Jos Mourinho should be enjoying the California sun but his constant complaining, valid or not, does not augur well for Manchester Uniteds chances in the months ahead
An illustration of the pressure Jos Mourinho may be feeling, and the sombre mood he has been in during Manchester Uniteds tour of the United States, came at their UCLA training base this week.
The manager was due to sit down with a TV reporter who had travelled to Los Angeles for a pre-arranged interview on behalf of a prominent broadcaster. Yet just before it was supposed to happen, Mourinho pulled out. The journalist wandered off, only to be told the Portuguese had changed his mind again, and the interview took place.
Mourinho deserves credit for honouring the appointment. Yet as he embarks upon a third season in charge at United, he is still to turn the club into serious challengers for the Premier League title, which they last won in 2013 under Sir Alex Ferguson.
This is a pressing demand of his position that Mourinho surely carries with him. Factored in too should be how a third term has often proved a tipping point in his career. During both of his Chelsea tenures (2004-07 and 2013-16) and at Real Madrid (2010-13), it was at this stagethat the wheels clattered off, though he did limp into the September of year four of the first Stamford Bridge stint.
The sparkle that made Mourinho the self-appointed Special One when he arrived in west London in 2004 has been rarely sighted stateside, although during the opening media conference at UCLA there was a flash when he spoke of his daughters graduation.
I would like to share one moment of happiness. Very sad not to be [there] but really happy and proud, said the 55-year-old. Our lives also have frustrations and one of them is not to be there but thats the job [of management].
It is Mourinhos professional frustrations that are feeding the low-key demeanour. He feels Ed Woodward, Uniteds executive vice-chairman, should give him more backing in the transfer market.
Then there is Mourinhos disaffection at the high number of players not in the US, mainly because of post-World Cup breaks.
Regarding the latter, United began the trip without 13 senior players: Alexis Snchez, Paul Pogba, Romelu Lukaku, Marouane Fellaini, Marcus Rashford, Jesse Lingard, Marcos Rojo, Victor Lindelf, Ashley Young, David de Gea, Nemanja Matic, Fred and Phil Jones. It is a sizeable, notable group but many of Uniteds rivals have several frontlinepersonnel missing for the same reason. And instead of complaining, Mourinho could have used the situation as a rallying cry to inspire those players who are with him, while sending a message to competitors and supporters that he is very much in control. Instead his mantra has been to brand Uniteds pre-season as very bad.
Compare this with Pep Guardiolas take on Manchester Citys absentees during their own tour of the US: I learned when a little boy in Barcelona, dont find excuses. We are happy to have 16 players out the most [of any club], thats a good sign for the club. We are going to adapt, its a simple as that.
In fairness to Mourinho, he has a point in regards to Uniteds transfer business. So far this summer Fred, a 55m Brazil-reserve midfielder, and Diogo Dalot, a 19m 19-year-old Portuguese full-back, are his only major purchases, with goalkeeper Lee Grant having also arrived from Stoke City for 1.5m. That is underwhelming business with less than two weeks of the window remaining.
Mourinho began the summer targeting younger, more dynamic options at full-back. He believes that for United to surge forward, as City will do via Kyle Walker and Benjamin Mendy, Antonio Valencia and Ashley Young both 33 when the campaign starts have to be upgraded. Instead, he acquired the untested Dalot and was informed by Woodward that there will be no more additions in the position.
Since last summer Mourinho has also wanted a wide forward, but just as a deal for Internazionales Ivan Perisic fell down then, there appears scant appetite from Woodward to prise him or Chelseas Willian away this year. Mourinho may yet add the centre-back he wants by acquiring Leicester Citys Harry Maguire. But to close trading short of an A-list full-back and forward would surely make title aspirations distant.
Put simply, the squad requires more stardust. Mourinho has only three X-factor footballers: Pogba, Snchez and Lukaku. Guardiola, on the other hand, can call on nine: David Silva, Kevin De Bruyne, Sergio Agero, Gabriel Jesus, Riyad Mahrez, Leroy San, Walker, Mendy and Raheem Sterling. Yet part of management is improving players and here Mourinho must accept responsibility. He has not done what Guardiola has, to offer one case, with Sterling; turning an erratic performer and finisher into a 23-goal forward who was key in Citys record championship triumph.
Under Mourinho the list of those enhanced might start with Lingard, Eric Bailly and Lukaku but it then ends abruptly. Even Rashford, a bright light before Mourinhos arrival, has gone sideways
The pattern is similar regarding recruitment. Since taking over in 2016 Mourinho has signed Bailly, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Matic, Pogba, Lukaku, Snchez, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Victor Lindelf, Fred, Dalot and Lee Grant. Of those who have played, only Matic, Bailly and Lukaku can be deemed successes.
Pogba is most indicative of Mourinhos lack of success in the transfer market. Having struggled at United since returning to the club for a then world-record 93.2m fee in August 2016, the midfielder was outstanding for France during their triumphant World Cup campaign, suggesting the manager rather than the player is the problem at Old Trafford. And the former has hardly done himself any favours here by applying more stick than carrot when asked about Pogbas form in Russia.
Pogba needs to approach each match as if it were a final, was the essence of Mourinhos analysis. This may be true but where was the praise to balance this and offer Pogba the sort of encouragement that might see him perform better for United?
Whether the reasons are valid or not, Mourinhos mood has plunged south early. In the depths of mid-winter following some poor results a flatness would be understandable. But with the US sun blazing down and a new campaign around the corner, this is hardly the time or place to be downbeat. All in all, it does not augur well for Uniteds hopes or Mourinhos long-term job prospects.