Could José Mourinho’s United career hinge on next season?
Portuguese manager will not change his ways so expect a summer transfer splurge
Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho may face his make-or-break season in 2018/19. Photo: Jason Cairnduff/Reuters
News that England’s biggest clubs are to revisit the issue of some of the Premier League’s foreign TV money being allocated on the basis of league position is no great surprise.
However, the timing is perhaps just a little unfortunate for its proponents with West Brom’s win over Manchester United at the weekend having done a bit to boost the case for the status quo.
José Mourinho has pointed to the relatively competitive nature of the English game on a number of occasions but given the generally close correlation between spending and success, it is hard to imagine the Portuguese actually arguing against more of the Premier League’s phenomenal wealth being redirected towards the division’s biggest beasts.
Currently, a key element of the defence made of his time at Old Trafford is that Pep Guardiola has been able to substantially outspend him. Watching the West Brom game, though, it would have been difficult to feel any sympathy for the suggestion that the English game would be generally better off if the hosts had had another €75 million to spend on one or two of the continent’s brighter stars.
Mourinho’s difficulty is that at its best the City team still somehow looks as though it amounts to more than the sum of its expensively assembled parts. His own comparatively conservative approach inevitably attracts both questions and criticism regarding the still huge scale of his own outlay.
That United have improved on a couple of fronts since he arrived can’t be expected to carry much weight with the club’s supporters. The League Cup and Europa League successes last year were supposed to be pointers towards greater things in Mourinho’s second season. Instead, the suggestion heading into the club’s fifth last game of the top flight campaign, away to Bournemouth on Wednesday night, is that there are places up for grabs in an FA Cup semi-final.
There is a wonderful scene in one of the documentaries made during his first spell as Chelsea manager in which the Portuguese has his players gathered in front of a whiteboard as he goes through the various defensive challenges they might face in an upcoming game against one of the Premier League’s lesser lights. One by one he rattles through the ways in which the opposition might try to pose an attacking threat before outlining how John Terry and co can counter.
At the end he concludes that whatever about winning, Chelsea couldn’t reasonably lose the game. The players, clearly persuaded by their manager of the implausibility of defeat, sit there and quietly nod in agreement.
It’s easy to imagine a very similar briefing ahead of last weekend’s game but in the end it was lost due to a poorly defended corner.
His side’s success back in 2004/05 was certainly rooted to a significant extent in the clean sheets they kept but in his first title winning season at the club Chelsea also scored enough times to have a comfortably better goal difference than their closest rivals, Arsenal.
More than a decade on United do, despite Sunday’s slip up, lead their rivals on one big statistical front: clean sheets. They have managed one more (16) ahead of Wednesday’s game than either City or Liverpool, both of whom have been widely pilloried at various times over the quality of their defending.
Guardiola’s side have actually conceded one fewer goal while outscoring United almost three to two and have, as a result, amassed a goal difference that is almost twice as good.
Matters are not helped by the fact that the two leading contenders for the PFA Player of the Year award (Kevin De Bruyne and Mo Salah) were previously rejected by Mourinho. One currently has the most goals in the Premier League this season, the other the most assists.
Nailing down the true cost of a player to a club has become an increasingly complicated business but the pair look to have required an outlay between them that is not a million miles off what United shelled out for Paul Pogba, someone who was being hailed by the BBC’s pundits after the recent 3-2 defeat of City as having “enormous potential”.
His manager’s ability to enable him to realise a bit more of it next season may prove central to United’s ability to mount more meaningful challenges in the Premier League and Champions League but there will doubtless be substantial spending too. If, at the end of it all, the club does not make up significant ground on City or, perhaps worse, loses some to Liverpool and Tottenham, both of whom are more enjoyable to watch, then Mourinho will have failed.
Perhaps the strongest defence you could mount for him now is that nobody could have touched Guardiola’s City this season but the only way he and his supporters can make that argument is by reference to the relative amounts, both colossal, already outlaid.
His rival may indeed have spent more but that doesn’t get Mourinho off the hook for the dismal nature of the Champions League exit to Seville and the bottom line is that painting yourself as the underdog isn’t really going to work for a United manager. Punching above your weight is for the Sean Dyches of the world and they get to do it in whatever way they possibly can.
The minimum requirement at Old Trafford is for the team to be a serious contender in the heaviest weight division of them all but if success, as defined by the standards of the place, can’t be achieved then it’s inevitable that style will become a very big issue. Mourinho won’t change his ways. WIth that in mind he surely has just one more year to make them work before he is actually encouraged to move on again.