plans to leave in the summer are "garbage"; equally, he would say that. He has pronounced himself willing to extend his contract. United are, too. None of that guarantees that the ultimate short-term manager will still be in charge in 12 months' time. Cynics believe he would not leave without a payoff.

By objective standards, United have improved in his second campaign... But everything is comparative. United languish 15 points behind City, who have progressed more dramatically and more stylishly.

Whether fabricated or inflated, this feels a situation of Mourinho's making, not United's. Succession planning is not executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward's forte. There is no logical replacement whereas Mourinho appears to have an exit strategy.

His November courting of Paris Saint-Germain jarred with supporters who believe United are the ultimate destination club, not a stepping stone.

The French league leaders' manager Unai Emery is expected to go in the close season. They could grant Mourinho the chance to win domestic leagues in five different countries and, having acquired Kylian Mbappe and Neymar, the opportunity to become the first manager to win the Champions League with three different clubs. That would satisfy a man concerned with his place in history.

But United seemed like Mourinho's dream job; he was the brash outsider who longed to take charge of the established club, the upstart who envied and then emulated the managerial godfather, Alex Ferguson. The question, though, is that, if like Mourinho's mood, dreams change.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 08, 2018, with the headline 'Mourinho's diversionary tactics can't mask problems at United'. Print Edition | Subscribe