Manchester United: Have the criticisms leveled at Mourinho been justified?

Consumers today are far more knowledgeable and tech-savvy than they have ever been; they want choice and they are not prepared to wait.Football is not just about kicking and scoring.

Great details go into formations, style of play and player recruitment. As such there are different ways of approaching a game. Different managers have a different style of play, which often characterizes them and usually defines their careers. Different people also have varying preferences when it comes to the type of football they enjoy.

Jose Mourinho is a manager whose style is being questioned on a daily basis, even more so because he is at a club that prides itself in following a certain peculiar way of playing, ‘The United Way’.

When Mourinho took the helm at Man United in the summer of 2016 there were excitements as well as concerns.

He is a great manager with bags of experience and probably the best candidate, at least on paper, to halt the revolution that was about to start at neighbors Man City. But, he is also known for prioritizing the defensive organization. He is a manager who spends more time in stifling the opposition rather than magnifying the attacking qualities of his side.

That was the biggest concern for Man United fans as it is a stark contrast to the aforementioned ‘United Way’ of football.

Plenty of them were worried that the type of exciting and attacking football their team has shown for many years, although that can’t be said about the three seasons following Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement, will come to an abrupt end and that youngsters from the academy won’t be given enough chance.

‘Football is like chess’ said Mourinho after his 0-0 draw against Liverpool. In that game United sat deep and managed to earn a draw but to the discontent of many fans and the bafflement of many observers. Mourinho played down the negative reactions by laying down the ‘special’ way he approaches games of such magnitude.

“I was waiting for him to give me more space to counter but he didn’t give me that. So I know that probably you think we were defensive and they were offensive – well, you [Liverpool] are at home and you don’t move anything. I don’t know why. I was waiting for that and he didn’t do it. I think he did well, honestly [not changing it].” (Quote via The Guardian)

Pundits like Alan Shearer and Danny Mills said that Mourinho will be looking at the whole season, that he was wise to choose a point at Anfield rather than try to win and risk getting nothing.

Those thoughts hugely resurfaced when Man City suffered their first defeat of the league campaign by losing 4-3 to the Reds.

The inevitable comparisons between Mourinho and Guardiola appeared: ‘Pep lost at Anfield but Mourinho got a point’. That would’ve been a good argument except for the fact that United weren’t the only team who managed to get a point at Anfield, so did Tottenham and Burnley, and also that point didn’t help them challenge for the league title.

It rather curtailed the momentum they had going into that game. Looking back in May, you can even point to this game as when the season started to elude them. A loss to Huddersfield followed that and sandwiched in between was an inspiring performance in the Champions League against Benfica.

The away performance at Sevilla even made the unwavering of Mourinho proponents to finally give in and say that this isn’t good enough, not by any stretch of the imagination. A goalless away draw in a knock out game is by no means a bad result. But it is a worrying view when your team has allowed 25 attempts on goal and continuously relied on the brilliant David De Gea to save the day.

Man United is not just a club who wants to win trophies. It’s a club that wants to build a legacy, a dynasty that can once again dominate the Premier League and conquer Europe.

When you have a manager that spends millions on transfers but plays dull football, a manager that keeps picking fights with his players and making the headlines for all the wrong reasons, then questions will be asked and doubts will start to creep in.

The problem with Mourinho’s approach is that he will only get credit when that game plan pays off. If you don’t win using a defensive strategy you will be slammed for the negative and boring football your team has put on. Even when the win comes questions will be raised about the sustainability of such approach. Doing just about the bare minimum is not good enough in a club of United’s magnitude.

The 2-1 win against Chelsea on Sunday can be a start of something new for United and Mourinho, a springboard from which they can build future success.

This was not merely a win, but a comeback win that will help United cement second place, a triumph that will help put distance between them and Chelsea (along with Liverpool and Spurs who are also eyeing a second-placed finish), and a victory that will galvanize the team as well as mend the dwindling confidence of key players like Paul Pogba and especially Romelu Lukaku, who grabbed a goal and provided an assist against the Blues. The goal was the first one he scored against a top six side all season.

Scott McTominay is a youngster who is seeing regular playing time in the last couple of weeks. His solid and tidy performance against Chelsea is another positive.

United can confidently turn their attention to overcoming Sevilla in the Champions League last 16 return leg and their march to an F.A Cup title. The positive effect the win against Chelsea will have can result in greater changes, but that feeling can be quickly halted by another shaky performance against a top opposition.

Mourinho’s side will still face Liverpool and Arsenal at Old Trafford, while traveling to the Etihad to meet the would-be champions Man City. A repeat of Sunday’s result in those game and the critics will settle down, but if the team fails to live up to the stage as they so often have done in the big away games, serious questions will be asked of the manager and the direction that this team is heading towards.

Rory Smith questioned if what Mourinho is doing at Man United is enough in his article for The New York Times:

‘…watching United recover to beat Chelsea, 2-1, on Sunday, it was hard not to wonder if this was enough, now, given how much soccer’s priorities have changed. Is it enough, as Mourinho said, for a club of United’s scope and scale to have a “humble attitude,” to be diligent and determined, to eke out victory through gritted teeth?’

These are the concerns of many United supporters and one the club as well as the manager need to thoroughly look at. The results may be satisfactory, but that does not mean they are good enough.

The criticisms are understandable and will linger on unless the team starts becoming exciting and in that process win big trophies.


Written by Brook Genene

Follow Brook on Twitter @brookge

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