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18th Sep 2016

Jose Mourinho must recognise the biggest cause of Manchester United’s problems is himself

Has he lost whatever it was that made him special?

Tony Barrett

Maybe Jose Mourinho is right after all.

Perhaps the idea that his methods stop working in his third season in charge of a club are too simplistic. At Manchester United, it has taken little more than three months.

If it is too early to herald a crisis, it is not too soon for the belief that the appointment of the Portuguese would be a panacea for all of United’s ills to be banished.

Ragged, ill-disciplined, lacking in leadership, structure, organisation and potency, United’s latest performance fell so short of the standards that were once expected of a Mourinho team that it will inevitably raise questions about whether he has lost whatever it was that made him special. A third successive defeat, this time to Watford, was shocking in every sense except that it did not actually shock.

All of the problems that were covered up in a gentle opening to the new season have now been exposed in the space of eight days. On the evidence of what has happened since Manchester City inflicted defeat on them last Saturday, suggestions that Pep Guardiola’s side had produced a masterclass at Old Trafford might have to be revised. Yes, City were good and at times they were very good, but it is easier to excel when the opposition is so limited.

WATFORD, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 18: Wayne Rooney of Manchester United (L) argues with referee Michael Oliver during the Premier League match between Watford and Manchester United at Vicarage Road on September 18, 2016 in Watford, England. (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)

Individually, United were abject. This was vintage Wayne Rooney, the vintage being a reprise of his abysmal display against Iceland at Euro 2016. A first touch that more often than not required a second, vision that was in keeping with none of his team mates and distribution that was neither incisive nor rapid, Rooney ended the debate over whether or not he still deserves an automatic starting place for his club. The question now is how long will Mourinho continue to wait before acting?

It wasn’t just Rooney either. “United have got quality players and they’ve spent a lot of money,” said Troy Deeney. At Vicarage Road, only the first element of that statement seemed accurate.

Rooney’s decline is well documented and now appears irreversible, but he was far from being alone in being rancid. After losing to City, Mourinho shifted the focus to his players but this time he cannot be spared scrutiny. His job is to create a framework to allow his charges to shine and in that respect he failed and failed utterly.

Starting with a 4-3-3 formation, Mourinho went on to change shape and tactics at regular intervals. Cohesion, not surprisingly, proved elusive and, with the obvious exception of Marcus Rashford, United failed to a man. It is not stretching things to suggest that this was as bad as anything that they produced under Louis Van Gaal and David Moyes. Whatever the scale of the task that Mourinho took on in May, no-one believed it would be this big, especially after investing so heavily in the transfer market.

The business that they did – or, more pertinently, didn’t – do during the summer which should now come under the spotlight. For all the focus on the size and morality of the fee that United paid for Paul Pogba, the question that should have been asked was whether they had brought in a superstar without having the necessary components in place to allow him to flourish. If they didn’t, and it appears that is more likely to be the case than the reverse, perhaps United should have spread their investment more evenly and strengthened some of their many weaknesses instead of recruiting a galactico that they are not in a position to get the best out of.

WATFORD, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 18: Paul Pogba of Manchester United reacts as Watford score during the Premier League match between Watford and Manchester United at Vicarage Road on September 18, 2016 in Watford, England. (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

Already, it is being claimed that United need a controller to allow Pogba to rampage and that certainly makes sense but that in itself raises further questions of Mourinho’s planning, particularly now that he believes a three man midfield with Marouane Fellaini and Wayne Rooney alongside Pogba is the way to get the best out of world football’s record signing. Mourinho may have had worse ideas but it is hard to recall any so lacking in forethought and inspiration.

More than anything, though, it feels as if Mourinho, for the first time in his managerial career, has allowed himself to become so entrenched in his own ways and that they, in turn, are no longer as effective as they once were that not even his once peerless game management is able to cover his shortcomings. They style of football played by Guardiola at City and Jurgen Klopp at Liverpool, built around fleet footed interchanges, high energy pressing and the collective holding sway over the individual, only serves to accentuate how passe Mourinho’s approach appears.

That Mourinho believed, as he clearly did given the lengths that he went to sign him, that adding Pogba to United’s mix would accelerate their development, now seems much more questionable than when his return sparked a social media blitz and the midfielder would be well within his rights if he is already wondering whether staying at Juventus, where a role had been defined for him, might have been more advisable. As it is, he is stuck in the middle of Fellaini and Rooney, a place where a player of his talent should not be.

As was the case in his final days at Chelsea, his final days at Real Madrid and his other previous final days at Chelsea, there will be no shortage of people lining up to take pot shots at Mourinho now that the start to his United career has stalled so badly.

As ever, he will look to blame others in the first instance, last week it was his players, today it was the match officials, but if he has any self-awareness he will recognise that the biggest cause of United’s problems right now is himself. If he does that, he will almost certainly turn this situation around because his past achievements make it difficult to envisage anything else but if he doesn’t a bad start could easily turn into something far more damaging for him and United.  


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