TERRACE TALK: Man United - Looking strong as Jose Mourinho learning to bench press

In another of our occasional series ‘Fifty Shades Of Grey José’, let’s take a peek at substitution fetishisation. (Oo-er.) Now there’s a phrase you won’t be used to seeing, not least because I just invented it.

Stat-crunching types of modern nerd-fans place an inordinately huge store in the managerial act of changing players mid-match.

It’s become a key indicator of a manager’s real worth, an ‘in-play’ test of whether he really knows what he’s doing or not. Early doors, Van Loony and Poor David were deemed to have been failures at it; and yes, even Alex was not seen as unimpeachable on the subject.

Fergie’s weak spot, it was often alleged, was that he would make the right changes but often leave it way too late. Added to that, some felt, was a failure to adjust fast enough to mid-match upsets — as opposed to José, who is widely regarded as a great emergency improviser.

The standard of solid evidence for those assertions remains the United-Real match of 2013, when Fergie left the Reds floundering for 10 key second-half minutes, whilst José brilliantly rearmed his side in an instant.

Saturday was a rather more mundane example but the Joséphiles will seize upon it as another case of managerial magic. He took the right players off at the right time, chose the right replacements, and both subs then made match-defining impacts.

You may quibble that he had erred in preferring Martial to Rashford in the first place, but that’s a hindsight call: it was clearly not an obviously outrageous decision in, say, the manner of preferring Fellaini to anyone else.

Last season, especially before Christmas, José was not getting those substitution decisions right. He was also, it was whispered, failing to get the fitness training right, as United were often alarmingly running out of steam in the final 15 minutes. Quite a contrast to now, when United are ending games looking stronger than ever, scoring freely during those periods.

Even the Joséphobes — and they still exist — are tending to admit it: all the boxes are apparently being ticked for now.

For you can add to what we have already discussed the following: the general approval of José’s transfer decision-making; his obvious ability to motivate the individuals; and his clear sense of team-shaping and tactical instruction.

The questioning and muttering of nine months ago have gone: it looks like he’s getting it done.

He’s not the busted flush that some supposedly serious media pundits were suggesting last autumn. He’s even started smiling on a regular basis, and we’ve seen an end to the tabloid stories suggesting he’s unhappy with his domestic living arrangements in particular, or with Manchester in general.

It shouldn’t surprise us, then, that Zlatan feels this is a party he doesn’t want to poop just yet. His re-signing last week could be seen as quite a tribute to Mourinho, in that he’s essentially accepting a role that could end up being little more than a glorified supersub. 

Zlatan has spent a career picking winners to serve, and then abandoning them the second they start smelling like potential losers. Let us hope we can still rely on the judgement of his huge hooter.

We’re about to have an annoyingly-timed break, which will also encompass the end of the transfer window; remarkably, speculation about further United business has dwindled to a trickle. I am told José would still like Perisic, inter alia, but is prepared to wait another window rather than have to sell-to-buy, which is what SuperTed Woodward has allegedly told him would be required.

In any of the last three seasons, a window closing with an obvious and declared target on the wrong side of the sill would have lead to loud recriminations from fans and pundits alike. 

This time, it would be greeted with shrugs and a cheery “maybe next time”. That’s the kind of mood that’s infusing Old Trafford now: the Good Old Days might be back, so no-one’s interested in playing the moaning Minnie. 

Picture José ‘smoking’ in the centre circle last week: “don’t harsh my buzz”, as the old hippies used to say. Peace out, man; see you in a fortnight.


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