Terrace Talk: Man United - Will Mourinho be first casualty of high-stakes strategy?

Jose Mourinho. Pic: PA

In the euphoric afterglow of the Liverpool victory, some of you may have been wondering about the seemingly anachronistic downbeat coda to last week’s column.

To recap the core thereof: “Mourinho’s squad is not where he thought it would be by now... he has not finally settled his personnel... sources claim up to half a dozen players (could) leave the club this summer.”

Well, I daresay that now makes a bit more sense after the past week’s upsets.

Of course, some of you may now interject, “never mind the players: what about HIM?”

We’ll come back to that in a moment. First, let us at least acknowledge that a ‘job was done’ by the still shellshocked team on Saturday, and cheer that we are now in the semi-finals. Huzzah.

We also remain second in the league which, given that no-one thinks any manager could have got us ahead of City this season, remains a non-negligible achievement. Huzzah again.

But two cheers is never enough for the full ‘hip hip hooray’. Because the fact
remains that there should have been a third bigger cheer this week, for reaching the European Cup quarter-finals.

Instead, what happened against Sevilla will be an indelible stain on this season’s memory — unless City decide to inflict something horrific on us in the derby. It was an historic embarrassment, bordering on a scandal, for which there are really no valid excuses.

So let us come back to the very angry grey elephant in the press room, currently spitting Portuguese insults and spraying acidic phlegm from its trunk. Does José Mourinho deserve to join Poor David and Van Loony in the reject bin? Oh yes; you read that question right.

When I canvassed a leading newspaper’s United correspondent, he was amazed: “Surely that’s not even on the agenda?” he gasped.

But it is, and the tell-tale sign was that beloved sight of many an early spring, to go with the sprouting primroses and returning cranes: the managerial website poll.

For the record, Red Issue Online’s own poll may have provided some encouragement for Camp José zealots.

A website that is traditionally the hardest to please split two thirds/one third in Mourinho’s favour. To be precise: 65% are happy for him to still be here next season — although many of those are only prepared to give him until Christmas before they unfurl the white hankies.

Moreover, the fact that as many as a third want rid of a manager who’s not even racked up two seasons, and who has won two major trophies, tells you that he may soon have a serious problem. And if he ends the season potless and — God forbid — somehow fails to nail a Champions League spot, that problem will likely become a crisis.

But we get ahead of ourselves; one obstacle at a time. As I write, the question on many lips is, “is he losing the dressing room?”

That Mourinho doesn’t rate several of the squad very highly is blindingly obvious; that it was alarmingly high stakes to go so ballistic about the players is also obvious.

Less obvious is the likely result of all that venting. For every dressing room hothead who may react by effectively downing tools, Chelsea-style, there may be a cooler head ready to take up the challenge and dig in for the long haul. Mourinho obviously thinks Matic, Lukaku and McTominlay are in the latter group. But who is in the former?

Most of you will now be mouthing “Pogba”; I daresay Martial and Rashford will also be popular guesses. Incidentally, I am told that, despite former claims he wouldn’t
acquire any more attackers this summer, José has made some moves towards Costa of Juventus.

That would suggest someone of weight might be leaving to make room; Martial certainly has fans inside Real Madrid, for example, and they have previously let Woodward taste their enthusiasm.

Thankfully for everyone about to be involved in this test of wills and desires, we now have an international break, and a chance for some calm thinking. When they all come back, one trusts they will all realise that they are on notice.

Because David De Gea apart, I doubt there is a single person on the Old Trafford playing or coaching staff who could be said to command
universal support from the fans. They are all playing for their futures — Mourinho,
obviously, included.

We will soon see who has, in the manager’s words, the “personality” to be worthy of Manchester United. How ironic it would be if the one who set that challenge turns out to be its biggest casualty.

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