Having had such a monstrously poor run to Christmas with defending champions Chelsea last season, it alternatively presented itself as a handy benchmark to judge just how badly Mourinho ended his last job, and compare it to just how much he could improve his work with a brand new one. Surely after such a pathetic title defence in the first half of the 15/16 season, the spiky Portuguese would not need to exert a whole of energy to re-establish himself and prove to everyone that he is anything but a fading light among the world’s elite football coaches.
However, if we were to hold each stint side by side – his thirteen games so far with United alongside his first thirteen with Chelsea last season – it makes for some rather unsatisfactory reading (certainly from Man United fan’s perspective).
United haven’t endured the same amount of losses – having suffered just three compared to the seven of last season’s Chelsea – but the number of wins and goals scored aren’t dissimilar whatsoever.
It’s the lack of wins that is the main concern at the moment for Mourinho and United. Five from thirteen is a poor return, especially when you consider that United have played Stoke, West Ham and Burnley all at Old Trafford, and failed to extract three points from any of them.
As has been copiously remarked upon, this is now United’s worst ever start to a Premier League season since its inception in 1992.
It’s bizarre to think that the likes of David Moyes and Louis Van Gaal each respectively managed this same feat in their own times at United, and yet in walks Mourihno – easily the more established of the three managers – who somehow has contrived to blow both their records out of the water.
Is United’s bad start down to an under-performing team, or an under-performing manager? The boring and uninspired answer is that’s is a mixture of the two, but you look at the often petulant behaviour of the fellow leading the team, a man who for a considerable period in his career was heralded as one of the world’s greatest managers, and it cannot be refuted that it is having a negative effect on the squad of players he is attempting to carry forward into a bright new era at Old Trafford.
More touchline nonsense at the weekend landed Mourinho in more bother with the FA, after he kicked a water bottle in frustration when Paul Pogba was booked for simulation in their home game against West Ham. The referee Jon Moss banished Mourinho from the touchline and sent him marching back into the belly of Old Trafford.
It is a silly thing to be sent off for in reality, but everything from remonstrating with the ref, to arguing with the fourth official, to kicking a water bottle (all things Mourinho has been guilty of in the not too distant past) all fall under what the FA terms quite straightforwardly as ‘improper conduct’, and by now, Mourinho should know the rules. Therefore he needs to learn to keep his emotions in check if he wants to oversee his team from the touchline, at least for ninety minutes.
Highlighting and remarking upon Mourinho’s antics is commonplace nowadays, nothing new or insightful emerges from the many column inches the two-time Champions League winner generates with his frequently unruly conduct. All it breeds is negative headlines and no doubt a small bit of tension in the United dressing room. On top of that, the manager’s public criticism of several players – Luke Shaw being a prime example – has surely done nothing but increase tensions among the players, who now will be aware that if they make mistakes, their boss may well allude to it in his post-match interviews.
It was what a majority of United fans feared most about the appointment. There was no doubt that after the out-of-his-depth David Moyes and the dull-and-deliberate Van Gaal, this team needed a kick up the backside from a real leader who had a presence and the pedigree to take on a challenge as big as managing Manchester United. But it resurfaces the debate of what helps motivate players in the best possible way, especially coming off the back of a couple of painfully mediocre seasons.
Mourinho has criticised his players publicly, racked up a series of offenses and fines since the season started, and has made decisions that people just can’t seem to figure out, regarding his team selection specifically. The Mhkitaryan mystery remains a constant, with the Armenian play-maker consistently left out of the side, aside from a couple of appearances in the Europa League and a handful of cameos in the league.
Without a doubt, Mourihno’s main aim was to shake things up, to break the mould of the Van Gaal era and set the team up to be a consistent winning force again. And yet, the results are underwhelming. So why isn’t it working?
As terribly stubborn as he is, and as silly it is to suggest the Portuguese should radically adjust his approach, given the success he’s had in the past, perhaps Mourihno would do well to take a leaf from Swansea manager Bob Bradley’s book.
It seems odd to say, but this is a manager with just as much experience in the game as Mourinho, albeit with sides of a lesser quality. But the American has managed in Egypt, France and Norway, not to mention he’s also taken charge of his own nation’s national team.
Bradley was with Norwegian side Stabaek Fotball for just a single season, but he guided the club to a Europa League place.
With Le Havre, the French Ligue 2 side, Bradley came within a single goal of promotion to the top flight. They lost out to FC Metz, who only just edged it on goal difference.
And now the American finds himself at Swansea, and he gained his first win as Swans coach with a crazy 5-4 game at the Liberty Stadium.
I watched Bradley’s first ever press conference in England after he was announced as Francesco Guidolin’s replacement. He came across as an extremely confident person. But it was confidence without a hint of arrogance. He spoke of the reality of the situation. He said he knew it would take time to adapt, to a new side, to a new league, and he promised to put all his work into getting the Swans out of trouble.
On Monday, he was interviewed on BBC Radio 5 Live’s Monday Night Club, and it was fascinating stuff. This guy is a thoroughly dedicated football man. He has a lot of experience in the game, and it was irritating to think many people would hear his accent and automatically come to the conclusion that just because he hailed from the USA, a country not known for a love of football, he would not adapt to English football. This notion seems more ridiculous after you consider that this man has far more experience in the game that most of the other coaches in the bottom half of the table.
He seems like a manger I’d want to play for. In the interview, he spoke of a conversation he’d held with Fernando Llorente, the Spaniard bought by Swansea in the summer who, before the Everton game, had failed to make an impression. Llorente was not fully fit but was willing to play. Bradley said he had a long chat with the striker, speaking of the importance of needing him at full fitness. He told Llorente he’d leave him out of the side for Everton, but he would be utilised against Palace.
Llorente came off the bench in the Palace game, and scored two injury time goals to record an unbelievable victory. It was the (albeit brief) performance of a man who trusts his manager.
Bradley will have won over his players with that victory.
Bradley said in the interview that he is a very honest man, and that’s not something Mourinho would scramble to admit about himself right away. There are a million different ways to get a team playing well, but sometimes being honest to players – without being cold – can go a long way. Bob Bradley has I think impressed a lot of people with the way he conducts himself. He speaks very well, he’s concise, rarely if at all does he duck questions, and above all he appears to know what he’s doing, and what he is going to do.
These two managers are very different, in terms of their approach and their success in the past. But Bradley’s integration at Swansea and how he is slowly starting to get to know his players, could look a far better approach to management than Mourinho’s at this present time.
It’s thirteen games into the season, and all is not lost. Martin Keown recently wrote an article on the BBC Sport website entitled: “Why United’s Title Hopes Are Over”, in which Keown never once put forward a solid reason why that may be the case.
It certainly isn’t over yet, not by a long way. But it will be interesting to see if Mourinho decides to continue on as he has done, and whether or not it will bring success in the end.
Written by David Newman