Mour­inho erodes Man U’s spirit

Post - - SPORT - CHRIS WHEELER

BE­FORE he turned to Brexit and the Lon­don weather, José Mour­inho touched on some of the more rel­e­vant is­sues af­fect­ing him and his Manch­ester United play­ers.

Mar­cus Rash­ford was “sad” in this re­mark­able 3-2 win over New­cas­tle, said Mour­inho. Scott McTom­i­nay was “scared”. These are not words we are ac­cus­tomed to hear­ing in re­la­tion to foot­ballers.

The United man­ager was, of course, blam­ing me­dia spec­u­la­tion over his fu­ture, and what he kept re­fer­ring to as a man­hunt for the neg­a­tive mood of his young play­ers. The truth, how­ever, lies some­what closer to home. No­body has done more to un­der­mine, ex­pose or de­mo­ti­vate this United squad than Mour­inho him­self.

In his seem­ingly end­less war with the world, the play­ers have be­come col­lat­eral dam­age, even when United win. “You could feel the ten­sion with the play­ers,” said Romelu Lukaku af­ter­wards. “It touches us, you know.”

Fear is a dan­ger­ous emo­tion for play­ers to carry on to the pitch, par­tic­u­larly younger ones and es­pe­cially in the Premier League. It is no place for faint hearts and un­cer­tain minds. But that is ex­actly what Mour­inho and the con­stant bat­tles – some real, some per­ceived and oth­ers de­signed to de­flect from his short­com­ings – have in­stilled in the play­ers.

They are al­ways one bad pass away from be­ing sub­sti­tuted, one caus­tic com­ment from pub­lic hu­mil­i­a­tion. While Sir Alex Fer­gu­son earned the re­spect of his men by rarely crit­i­cis­ing them out­side the dress­ing room, Mour­inho has no such com­punc­tion.

That’s why it is dif­fi­cult to see a way back for him at Old Traf­ford, what­ever short-term re­lief this win may have given him or credit he de­serves for drag­ging a se­cond-half per­for­mance out of a team who had looked on the verge of col­lapse.

“Maybe it was my wrong de­ci­sion to play Mar­cus Rash­ford and Scott McTom­i­nay,” ad­mit­ted Mour­inho. “They were not ready for this level of pres­sure that the man­hunt is bring­ing.

“The boys woke up this morn­ing and they didn’t know if I was go­ing to be here or not. For big boys like me, it’s no prob­lem. But for younger peo­ple, I think it’s a prob­lem.”

McTom­i­nay started in mid­field, moved to cen­tre back and did not reap­pear for the se­cond half af­ter strug­gling once again in an un­fa­mil­iar role. Rash­ford missed two glar­ing chances with his head be­fore his num­ber also went up.

Mour­inho is right, Rash­ford does look sad. In a United shirt, he lacks the spirit and vi­brancy he will bring to Eng­land over the course of the next week, but whose fault is that?

Chopped and changed

And it isn’t just those two. Look down United’s squad list and there is dam­age every­where. Cen­tre back, in par­tic­u­lar, is a dis­as­ter zone. Mour­inho has chopped and changed so many times, is it any sur­prise his de­fend­ers have for­got­ten how to de­fend?

“Let’s not for­get this team de­fen­sively con­ceded one more goal than Manch­ester City last sea­son,” said Match of the Day pun­dit Alan Shearer. “They are all over the place this year be­cause they are con­stantly hear­ing the man­ager tell them they’re not good enough. That has to af­fect their con­fi­dence.”

Over on BT Sport, former United cen­tre back Rio Fer­di­nand won­dered whether Eric Bailly’s ca­reer at the club can pos­si­bly re­cover af­ter he was sub­sti­tuted in the 19th minute as Mour­inho tried to ar­rest a quite hor­rific start.

It came 11 days af­ter the United boss ad­mit­ted he “knew we were in trou­ble” when Bailly and Phil Jones were next up in the penalty shootout against Derby. Luke Shaw is only just re-emerg­ing as the player we know he can be, scarred as much by Mour­inho’s pub­lic crit­i­cism of him over the past two years as any phys­i­cal in­jury he has suf­fered.

This Satur­day, cap­tain An­to­nio Va­len­cia paid the price for en­dors­ing a so­cial me­dia com­ment call­ing for Mour­inho to be sacked by be­ing axed from the squad.

Re­place­ment skip­per Ash­ley Young was ex­posed as Kenedy and Yoshi­nori Muto stunned Old Traf­ford with two goals in­side the open­ing 10 min­utes for a New­cas­tle side ex­pe­ri­enc­ing their worst start to a top-flight sea­son, but who clearly fan­cied their chances here.

Paul Pogba, stripped of the vice-cap­taincy, led the fight­back. Even the three play­ers who dug Mour­inho out of the big­gest of holes – Juan Mata, An­thony Mar­tial and Alexis Sanchez – have had their is­sues with the man­ager.

But dig they did. It would be stretch­ing it to say this was proof Mour­inho re­tains the com­plete sup­port of his play­ers, but you can­not ig­nore the ef­fort they gave in the se­cond half.

It brought their man­ager respite and no lit­tle credit for turn­ing around a des­per­ate – and ap­par­ently fiery – half-time sit­u­a­tion that threat­ened to in­ten­sify the spec­u­la­tion over his job.

“A lot of strong words were said in the chang­ing room at half-time and ev­ery­thing that was said was cor­rect and needed,” said Shaw, who picked up a knock that will be as­sessed be­fore he is cleared for Eng­land duty.

“Be­ing 2-0 down at home to New­cas­tle is re­ally bad. It (the talk) helped us and the changes helped us. We came out a new side in the se­cond half; what we should be like in ev­ery game.”

Will the ben­e­fits last any longer than they did when United came from two goals down to win at Manch­ester City and Crys­tal Palace last sea­son? Prob­a­bly not. – Daily Mail

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