Ed Woodward backs Jose Mourinho but international break at Manchester United may be his biggest threat

The two weeks without games will finally allow the United board to discuss their current crisis and whether Mourinho remains the right man to lead the club - even if Woodward is sticking by him

Miguel Delaney
Chief Football Writer
Wednesday 03 October 2018 15:05 BST
Mourinho on United's Valencia draw and Scholes criticism

The word from the top levels of Manchester United is that executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward remains reluctant to “push the button” on Jose Mourinho, still resistant to all the noise.

It’s just there’s a lot of noise, and it’s getting louder. Old Trafford sources say other officials “can’t decide which way to lean”, with all of that complicated by the continuous stream of games. It’s just at the moment they seem to bring a continuous stream of ever worsening news.

This is also why - even though the fates are coming together so that so many old Mourinho enemies like Manuel Pellegrini and Rafa Benitez are seemingly lining up to knock him down - the greatest enemy of all might be time.

Next week is international break, which will give United executives the time and space to think about this clearly, without all the noise.

It is a period when big clubs have made changes in the past. It was the same October international break in 2015 that actually brought the last big-six mid-season managerial change that didn’t involve Mourinho, when Liverpool decided to replace Brendan Rodgers with Jürgen Klopp.

At least part of the reasoning for the timing was that the Anfield hierarchy were afforded the space to consider everything, without the furore of fixtures coming thick and fast and everything that entails.

The new man could come in with room to breathe, without a match in two days.

But this might also represent the twist.

Jose Mourinho's future at Manchester United remains safe - but for how long?

It is in the midst of this furore, with so many emotionally-charged debates around each result, that Woodward has tried to remain entirely business-like.

It was just last week that he told an investors’ conference that “one of the reasons” United had appointed Mourinho was that the Portuguese is “a winner”. It would not represent business-like judiciousness, and especially after a call of that nature, to so abruptly go against that and dismiss the manager.

There is also the knowledge that they would have to pay Mourinho upward of £12m if they dismissed him, with that to go with the £7m paid to David Moyes and the £8m to Louis van Gaal and his staff.

For all the commotion about the available Zinedine Zidane, too, some key figures at Old Trafford are unconvinced of his suitability for the role. The job at Real Madrid really required such different dynamics, so different to the entire project entailed at United. There are even some doubts from Madrid whether Zidane would want to manage this squad.

Mourinho has faced heavy criticism this season 

It is why Mauricio Pochettino would still be the number-one target, but Daniel Levy would never let him leave Tottenham Hotspur mid-season, and even need to be persuaded by the only element that ever persuades him in football: a financial agreement entirely favourable to Daniel Levy’s club.

There are other potential candidates United would look at, but no one clear.

All of this is why there hasn’t been too much genuine pressure on Mourinho from the top of the club just yet. It could also be fairly argued they are well positioned in the Champions League group despite a dismal 0-0 home draw with Valencia, and that it is still only seven games gone in the Premier League.

It’s just that, in order to come to what is arguably the best business-like decision in the long term, this might be the kind of situation that requires a bit more intuition and insight.

Ed Woodward will be the man who decides Mourinho's future

And any insight and intuition would surely indicate that this situation just isn’t going to get better. It now looks fundamentally broken, with problems coming out of every corner. The weekend defeat at West Ham United was followed by a symbolically haphazard journey to the Valencia game that brought a late kick-off, another social media controversy as Antonio Valencia had to apologise for liking a post critical of Mourinho and - most relevantly of all - yet another bad performance that just bore all the hallmarks of why United are where they are.

It is why there is no sign of movement, and why some at the club could see next week as a juncture week.

Woodward does not yet want to seriously consider a managerial change but United executives will still be in discussion about this over the next month, with a lot more space to discuss everything else.

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