Nobody at Manchester United wants the club to be like it is now. Not Ed Woodward, busy with agents who represent some very fine footballers. Not the staff, many of whom are United fans from Manchester and just want their club to start punching its weight again.
Not Jose Mourinho, who defends himself and his excellent historical record against his many detractors — or “lovers” as he calls them. Not the players who are seeing their reputations damaged by being so average in relation to their vast salaries and the expectations placed upon them. Nor the fans who’ve been bored into slumber by a brand of football that has mostly screamed “this is not Manchester United” for over half a decade.
Much as Marouane Fellaini’s 91st-minute goal was celebrated Tuesday, several fans I spoke to had mixed feelings about it. A failure to win would have brought a managerial change closer — or so they hoped.
With United closer to the bottom of the league than the top in terms of points, Mourinho’s stock has never been lower at Old Trafford among fans. Polls among fans see between 70 and 80 percent wanting to replace the Portuguese boss. The vocal support for him from the crowd at Old Trafford is minimal, though it’s yet to turn to dissent. Only three weeks ago fans sang Jose’s name in Turin, but my long-held view that the club shouldn’t dismiss him now is a minority one.
That opinion has more supporters than my previous suggestion that Ryan Giggs should have replaced Louis van Gaal — 82 percent of United fans wanted Mourinho then and only 6 percent Giggs.
My hope still is that the Portuguese turns things around. Judge him after the three years he requested and let’s have more of him cupping his ears to fans who’ve abused him all game and smashing water bottles into the ground because one of his players have finally scored a goal. That was almost as enjoyable as seeing the sea of yellow in the away end lit up by Young Boys fans brandishing flares. Nobody was harmed and football matches should contain such colour.
Mourinho’s sacking is not imminent while United still have so much to play for. This United team beat Juventus away. What’s to say that they can’t get more of those cup wins in the Champions League? If there’s a man to do it then it’s Mourinho — and it’s not as if rival teams, including Tottenham, will let their coaches depart midseason to replace him.
Manchester United’s manager will likely get backing in the transfer market in January, not that there’s much conviction any new signings will make much difference. Those with long memories will recall 1989 when a certain Alex Ferguson was accused of wasting money on bad players.
While Mourinho didn’t get the defender he wanted in the summer, he does have some power. The club have invested too much in him to give up after a poor start to this season, but he’s in a daily storm and there’s little love for him in the media.
When you go to war with everyone then you’re hardly going to win friends and influence people, but he has his side to the story too. He feels his words and context get twisted against him, though he did set a miserable tone as he scowled his way through preseason when all United fans wanted was a bit of reassurance that things were going to be all right. Maybe Mourinho was the one being the realist there, but when you talk a team’s prospects down, surely things are not going to look up.
Tuesday’s win against Young Boys helped a little. However soporific, a win against the Swiss was a win. You can get away with so much when you’re winning. Mourinho’s obvious disappointment when Marcus Rashford missed chances on Tuesday has become a major talking point, another stick to beat the manager with — but Alex Ferguson did exactly the same whenever Cristiano Ronaldo fluffed chances as he matured as a player.
If — and it’s a big if — Mourinho is to see out his contract to 2020, things need to change. The team need to provide more entertainment, especially at Old Trafford where empty seats have started to be seen at games. Not many, but the fact there are hundreds dotted about is rare. United need to start picking up a lot more points, because if they don’t, they’re heading for another finish outside the top four.
As we come toward the close of a miserable 2018 for United with a run of games starting at Southampton on Saturday, it’s not unrealistic to expect this to happen, and there are some positives. The team are through to the last 16 of the Champions League after qualifying from a tough group. Mourinho also insists that David De Gea wants to stay, but you do wonder why De Gea would. Maybe he’s just a goalkeeper who enjoys his job so much that he knows he’s going to do more of it at Old Trafford than at other big clubs because United aren’t as good as the best.
The club has also been working with fans to improve the atmosphere, listening and taking guidance in a manner they never did in Ferguson’s glory days. Sections of the Stretford End will be controlled by vocal-minded fans from next season. It’s unprecedented. Disabled Red Devil fans will also benefit from 118 new wheelchair positions at Old Trafford.
None of this will dispel the evident flatness from the recent uninspiring results while the team plays so badly, but it was these very players who had fans so excited exactly a year ago when they went to Arsenal and won 3-1. The situation is grim at United, but it’s not irreparable — even with a manager most fans have lost faith in.
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