When Manchester United signed Jose Mourinho to be their manager, they thought they were signing a manager who was tactically sharp and ruthless. Someone who would do whatever it takes to win even if that included dropping a club legend from the starting XI or keeping a £26 million signing pinned to the bench. They thought they were signing a man who was willing to make those moves, because he didn’t care what the media thought of him and he could back it up with his on-the-pitch results.
At least I think that’s what they were thinking, because there was certainly plenty of evidence suggesting that guy no longer exists and since Mourinho has taken the job, he’s only gone to prove that that man no longer exists.
That’s not to say there aren’t traits of the old Mourinho. When he arrived he immediately banished veteran midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger to the reserves, for no apparent reason, and he’s kept summer signing Henrikh Mkhitaryan pinned to the bench despite United’s painful inability to score goals.
This season at Manchester United, Mourinho can’t simply point to on field success when challenged about his questionable calls because he hasn’t had any. He has guided United to their worst start in the Premier League era. They’ve drawn their last four home games, the first time they’ve drawn four consecutive home matches in 36 years, and they’ve scored just three goals in those four games.
In previous years, a string of results like this would not be tolerated, especially by Mourinho. If his team went too long without winning, heads rolled and players were replaced.
But that’s not happening this season as Mourinho continues to trot out the same players week after week, expecting something different to happen. What makes this season different? Why isn’t Mourinho making a big move?
Could the answer to that question be as simple as Mourinho is afraid of the media backlash that he’ll get if he drops one of his high priced superstars?
When Mourinho took over United, a lot of the attention focused on United’s star-man Wayne Rooney and whether or not he would have a place in Mourinho’s team. Rooney had been a mainstay in the United side since 2004 but there was no doubt his game had slipped. The Mourinho of old would have come in and sold Rooney, but the new Mourinho chose to keep him in the team, despite a significant drop in form.
When Mourinho finally, and might I add deservedly, dropped Rooney from the team, that’s all the media focused on even though Rooney’s performances didn’t merit a place in the starting XI. If he were to drop Zlatan Ibrahimovic, a man that he convinced to sign with United, the backlash would be insane.
When Mourinho took over in Manchester ,he identified the striker position as an area of weakness. He knew the 31-year-old Rooney couldn’t carry the load as United’s main striker anymore, and he believed that youngsters Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford were not ready to carry the load. He may be right about that and he may not be, but Mourinho has never been a fan of playing young strikers so it’s hard to give him the benefit of the doubt.
Mourinho’s answer was to sign 34-year-old Zlatan Ibrahimovic. To Jose’s credit, he acknowledged that this wasn’t the perfect answer, saying that a 34-year-old striker was not ideal and neither was an 18-year-old striker but together they could complement each other well.
The problem with that is that Mourinho hasn’t allowed them to complement each other. Ibrahimovic has started every game, despite the fact that he is clearly not finding the success he expected in the Premier League. This has banished Rashford to a role on the wing, where he still looks like one of the few United players who are trying to change the game and aren’t phased by the situation, but keeping him pinned to the touchline renders him largely ineffective.
Last week, Mourinho was forced to start Rashford down the middle against Arsenal due to Ibrahimovic being suspended. The move allowed him to bring Anthony Martial back into the team. Though neither Rashford nor Martial scored, with Rashford leading the line and able to stretch Arsenal’s defense United’s attack looked more dangerous than it has at any other time this season. Did that effect how Mourinho lined up in the next game? Of course not, Ibrahimovic was right back in the team and United once again struggled.
No one is saying Ibrahimovic needs to be permanently dropped from the team but at this point running him out there every week isn’t working. What’s the harm in every few games changing things up and giving opponents a different look with Rashford up top?
Unfortunately doing that would cause Mourinho to sit a healthy Zlatan Ibrahimovic, which would cause stories in the press before the ball is even kicked.
The Mourinho of old wouldn’t care what the media said. The Mourinho of Manchester seems afraid.