There appears to be a growing oversight of Mourinho this season as a bus-parking, goal-fearing, anti-football lump of ego, set on destroying any ounce of enjoyment left in the superficial world of elite football.
The fairness of such a statement lends itself to discussion and inevitable social media outrage. The backlash and reaction of the media to Manchester United defeats is based solely around Mourinho, arguably exactly in the way he would choose in order to avoid direct criticism of players (he handles this himself – see Luke Shaw for reference).Embed from Getty Images
Such media criticism pales in comparison to the level of scrutiny other top six managers receive. The notable improvements of United this season and their move from languishing in sixth to the second best team in England has been largely ignored.
With praise being heaped relentlessly on a brilliant Manchester City side, perhaps the criticism of Mourinho ‘only’ achieving second place is unfair. The constant comparisons to City have worked heavily against Mourinho whose job to rebuild United is unquestionably larger than the task Pep Guardiola took on. We must look beyond the surface level differences this season and consider the players each manager inherited, each club’s respective position in the league at the time of appointment and the money spent.
All of which place Guardiola in a more favourable position entering the 2017/18 season. That is not to say that United should have dropped as far behind City as they have, but the simple matter is that the torrid and unsettled recent history of United means it is not feasible to expect such great leaps of improvement in such a short time. As cliché as it has become, United’s situation is that of a rebuilding project – whether the modern day fans who demand instant success like it or not.
The intermittent dullness of the football played at Old Trafford must also be placed in context. Let us not forget that United fans sat through the worst season in recent history under Moyes and suffered through the ‘philosophy’ of the mercurial Van Gaal which could have been easily mistaken for a record breaking attempt on the number of 0-0 draws possible in two seasons. It should also be noted that the lambasting of Mourinho as the archetypical ‘boring’ manager is hardly reflected in life’s work. Critics are very quick to forget the Real Madrid team of 2011-12 which broke the La Liga record for goals scored (121) under Mourinho.
The ‘abysmal’ football played this year at United has produced second place in the Premier League as of the end of April. What does this suggest of Tottenham and Liverpool who are both on course to finish below the antithesis of attractive football that Manchester United apparently encompass? A common critique of Mourinho’s approach to games against better sides is the lack of ambition to actually score goals and win the game. Yet United’s record this season against the top six is remarkable; currently sitting at 5 wins, 3 losses and 1 draw. Certainly not suggesting that he has some underlying, innate desire to produce goalless draws against rivals.
Even in the immediate aftermath of Liverpool’s hugely impressive Champions League win over Roma tweets, such as one from journalist Daniel Storey, went viral pointing out just how many more 5-0 leads Klopp has had than Mourinho. This appears such an arbitrary statistic selection – what makes a 5-0 lead so much better than a 4-0 lead? Apart from the fact it makes for an easy nail to hammer Mourinho with. The desperation to denigrate the United manager has become laughable at times. Klopp and Pochettino have also significantly improved their teams and are adequately credited for this whilst Mourinho is consistently critiqued for delivering statistically better results – albeit without the style at times. But what is style without success?Embed from Getty Images
By no means is Mourinho blameless for United’s faults. In fact, he is almost certainly not the man to build long term success at United. However, this does not mean his tenure has been as disastrous as often reported. With the recent semi-final win over Spurs there is still potential for silverware alongside an improvement of four places in the domestic league. Although this ‘success’ would barely tickle the expectations set by the prolonged relentless trophy winning years under Fergie, it is not to be overlooked in the current conditions. There is rightfully a discussion to be had over the lack of identity the current United side appears to have at times and there are clearly some troubling signs. Mourinho should not, however, forgo credit altogether simply because his side requires some improvement. Other than Manchester City, United have arguably made the biggest strides forward amongst the top 6 since Mourinho took over. Perhaps it is time to admit some credit is due.
Written by Jack Perry.