Back in what some Manchester United supporters would call their ‘Golden Age’ when Sir Alex Ferguson ruled the roost there was a certain process when it came to pre-match press conferences. Usually the day before the game Ferguson would greet the press at Old Trafford with a certain banter, then speak about the coming game, then give his thoughts, take questions and disappear.
It would be remiss of me to say that Ferguson’s press conferences were always an uplifting experience for the journalists. At times Ferguson was the pit bull you crossed the street to avoid and if he took a dislike to a reporter, the reporter could find himself barred from the press briefing for a week, or a month or even longer. Ferguson, like the proverbial elephant, never forgot a wrong or a slight to his team or his character or his family.
Fast forward through the David Moyes and Louis Van Gaal era’s, now it is Jose Mourinho’s turn to command the press conferences and in which, for the moment anyway, he resembles a man who would rather be somewhere else entirely. The pre-season tour for Mourinho had been a summer of sulk and misery which the manager has now seemingly taken into the Premier League.
Without a doubt, It has been a really, really bad week for Manchester United and Mourinho. Since their last game, a shambolic loss at Brighton a week ago, the media has been divided about Mourinho’s future at the club. Most of the celebrity media pundits have pronounced the end for Mourinho sooner rather than later, with only the odd voice eg. Neil Custis of the Sun, expressing a balanced argument in Mourinho’s defence. So with the storm clouds gathering, Manchester United faced their third game of the new Premiership season at Old Trafford on Monday night, 27th August against Tottenham.
Mourinho sprang a surprise by playing Chris Smalling and Phil Jones and Ander Herrara in a back three allowing Luke Shaw and Anthony Valencia to play as wing backs in more advanced positions. For the most part, United had a good first 45 minutes surviving a good penalty shout when Jones brought down Lucas Moura clearly in the box. Spurs however benefited when Romalu Lukaku rounded the goalkeeper at the other end and shot wide of an open net.
In the second half United play resembles the shambolic mess they had produced at Brighton the week before. Once Harry Kane had headed in from a corner to put Spurs 1-0 up the doubts and insecurities came back to the United players. A bad mistake by Herrara allowing Christian Eriksen to be onside was punished when his cross was guided in by Moura.
Shortly after Dele Alli should have put Spurs 3-0 ahead after another defensive mistake by Victor Lindelöf. However, it was not too long before a clumsy tackle by Smalling allowed Moura to once again break free and slot the ball home to make it 3-0. Manchester United have now played 3 matches and lost 2 of them very badly.
In a show of defiance or solidarity depending on your point of view, Mourinho made a point of standing in front of the Stretford End for over a minute clapping them for their support. In the press conference afterwards, Mourinho seemingly was so annoyed with the questions asked that he stormed out demanding more ‘respect’ for the achievements and work he has done, not only at United but in football in general. It may well have been a classic Mourinho gesture to deflect criticism from his underachieving team but I doubt that.
Manchester United’s next match is away at Burnley on Sunday 2nd September. This game now seems to have become the latest one Mourinho cannot afford to lose if he is to keep his job. Mourinho may be helped somewhat in that respect because Burnley play Thursday night in the Europa League and may on Sunday be suffering from fatigue.
On Friday Mourinho faces the press once again to discuss the Burnley match but it might take other directions considering how the last one finished up. There is no doubt that there are serious issues at Manchester United on and off the field of play at the moment, however, whether Mourinho is part of the problem or part of the solution, only time will tell.