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Why is Manchester United FC on a poor run?

Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho. File

Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho. File   | Photo Credit: REUTERS

What happened?

Manchester United Football Club has had a troubled start to the new English Premier League season, and after back-to-back defeats against Brighton and Tottenham Hotspur, the knives are out for manager Jose Mourinho.

Is the coach to blame?

Even before the season began, during United’s tour of the U.S. in July, Mourinho had, perhaps, sensed that there was something amiss. He felt a lack of support from the club hierarchy and recognised that some senior players had begun to doubt him. After a trophyless last season, the Portuguese is under tremendous pressure to make United a true contender and stop Manchester City from walking away with the crown again. But the coach knows that the team he has assembled is not pulling together to give a serious shot at the title.


Mourinho, a master in diversionary tactics, used the lack of transfer activity to criticise chief executive Ed Woodward and get the fans behind him. He also questioned the attitude of star player and World Cup-winner Paul Pogba and his French compatriot Anthony Martial.

The Portuguese has always had the habit of using words as a weapon to provoke his players into action. It backfired this time as Pogba shot back, saying he would get fined if he opened up about his “happiness” at the club.

The ‘Special One’ — Mourinho’s self-appointed nickname — does not seem to have learnt his lesson from the acrimonious exits at Chelsea and Real Madrid. Eden Hazard and Sergio Ramos were at the forefront of the players’ revolt, resulting in Mourinho losing the job. “As a manager, you have to push them and push them to the point where you are almost falling out with them, but you cannot cross that line... Otherwise, you end up falling out with two or three of the top men and they can get you out of the door,” said former Newcastle manager Graeme Souness. It looks unlikely that the Portuguese will be able to convince an increasingly unresponsive and disillusioned dressing room.

Can he lose his job?

It is surprising that Mourinho’s job is on the line just three games into the new season. But the shambolic defence in the games against Brighton and Tottenham has raised the possibility of United finishing outside the top four and a guaranteed Champions League spot.

United, under Mourinho, has become predictable, say experts. Defensive midfielders stay behind the ball, which is then relayed to the flanks for the full-backs to cross into the penalty area. Despite possessing an array of attacking talents, it is surprising that hardly anything goes through the middle of the pitch. Moreover, Manchester City, Liverpool, Tottenham and Chelsea have been producing an exciting brand of football. Mourinho’s tactics, in contrast, look outdated and at odds with the aggressive mindset built under former manager Sir Alex Ferguson.

Is United’s transfer policy flawed?

Woodward has actually supported Mourinho well in players’ recruitment, contrary to the Portuguese’s claims. Since taking over in 2016, Mourinho has signed Eric Bailly, Henrikh Mkhitaryan (who is now at Arsenal), Nemanja Matic, Pogba, Romelu Lukaku, Alexis Sanchez, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Victor Lindelof, Fred, Dalot and Lee Grant. Of those who have played, only Matic and Lukaku can be deemed successes.

The coach’s other signings have failed to hit the standards they showed at previous clubs, suggesting that the manager, rather than the player, is the problem at Old Trafford. A case in point is Marcos Rashford, a bright light that has gone dim after Mourinho’s arrival. For some inexplicable reason, the Portuguese has not been able to extract the best out of his top players.

What happens next?

Evidence suggests that Mourinho, right through his career, has not been able to turn things around once the going gets tough. Among the names already doing the rounds as his replacement is that of Zinedine Zidane, who stepped down as Real Madrid coach in May after winning three consecutive Champions League titles.

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Printable version | Feb 27, 2020 1:21:53 AM |

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