Jose Mourinho announced himself on the world stage when he sprinted down the touchline at Old Trafford celebrating Portos equaliser against Man United in 2004. This goal saw his unfancied Porto side through to the quarter finals of the Champions League. Mourinho would ultimately win the 2004 competition, attracting the interest of Europe’s biggest clubs in the process. 14 years later things seem very different for Mourinho now in charge of the home side at Old Trafford.
A 3-0 home defeat to Spurs marked a low point in Mourinhos managerial career. His heaviest home defeat ever. At his peak during his first spell with Chelsea Stamford Bridge became a fortress where his team rarely dropped points.
Mourinho took up the mantle at the Theatre of Dreams in 2016/17 after a turbulent second spell with Chelsea. Fans had high hopes that a proven winner like Mourinho could bring the glory days back to Old Trafford after a few years in the wilderness. Trophies did come in his first season with United. He guided his team to League Cup and Europa League success, but a 6th place finish was well below Mourinhos standards and United fans expectations. A second place finish in 2017/18 was kind to United who were streets behind champions City. Their style of play also came in to question on many occasions last season. The new season hasn’t started brightly for United and problems on and off the pitch have many fans worried about the season ahead.
During Mourinhos first spell with Chelsea the unified spirit of the team shone through. The players fought hard to make the manager proud match after match. There doesn’t seem to be that same harmony at United this season. Squabbles between Mourinho and players is having a negative impact on how the team performs as a whole. There have been persistent rumours of tension between Mourinho and World Cup winner Paul Pogba. Pogba hinted at a rift with Mourinho when he told the media;
“There are things I can say and there are things that I cannot say, otherwise I will get fine.”
If United are going to have an anyway decent season Mourinho needs to find a way to resolve his issues with Pogba and to start getting the best out of the World Cup winner.
Mourinhos relationship with United chief Ed Woodward has become strained over the summer. Mourinho expressed frustrations over the lack of big summer signings. Mourinho signed Fred, Diogo Dalot and Lee Grant but he had hoped to make a further 2 signings. Top target, Gareth Bale, stayed at Real Madrid after Cristiano Ronaldo chose to join to Serie A superpower Juventus. The tension between the manager and board is bound to bring an heir of uncertainty to the club which can affect the players on the field. According to reports Woodward is keen to appoint a Director of Football (the first in Uniteds history) to bring some stability to Old Trafford and ease tensions with Mourinho. A director of football is now seen as key with the Red Devils eager to keep up with their rivals.
At his best Mourinho was lauded as a tactical genius. He used a 4-3-3 formation in his first 2 seasons at Chelsea guiding them to back to back titles. He explained;
“Look, if I have a triangle in midfield – Claude Makélélé behind and two others just in front – I will always have an advantage against a pure 4–4–2 where the central midfielders are side by side. That's because I will always have an extra man. It starts with Makélélé, who is between the lines. If nobody comes to him he can see the whole pitch and has time. If he gets closed down it means one of the two other central midfielders is open. If they are closed down and the other team's wingers come inside to help, it means there is space now for us on the flank, either for our own wingers or for our full-backs. There is nothing a pure 4–4–2 can do to stop things.”
He places an emphasis on results rather than playing attractive football. This has proved unpopular with the Manchester United supporters as the club has a long tradition of playing attractive football. Major success has proven elusive for Mourinho in Manchester thus far leading many to question are his tactics outdated. City and Liverpool are the teams to beat this season and they are doing so by playing exciting attacking football. Mourinho was criticized last season for playing negative football and being happy to ‘park the bus’ to secure a 1-0 lead. Mourinho needs to come up with tactics that play to the strengths of players like Pogba and Sanchez who at present seem stifled. Former United player Lee Sharpe was critical of Mourinhos approach at Old Trafford;
"You've got the blue side of Manchester under Pep, you've got Jurgen Klopp at Liverpool playing some of the best football in the league and United are playing slow, pragmatic, boring and even dated football. Maybe it's time Mourinho reassess things tactically. He's been one of the most successful managers in the game over 10-12 years, trophies everywhere he's gone, so I can understand him saying, 'I'm doing it my way'. But times have changed and if it doesn't start well next season he could find himself under pressure from the fans."
If Mourinho doesn’t adapt United can expect to fall further behind Champions City.
During Uniteds summer tour of the USA Mourinho didn’t fill the fans with confidence. He was critical of Antonio Valencia and Anthony Martial;
"Anthony Martial has the baby and after the baby is born - beautiful baby, full of health, thank God - he should be here and he is not here."
His attitude seemed defeated ahead of the new campaign telling fans he didn’t think his team were worth turning up for;
"The atmosphere is good but if I was them [the fans], I wouldn't come. I wouldn't spend my money to see these teams.”
If United are to be successful Mourinho needs to galvanise his players like he did during his first spell with Chelsea.
As this season progresses many will be looking to see has Mourinho lost his golden touch or can he turn things around and show us all what makes him ‘special’ again.