Mourinho’s deflection game suggests big changes

Joe Prince-Wright
NBC Sports

“I’m not the problem, they are.”

That would have been the more succinct (and boring) way for Jose Mourinho to sum up the current situation at Manchester United after their disappointing UEFA Champions League exit to Sevilla on Tuesday.

Instead he went on a 12-minute rant on Friday about Manchester City’s heritage and then following Man United’s FA Cup quarterfinal win against Brighton Saturday he slammed his players, saying they were “scared” to play and many lacked “desire” and “personality” throughout the game.

With player power at an all-time high in the Premier League and Mourinho a recent victim of that in 2015, just six months after leading Chelsea to the title, this is a dangerous game for him to play.

He wants the club to back him unreservedly ahead of his players and even though some fans are already showing their disdain towards Mourinho, he’s powering on.

What is the end game for Mourinho here?

Having just signed a contract extension in January to keep him at Old Trafford until 2020, Mourinho looks hellbent on cutting some serious deadwood this summer and trying to totally rebuild this squad.

That’s his main aim and heading into an international week and a two-week break from action, that’s the message ringing loud and clear not only in the minds of his players but also the hierarchy at United.

He always has an agenda and he always knows the correct time to ramp it up.

Executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward will know the main aim of Mourinho’s rant is to be given more money to spend and get rid of players like Luke Shaw, Chris Smalling and Ander Herrera from previous regimes.

“A few guys were scared to play. I think it is a relation with personality, trust and class. When the sun is shining and you win matches, every player is a good player and is confident to play. When it is dark and cold and you have a period of bad results, not everybody has confidence and personality to play,” Mourinho said after Saturday’s unconvincing win against Brighton in the FA Cup.

Nemanja Matic was singled out for praise, while Scott McTominay was scolded for his display against the Seagulls but praised for his attitude. As for the rest of the players, well, Mourinho didn’t even bother mentioning them.

That says it all.

Mourinho is playing a dangerous game here. With clashes with Paul Pogba making the news in recent months as the power struggle between the two is clear for all to see, Mourinho is flexing his muscles and asserting his power on the club and he is blaming the players for their lack of success. Along the way he has also hit out at fans for their criticism of his team and it is starring to create a fractious atmosphere at the club.

This is exactly why Sir Bobby Charlton was said to be wary of Mourinho taking charge of United in the past.

It is a case of Mourinho’s way or the highway. That’s how it is.

Is that a bad thing? Right now there is clear progression. From winning the League Cup and Europa League last season and finishing sixth in the PL to being in second in the PL, in the FA Cup semifinal and reaching the last 16 of the UCL this season, Mourinho is moving things forward, even if it is incredibly slowly.

You can talk about the style of play all you want but Mourinho just wants to win. United’s fans just want to win too. Yet their manager is now constantly telling them that the players they have, no matter how much you spend on Romelu Lukaku, Pogba or others, aren’t good enough to get the job done.

With Pep Guardiola‘s dynasty at Man City about to add a Premier League title and red-hot favorites to win the Champions League, United have a big decision to make.

Do they ignore player power and go all-in and let Mourinho make the sweeping changes he wants, even if that means saying goodbye to Pogba and Co. and perhaps a dip between now and August until he can get in the players he wants?

Or do they cut out Mourinho and risk not being able to replicate his recent success, even if the style of play may improve with someone else in charge?

Mourinho is forcing Man United’s hand and it appears that a lot of the fans aren’t all on board with the way he is doing this. Yet the lofty expectations which engulf United needed addressing for some time as Sir Alex Ferguson‘s shadow still looms large over the club.

Like Fergie, Mourinho is calling the shots. Now it’s all about if he will be given the time, and the funds, to completely rebuild this United side. He is trying to buy himself extra time by solely blaming the players for his team not going deep in the UCL and seriously challenging Man City for the title this season.

Given the fact United just gave him a new contract we should expect Mourinho to be around at United for at least the next two years. We shouldn’t expect many of this current squad to be joining him.

But this risky deflection game could signal the end game for Mourinho at United sooner than he thinks.

One way or another the three-year syndrome which has encapsulated his managerial career seems to be extinct.

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