Performances like Saturday’s won’t be forgiven much longer and United fans will soon turn on their manager if next season follows the same script
It has been a 2017-18 campaign in which Manchester United have undoubtedly progressed under Jose Mourinho.
Their second place finish in the Premier League says much about their increased durability, and as they look to make that next step and truly compete for a league title again they head into the new season in far better shape than they were 12 months ago.
Yet Saturday’s FA Cup final defeat to Chelsea was just the latest reminder that all is not well at Old Trafford, and if Mourinho doesn’t hit the ground running in 2018-19 then sympathy among the United fan base will be in very short supply.
Most fans have been accepting of Mourinho’s need to do things his way despite the obvious drawbacks. The football is far from easy on the eye, and the cup final defeat was just another example of a game in which supremely talented players were either stymied due to tactics, given almost no time to impress because of selection, or, worse still, not called upon at all.
Without the returning Romelu Lukaku among their starters, United had no direction in attack. But rather than change his plan tactically to play to Marcus Rashford’s attributes, Mourinho simply threw his hands in the air afterwards and cursed Lukaku’s refusal to put his body on the line for longer than the final 20 minutes.
He told reporters afterwards: “When a player tells you he is not ready to play, when a player tells you that he’s not ready to start the game, then the question is ‘How many minutes do you think you can play?’ But how can I convince a player who tells me that he’s not ready to play. That’s nonsense.”
It is far from the first time he has decried the lack of commitment of a player who would not commit to playing through an injury, and from the look of Lukaku’s movement when he did enter in the 73rd minute the Belgian was barely mobile enough to have made an appearance at all.
The perception of disharmony this type of behaviour presents does nothing to help him in his task to buy credit with United fans.
The vast majority of those who had made the trip to Wembley on Saturday headed for the exits within seconds of the final whistle, so distressed were they with their team’s inability to put together anything resembling a fight in the first half. By the time the United players went up for their medals you could practically count the number of Reds watching on.
While it’s normal for supporters to be downbeat about a cup final loss, the biggest frustration for United fans right now is that their team are not playing to their potential and that is due in large part to the decisions made by their manager.
Mourinho blasted Chelsea’s long-ball football afterwards, insisting: “They only played long balls for Giroud to flick and then Hazard to get second balls in individual actions, but when you play against a team so predictable it’s quite easy to adapt to it.” That assessment failed to address the fact that he had in part allowed the west Londoners to play exactly that way by handing them the initiative with his negative approach to the opening stages.
It’s the same old story. Jose never accepts responsibility and was looking in every other direction for a potential fall guy. He was attempting to pick fights with the media, moaning at Antonio Conte’s tactics and even blaming his striker for being injured.
But if he chooses to adapt the same approach next season then the United fans will not stick with him unless he delivers in a big way. They need to push all the way in the title race, and arguably win it, for him to keep justifying his tactics and his attitude. There can be no more days like Saturday, no more nights like Sevilla.
Mourinho’s insistence on doing everything his own way with complete disregard for the consequences and firing broadsides left, right and centre when it all goes wrong is not in keeping with the United way. He may have been given the backing of the board to keep doing what he’s doing, with executive vice-chair Ed Woodward admitting last week that results matter little to the club’s commercial entity, but as soon as he loses the fans he will need to go a long way to win them back and make his continued position at the club tenable.
While it should be appreciated that he has moved the club in the right direction, now is the time for him deliver on the greatest stages. United need actions now, because all the words are becoming predictable, tedious and damaging.