If they gave out trophies in football for the most varied ways to draw matches, Jose Mourinho would already have won his first silverware for Manchester United. No one has mastered the art of the draw quite as well as the current United team. No matter what they do, no matter how they play, whether it’s home or away, top team or lower end strugglers, this United team will find a way to extract a draw. They have played park the bus football (Liverpool); storm the Bastille football (Burnley, Stoke and West Ham); counter-attack football (Arsenal); more possession but low creativity football (Everton), and each time the outcome is the same. A draw.
United’s latest draw against Everton at Goodison Park on Sunday was the 6th in their last 8 League games. It doesn’t help that the team have acquired an unfortunate proclivity for conceding late goals. Against Everton, they gave away a clumsy penalty in the 89th minute to throw away three points. There used to be a time when it was United who were scoring last gasp goals and breaking opposition hearts. This season, they have already dropped seven valuable points through goals conceded in the last 10 minutes. When you are struggling to live up to past glories, every point counts, and every point dropped is an ideal excuse for United’s detractors to declare a state of emergency.
It is easy to consider Chelsea’s implosion under Mourinho last year, their current top-of-the-table resurgence under Antonio Conte, along with United’s inability to win matches, and consign Mourinho as a has-been well past his sell-by date. But what should be heeded is that United are team on the decline after having enjoyed a prolonged period of success. Had Antonio Conte been appointed United’s manager, who is to say he wouldn’t have struggled as well. If it was easy to maintain success indefinitely why haven’t the Scousers won a league title for 27 years? Jose Mourinho’s task at Old Trafford is a monumental one. He is attempting to fight the tide of history. Rebuilding an empire takes time. Even Fergie took a whole 7 years to win his first league title. Mourinho will be lucky to get 7 months.
The media and opposition fans want Jose Mourinho to fail because that means United will have failed. After 23 years of unrelenting glory, this is revenge time for the long-suffering ABUs (aka Anyone but United), who are wilfully twisting early season teething issues into a crisis of relegation proportions. In truth, Mourinho’s United are not doing that badly. They are presently in 6th place with the season barely into December. They are one place off where they finished last season under Louis Van Gaal. They are in the semi finals of the League Cup and on the brink of qualifying for the last 32 of the Europa League. Their football, irrespective of the outcome, is far more enticing and creative than anything played under Van Gaal or Moyes. With a bit more luck in front of goal and a smidgen more grit in their defending, those frustrating draws could easily have become wins.
Given time, there is no reason why those draws cannot turn into wins in the future. So long as the team keep creating chances, things will eventually click into place and the chances will start to go in. United are traditionally stronger in the second half of the season, when results really start to matter. United need to stay calm and most importantly, they need Jose to control his temper. United’s cause is not helped by Mourinho’s permanently volatile state. Leaving aside tax avoidance allegations, his constant petulant antics are giving the media and opposition fans far too much ammunition with which to attack the club. Publicly criticising players, slagging off refs, kicking over bottles and getting sent off serves only to generate negative headlines and reinforce public perception that Mourinho has long since lost the plot. At at time when United desperately need stability Mourinho’s combustible behaviour simply reaffirms the view that United made a fatal mistake in employing him. Far from being United’s saviour he always appears one incident away from becoming their biggest liability.
The club cannot lose yet another manager. United need Mourinho to keep his counsel and his dignity if he is to succeed, for the sake of the club and for his own redemption. Likewise, United fans need to stay strong and support their manager, no matter what their personal opinions of him. The club is bigger than any manager, any title and any fan feeling. MUFC needs a manager to stick around. It will, of course, help if Mourinho can win the League Cup (or EFL or whatever it’s called these days), even if it is a mickey mouse trophy. Silverware is silverware, and at the very least it should buy Jose time. As we know, time is a precious and much-needed commodity in football.