Jose Mourinho’s cowardly approach leaves Manchester United with nothing to prove he is out of ideas

As soon as the United manager started to talk about his past, he revealed himself to be out of answers and ideas

Miguel Delaney
Chief Football Writer
Monday 17 December 2018 16:48
Jose Mourinho faces the press after Manchester United lose to Liverpool

After so much double-speak from Jose Mourinho about how he can’t get his team to Liverpool’s level of intensity, but that he was at the same time entirely happy with his players, he suddenly went as direct as a long ball to Marouane Fellaini.

“I don’t think a football team is just a squad,” the Manchester United manager said following the 3-1 defeat by Liverpool. “It’s much more.”

The clear implication, of course, is that there is much more to the dysfunction than his management; that he hasn’t been backed.

Not for the first time in this job, though, Mourinho may have inadvertently said more than he intended.

Because there is much more going on here beyond his management, but maybe not in the way he thinks.

The talk of a potential sale to private Saudi Arabian buyers has not gone away. It’s only got louder. While the official stance is that the Glazer family do not want to sell, many around the club now believe that would change if they got an offer of £4bn. Some believe that has been discussed through back channels, and even at higher levels.

While that is something for the future, especially the potential controversy surrounding such a sale given some of the headlines around Saudi Arabian politics recently, it may well be relevant for the short term – and Mourinho’s squad, and job.

If it is the case they want to sell, it means the United owners are unlikely to want to make any decisions that warrant extra expenditure. It would mean no January signings – something sources say was already likely – and mean no change of manager, certainly not before it is confirmed he mathematically cannot get top four. The latter, after all, would require more of a pay-off.

That means more of this, more of the same – more of the same excuses, from a manager seemingly out of answers or ideas.

United do have many problems, and do need the “reset” Gary Neville so often talks about without criticising the Glazers, but the most immediate problem remains the manager. He is responsible for too much that could be fixed even in this situation, most of all the coaching of this team. Many might say that United cannot risk opening out away at a Liverpool as good as this, but that is only because they have not been coached to do so. The parameters have already been set.

Jose Mourinho shakes hands with Jurgen Klopp at full-time

If there was a long time debate about whether Mourinho is “past it”, or the game has left him behind, it now seems undeniable.

How else to explain the bizarre tangent about the “physicality” of his players, their injury proneness and how they just can’t match the intensity of Liverpool?

It again feels like a mere excuse for conservative small-team football that now looks so far behind what Jurgen Klopp was trying, not to mention Pep Guardiola or Mauricio Pochettino.

Mourinho again essentially came to this stadium with a cowardly approach, not looking to actually play, but just hoping United could get away with something.

They thereby got what they deserved: nothing.

And it does now seem he has nothing else to offer.

A second odd tangent involved a long monologue about his great previous teams, and how Liverpool remind him of his Porto, and all the different qualities Internazionale and Real Madrid had.

It again seemed little more than an attempt to claim some credit by association, while reminding everyone of what he used to be capable of, because the actual football doesn’t. It is also precisely what he used to criticise other managers like Arsene Wenger for.

Substitute Xherdan Shaqiri scored twice to seal victory (AFP/Getty)

Appeals to “remember how great I used to be” run hollow when the current facts are so bleak. United are still in sixth but 11 points off the top four and 19 off the top, having endured their worst ever start to a Premier League season.

That might improve given they have a forgiving list of fixtures coming up over Christmas, but it says as much as anything that you can’t make any guarantees about United even in games like that right now.

That’s how bad it’s got. That’s how bad it looked.

That’s how it looks like it’s going to stay.

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