José Mourinho says title may be beyond Manchester United

Portuguese manager says changing playing style ‘the most difficult thing in football’

José Mourinho has revised his timescale for Manchester United winning the Premier League title, claiming that changing the way a team plays is the most difficult thing in football.

On succeeding Louis van Gaal in July Mourinho said his objective was to try to win the league in his first season. Now he concedes that may not happen and even admits the next time United are champions may be after he has left the club.

At all his previous clubs Mourinho has managed to get off to a quick start and stamp his personality on the team early. He is struggling to do that at United, he says, because his philosophy is entirely different from that of the last manager and the players need time to adapt.

“Sometimes when a manager takes over a new club the differences in approach are not significant,” he said. “In that case all it needs is a little touch, just a fingerprint from the new man and you can get a lot from what was already there. Here we are trying to do something completely different. We could probably get better results if we weren’t trying to go in an opposite direction. I am not talking about tactical systems here. I am talking about the way this team wants to play and that is the most difficult thing in football to change.”

Broadly speaking, Mourinho believes Van Gaal promoted too defensive a style, with too much sideways and backwards passing and not enough looking forward to attack between the lines. Most people agree United are playing well at the moment and Michael Carrick went so far as to suggest there were signs of the old club emerging. But what is frustrating Mourinho is that the best performances have occurred in the cups and not the league. United are at Goodison Park on Saturday, one of Mourinho's favourite stadiums, and the manager is hoping for a better return away from home than the sequence of four league draws at Old Trafford that led to his side losing ground on the leaders.

“In the league we have not been getting the goals our performances deserve,” he said. “There is no doubt we are improving, though. We know where we want to go and our destination is to be champions. Maybe we cannot do it this year. You can never tell in football but the gap might be already too large. I don’t know when we will do it, maybe when I am not here, but that is what we are working towards and I think it will happen.”

Paul Pogba will be back from suspension at Everton, meaning Bastian Schweinsteiger's services are unlikely to be needed, though the midfielder who appeared for the last few minutes of United's 4-1 EFL Cup win over West Ham in midweek could have a future at United after all.

“He is another one that can help us and he was ready when we needed him when Pogba and [Marouane]Fellaini were both available,” Mourinho said. It was widely assumed the Germany international would move on in January after being shunned by Mourinho at the start of the season but, as the manager now accepts, the player is the one in control.

“When you have a contract with a club you are the powerful one,” Mourinho said. “We tried to make something happen in summer but he decided to stay and the same thing could happen again. At least he is happier now he is working with the team again. He has always been professional and I like people with determination.”

Mourinho is also back from suspension after the water bottle incident in the league match against West Ham, philosophical about his punishment but convinced he is being treated differently from other managers.

“I am willing to obey the rules but I would like to see the same rules for everyone,” he said. “I cannot kick a bottle of water, I accept that, just as I accepted the sending-off and the suspension without complaint. If those are the rules, fine. I just need to be sure they are the same for all the other managers.”

(Guardian service)