A year-and-a-half into his reign at Manchester United, Jose Mourinho’s report card shows two trophies—the League Cup and the Europa League—in his first season, a Champions League group phase romp and the second place in the Premier League this term, going into the November international break. On the face of it, the Portuguese has made a positive impact at a club that had plunged into the depths of mediocrity following Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement four years ago. Success at United, however, used to be judged at a different scale. Under Mourinho, the Red Devils are steadily drifting away from the club ethos. Appointing Mourinho as the manager last season was a desperate measure. With Adidas’ £7-million-a-season kit deal and 70 commercial partners, United had to arrest their slide on the football pitch. Mourinho came and delivered two trophies in his first season. United were so desperate for success that they revelled in those second-string silverware, forgetting the fact that they finished sixth in the Premier League, 23 points off the champions, Chelsea.
His side made a rousing start to this season’s campaign, winning six of their first seven matches. Then, the Liverpool challenge came at Anfield and Mourinho went into a shell. He defended with six at the back despite spending over £140 million to bolster his squad during close season. United redefined boredom in that game and some spectators branded the manager as “embarrassing” and “scared”. A few went to the extent of calling him “an enemy of football”. Last Sunday, Mourinho’s side went to the Bridge and faced a Chelsea team that had still been nursing wounds following a 3-0 hammering against Roma in a Champions League fixture. The loss against Chelsea confirmed that United’s good start to the season was a mirage. They have now won only one of their last four matches. More importantly, United are yet to win an away game at Liverpool, Chelsea, Arsenal, Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur— title contenders—under Mourinho. They have conceded nine goals and scored only one.
Coming to player development, apart from Marouane Fellaini, Phil Jones and, to some extent, Ashley Young, Mourinho hasn’t achieved much in terms of progress. He is seemingly destroying the career of a fantastic talent like Luke Shaw. Anthony Martial and Ander Herrera, too, have regressed under him. He has called Romelu Lukaku, his £75-million signing, “untouchable” despite the fact that the Belgian is bringing very little to the table at the moment. He has made a shushing gesture to fans for barracking Lukaku. Mourinho’s Paris Saint-Germain overture was bad enough to irritate many United faithful. “The only thing I can say is that I’m still a coach with worries, with ambitions and with the desire to do new things. And I don’t believe… no, I’m sure that I won’t end my career here (at United),” he told Telefoot last month, while describing PSG’s project as special. “… at the moment, in Paris, there’s something special. Magic, quality, youth, it’s fantastic.”
Mourinho and City boss Pep Guardiola are the joint highest-paid managers in the Premier League, earning around £250,000 a week. There have been reports about United offering their manager a new bumper five-year deal, but no formal offer has landed yet. Maybe heaping praises on PSG was a ploy to send a message to Ed Woodward, the club’s executive vice-chairman. But Mourinho could have done it in a more dignified way—like Sir Alex did in the 1990s when he came to know that his then Arsenal counterpart, George Graham, was on a much fatter salary. “I don’t understand that. How can he be managing one of the biggest clubs in the world and then talk about where he will be going later?” former England international Danny Murphy said, referring to Mourinho’s PSG comment.
As per reports, Mourinho is asking for further reinforcement to the squad during the January transfer window. Maybe he has already accepted defeat to his bitter rival, Guardiola. City are standing atop the table with 31 points from 11 matches. United, on the other hand, are second with 23 points. The free-scoring City have scored 38 goals compared to United’s 23. The gap already looks unbridgeable. Mourinho is a proven collector of trophies, but there’s a difference between success and excellence. Excellence is what the late great Johan Cruyff had achieved at Barcelona, or Sir Alex at United, or Guardiola at Barcelona and now at City. Excellence is what Mauricio Pochettino is achieving at Spurs with home-grown players. Mourinho’s management is not about building a legacy. He is apparently fascinated with instant success.
The filthy rich PSG might prise him out of Old Trafford next year. To those who care about United’s philosophy, it would be a blessing in disguise. But if Mourinho goes, he will once again leave scorched earth behind.