Jose Mourinho, the fans' manager
Goals win games; defence wins titles. It’s a mantra held high as the ultimate truth in all team sports. Goals might be changed to touchdowns or hitting, defence to pitching. Nevertheless, the best teams know how to stop their opponent’s attack. Or so it’s said.
The saying doesn’t mean what many think. There's no team sport like golf in which efficiency is the decisive criterion. Defending matters. Many teams come and go who can score all day long but allow their opponents to do the same. Yes, we know you’re working on it, Senor Emery, sit down. In the end, however, teams must score more than their opponents to win. Goals are necessary for a defensive strategy to succeed. That’s why the other bit of sage advice exists. You must take your chances.
Jose Mourinho's correct when he bemoans the fact Manchester United failed to take theirs against Tottenham on Monday night. For the second match running, Romelu Lukaku missed a golden chance early that might've changed the match’s complexion. Is he useless? Hardly.
Last season, the Belgian started off great guns then went from 1 October through 4 December scoring just one goal across all competitions. More than two months. He’s a streaky player. To some degree, all strikers are. Until last week, Harry Kane hadn’t scored a Premier League goal in August. Last season, Lukaku hit for 27 goals and nine assists despite those 65 days in the doldrums.
In Monday’s match, Fred curled one just beyond the far post after cutting inside from the right. Paul Pogba forced a diving save from a sober Hugo Lloris. Lukaku wasn’t alone in profligacy. Mourinho claimed in his post-match press conference that United dominated the first half. Mauricio Pochettino agreed in his. You must take your chances.
When reporters began asking how United conceded three goals in consecutive Premier League games, Jose first admitted he couldn't identify his best defenders then reverted to his usual game, diversion.
If supporters are "the best judges", as he says, they’ll see right through him. Forget he criticised their lack of passion last season. It’s important for the squad and manager to have and feel the fans’ appreciation. On the other hand, it’s the manager’s job to establish firmer bonds with the players and board. If Mourinho’s only allies occupy the stands, he's in serious trouble. The faithful applaud effort and poor results for just so long.
After the match, he put his arm around a disconsolate Luke Shaw. If the left-back were a child rather than a professional footballer, the trial of fire to which Mourinho subjected him over the past two seasons in order to earn that brief moment of love would be called abuse. It’s late in the game for the boss to be cultivating a positive relationship with his players.
Jose applauding the fans then leaning on their support is the strongest indication his relationship with Ed Woodward has soured, too. Any port in a storm.
It’s also the 85th minute when it comes to recognising your best defenders. Among the group over whom he dithers, Victor Lindelof alone wasn’t on the roster for Mourinho’s first match. The man's paid to assess his roster over a preseason, not two full years. Many of "the best judges" disagree with numbers that tell Mourinho Chris Smalling and Phil Jones are his most accomplished choices. Those who believe the statistics round on Woodward for not signing Harry Maguire and/or Toby Alderweireld this summer to provide Mourinho with better options, judging Alias Smalling and Jones as merely the best of a bad bunch. Are they? Or could Mauricio Pochettino or Zinedine Zidane coach more talent from them?
Fans quick to condemn Ed, have a point. Jamie Carragher, of all people, offers the best assessment.
Mourinho is a manager for today, not tomorrow. Ed Woodward knew that.
If a manager hired for the short-term, "to win now", requests a new centre-back or two, the CEO should back him.
Except, this is Mourinho’s third season. Now happened two years ago. In the interim, Ed Woodward funded two acquisitions at centre-half on Jose Mourinho's recommendation. Eric Bailly and Victor Lindelof both turned out to be long-term projects [at best]. He also supported Mourinho’s decision to bring in Alexis Sanchez at a moment when Anthony Martial was 'winning now'. The Frenchman now inhabits the same doghouse Luke Shaw and Henrikh Mkhitaryan [a fourth unproductive signing] once occupied. Sanchez hasn't come good. Ed acts sensibly when he says, “Hang on a minute.”
The club remains the long-term project it was when David Moyes took over, when Louis van Gaal replaced him and after Mourinho arrived. Think about it. Ed Woodward's in the same boat as the manager with whom he's at loggerheads. Neither has an eye for talent. Given three bites from the apple, Woodward failed to find the right man to guide the club in the post-Ferguson era. Based on much more than recent results, Ed and Jose should have nothing further to do with Old Trafford’s football operation.
Woodward’s responsibilities should be limited to the business side where he undeniably excels. A sporting director is a correct choice to ease the transition only if given discretionary power to hire and fire the coach. Unfortunately, Ed will hire such a person before standing down and set the limits on his power. When describing the current Manchester United situation in one word, the appropriate term rhymes with duct.