After United cheerfully disposed of Crystal Palace three weeks ago, I warningly noted that José Mourinho was groaning about the forthcoming international break — as we all were.
“Just as we are building up a burst of steam, along comes another cavalcade of third-rate representative rummaging in the bargain bins of football thrills,” I fumed.
It was, therefore, no surprise to see José — and some fair-minded pundits — point the finger at the internationals as the cause for what has clearly been a dramatic lack of momentum this past week. Three underwhelming performances culminated on Saturday in what some would dub a humiliation, although we’ve surely not forgotten the array of much more embarrassing moments these past three years.
José was also correct to point another of his many angry quivering fingers at what Herrera’s postmatch comments exposed. As the boss highlighted, you don’t expect or want to hear one of your so-called senior pros blithely chirruping that the players apparently weren’t up for it. Mourinho darkly muttered that United fans might accept losing to a better team, but not to a better attitude, and he was spot on.
You can, of course, argue that motivating players for the more humdrum or unappealing fixtures is part of the manager’s responsibility. But this is one of the oldest endless debates in the game: where does the weight of blame primarily reside when there’s a ‘suspect attitude’ afoot? Is the manager not being sufficiently proactive, or are some of the players’ characters deficient?
Unless you’re seeing what’s going on in the dressing room and training ground, you can’t apportion the black spots; all you can see is the ultimate result on the pitch. United were second to everything all day long at Huddersfield; that much is fact. The rest is conjecture.
A couple of readers who’d asked me why my early season columns have been so cautious — even talking about being wary of a second-season syndrome — now have their answer. This team is not the finished product. Until it is, reserve your judgment. Perhaps, as this month’s most keenly-awaited returning series has it: Curb Your Enthusiasm.
On we go on our chastened way with an immediate chance to make amends at Swansea tomorrow night. I doubt that an awayday cup tie on a potentially blowy chill night would have been the ideal choice of bounce-back opportunity for most of us, but here we are.
There is also no point us bleating about the continued lack of Pogba, damaging though it so clearly is; the rest of them ought to be good enough to cope against the likes of Swansea and Huddersfield all day and all of the night.
Spurs await at the weekend for what will be United’s first A-level examination of the season, and Chelsea will be up soon thereafter. Never mind the dangers suggested by the attitude shown at Huddersfield; simply any resurgence of the woeful passing on display on Saturday will potentially lead to annihilation all on its own.
Incidentally, you may well think that this is hardly the time for various parties to be talking about José’s contract. But a spacefilling story in The Sun, claiming extension talk wheels were in motion, ended up taking a surprising turn or two. By the end of the four-day news cycle, we had been presented with the image of a supposedly unhappy manager being unsatisfied with his club vice-president’s work, and a selection of flatly contradictory versions about the status of Mourinho’s future employment prospects.
My José people in Lisbon do confirm that there are ‘issues’ lingering on from summer.
And they were not displeased to see some of them getting an airing in the media. Just another reminder for Ed Woodward, in case he needed one, that’s he’s not dealing with the easily-encircled likes of Van Gaal and Moyes anymore. This isn’t Kansas; this is Chinatown.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved