Manchester United getting in Patience With Jose Mourinho

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Sam PilgerContributor

I cover the Premier League and European football

Inter Milan celebrated the 110th anniversary of its foundation this year by producing a large and lavish book detailing its long and glorious history.

Within its pages, a host of Inter greats recalled their favorite moments, and each was asked to name the greatest coach in Inter’s history.

A cast list of some of the modern game’s greatest players, including Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Luis Figo, Diego Simeone, Javier Zanetti and Marco Materazzi, all selected the same coach: Jose Mourinho.

It was a sharp and timely reminder of the reverence in which Mourinho is still held in European soccer, and the manager he so recently used to be.

Even though he was at Inter Milan for only two seasons, Mourinho is hailed as the club’s greatest-ever coach for winning consecutive Serie A titles and winning its first European Cup in 45 years in 2010

This was Mourinho at his absolute peak: full of swagger and an all-consuming self-belief that allowed him to casually flit from country to country, all the time winning trophies and sharing his genius.

After Inter Milan, he would win further titles during three years at Real Madrid, and then again in his return to English soccer with Chelsea.

This was the manager Manchester United thought it was appointing in the summer of 2016: a serial winner, a man who would guarantee success.

But now in his third season at Old Trafford, this Mourinho appears to have gone missing.

United has seen only glimpses of the Mourinho who graced Inter, Real and Chelsea, and who once deservedly called himself “The Special One.”

Instead, United has been saddled with a more tetchy and confused character who seems to have lost what once made him great.

In the wake of United’s 3-1 defeat to Manchester City over the weekend, Mourinho’s side is stranded in eighth in the standings and now finds itself as close to the relegation zone as to the top of the table.

This is now United’s worst start to a league campaign since the 1990-91 season, with United having already lost four of its first 12 games.

Incredibly, United also presides over a negative goal difference at this stage of the season for the first time in more than 40 years, since the 1977-78 season.

As far as the City game is concerned, it wasn’t the defeat itself that so humbled United but rather the depressing manner of it, for the 3-1 scoreline doesn’t accurately reflect City’s complete dominance, and the yawning gulf between the two sides.

Mourinho’s great skill has always been setting up teams to win games; it was rarely pretty, but it was brilliantly effective. But even that talent seems to have deserted him.

The Portuguese manager went into this game with a static and nakedly physical midfield of Nemanja Matic, Marouane Fellaini and Ander Herrera: a desperate and ill-conceived attempt to combat City’s fluid movement and passing.

It failed miserably, as United was left to chase shadows, as City effortlessly passed the ball around them to create a succession of chances.

It was difficult not to cringe when after the game Mourinho said Paul Pogba’s injury had forced him to start Fellaini rather than use him as a late substitute.

“I can just imagine when the score was 2-1 to bring a fresh Fellaini to the pitch,” he said. “Then, I think they would be in big, big trouble.”

Here it was laid out for all to see; firstly, Mourinho expected to be losing, and his master plan to counter that was nothing more than to throw on the large presence of Fellaini and punt high balls into the penalty area for him.

It is almost as if Mourinho can’t even be bothered to hide the fact he is completely out of ideas. The Special One has become the Bankrupt One.

There are flickers of hope that a great manager still lurks within Mourinho—the win against Juventus in the Champions League just last week and the comeback win against Manchester City last season—but they have increasingly become misleading signs amid a landscape of disappointment.

At the moment, United and Mourinho are trapped in a loveless marriage, with both confused about what they should do next.

The hierarchy at United are running out of patience with Mourinho, and there were even reports last month that they were on the brink of sacking him.

But this is Jose Mourinho. You have to think very carefully about discarding one of the game’s greatest-ever managers.

Within United, there is no consensus about whom the club would replace him with, and also an acceptance that in the middle of the season it would not be able to make the right long-term appointment, and so it sticks with him for now.

“I think we are not going to be relegated,” Mourinho said with heavy sarcasm after the defeat to City, but United is in no mood for such morbid humor.

The remaining aspiration for United in the league is to finish in the top four and claim a Champions League place, but this in itself starkly represents failure for Mourinho, who was brought in to make United champions again, not just to make up the numbers near the summit.

There were those who believed Mourinho did not deserve a third season, and he has done nothing yet to dissuade them, but at this rate, it is highly unlikely he will be given the luxury of a fourth season.

I am an experienced sports writer, who over the last 20 years has written for more than 80 websites, magazines and newspapers around the world, including Bleacher…MORE

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