Jose Mourinho has painted a grim figure during Manchester United’s preseason in the United States. From the lack of senior players on the tour to the slow progress in the transfer window, Mou has not held back in criticizing pretty much everybody. What we need to understand is that Mourinho has been playing mind games like this for years. Whether it’s aimed at opposing managers, the press or his own club, there’s always a calculated reason for Mourinho take a dig at somebody.
From outside the club, it’s easy for people to have a negative image of Mourinho. Those of the inside have mentioned how untrue that is. When everything was looking sour on the US tour, Lee Grant, United’s new signing from Stoke City, mentioned how supportive and upbeat Mourinho was being with the players, even after the 4-1 defeat against Liverpool. His grumpy self was reserved only for press conferences. Anybody who knows Lee Grant can confirm how much of a honest guy he is.
Another player to praise Mourinho was Romelu Lukaku, who cut his vacation short to help his team for the beginning of the season. Qualifying the manager as “cool” and a family man, Lukaku explains that Mourinho’s behavior is normal behind the scenes. The Belgian striker has a good working relationship with his manager and it’s clear Mou trusts him as well, so much that he is almost invariably picked to start when fit.
Luke Shaw, who has suffered the most criticism from Mourinho, affirmed Mourinho told him he is angry at him because he knows the ability of Shaw and the manager is left frustrated because what he shows on the pitch is only a fraction of what he can do. When you think about it from this angle, it’s not as bad as it seems. If Mourinho was tearing his players apart every other day at Carrington, he would have lost the dressing room by now. The fact that players like Herrera, Lukaku, Matic and co are still giving everything for him shows he has been a good manager behind the scenes.
Why then does Mourinho behave as he has publicly?
There are many reasons why. He complained on the US tour about the number of young players he had to take with him and how the senior players won’t be back in time to play against Leicester City in the league opener. This got some of his senior players to cut their vacation short and make themselves available earlier than expected. So, his plan worked. The only player still on vacation now is Paul Pogba, who starred in France’s World Cup triumph and is enjoying some deserved time off somewhere ‘far away’ in Bora Bora.
We will have [Victor] Lindelof who started training two days ago, plus Marcus Rashford, Jones and Lukaku because they gave to the group and to the team three days of their holidays so they are coming back three days early to try to be available for the team.
When Mourinho is publicly criticizing his own players like Paul Pogba and Luke Shaw in public, he is clearly looking for the reaction which will take their performance to the next level. When he talks about Liverpool’s massive spending recently, he is trying to pile up the pressure on Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool while diverting the attention from his own team. His outburst about the not getting a single signing from the list he gave to his club months ago is to get the players in before the transfer window which ends in a few days.
Last but not least, his shenanigans takes the attention away from his players, essentially protecting them from the media and allowing to focus on what really matters: Football.
Truth be told, Mourinho currently has a good squad. He has obtained two quality Brazilian midfielders for this season. Fred was bought from Shakhtar Donetsk and Andreas Pereira, out on loan in La Liga for the past two years, is back to stake his claim at a first team spot. Pereira has been brilliant in preseason. Diogo Dalot has been described as one of the best full backs in his age group and veteran Lee Grant signed to replace the outgoing Joel Pereira (Loan to Vitora Setubal) as third goalkeeper has impressed and will be a welcome presence in the dressing room. Alexis Sanchez can also be considered as a new signing. After a World Cup free summer, the Chilean has looked very sharp leading the United attack.
Regardless of whether he gets more signings or not, Mourinho will be happy with the team he has. He mentioned himself how the majority of the players have a great attitude. Emphasizing the word “majority” was probably a slight dig at Martial but again, that’s probably more purposeful criticism from Mou. This team collected enough points for a title challenge last year. With two new additions to the first team and potentially more, they can go even further this time.
Do not fall for Mourinho’s mind games. This is a man with a plan. Expect Manchester United to challenge on all fronts this season.
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