The next few weeks could very well decide how Jose’s Manchester United tenure will be looked upon in the future. Unless you are living under a rock, everyone is under the opinion that this will be his last season as the Gaffer of Old Trafford. Summer is long gone and the cold winds of winter of rising. Along with this comes the customary firing of underperforming managers. For years, this period has been the time when clubs decided it is time to move on from the man with the reigns. The weeks between November and January represent the time when the highest percentage of managers are relieved from their duty (not including the month of May when most managers are sacked). All it takes is one domino to fall before the rest fall. This season, the first domino could, in fact, be Mourinho. The incredible second-half comeback against Newcastle may have given Jose some breathing room after much speculation that he would be fired regardless of that fixture’s results. It brought back memories of Fergie time though it has given him a short leash. The month is by far the hardest of United’s season. It will be the deciding factor their season as well as Jose’s career as one of Europe’s elite managers.
The Manchester Derby is at the Etihad Stadium on the 11th of November. In-between today’s fixture against an unbeaten Chelsea and Manchester City comes back-to-back Champions League games against Juventus. There is also a tricky home fixture against the Toffees and an away game at Bournemouth who are currently ahead of the Red Devils at 6th place. The tone for this stretch will be set against Jose’s former employers. Chelsea was once a club where Jose was said to be at his happiest. On the flip side, this was the same team where his patented third season syndrome was best exemplified. This is more than just a return Stamford Bridge. United and Mourinho are at a crossroads. Will the Band-Aid finally be ripped off and this represents the end of Jose’s career of managing the elite club teams? Or is this a fixture where Manchester United can dig deep and show signs of a resurgence of a time long gone. This is a numbers game. Manchester United would be in a worse position at the same stage than under David Moyes should Chelsea win. That would jettison United into the bottom half of the table and miles away from the top 4. Should things not go according to plan, this would very well be Jose’s most important and last of his United tenure.
Mourinho is not as miserable or demoralizing as he sometimes appears to be in front of the camera. He does feel that the club could and should be playing better – as does everyone who knows anything about football. That being said, the locker-room does feel that he battles too often with them. He throws his players under the bus at the drop of a hat. Nobody is denying that things have not gotten better since he took the job two years ago. He wants people to toe the line and be 100% on his side. He does this because he has the impression of this all or nothing philosophy as he feels he can replicate the glory that Sir Alex Ferguson brought to Old Trafford. This works when the trophies are rolling in. But they are a Hail Mary for a side that currently find themselves in the doldrums. This will work when the entire squad is united as none and not divided into factions. While the egos of the players have played their part, the antics of the manager had done more to create rifts than unite them. Mourinho is a relic of the past. The power dynamics of the locker-room have shifted from coaches to the players. If push comes to shove, moving on from a manager is a lot easier than rebuilding a whole squad.
More than his current players, former greats of the game seem to be a larger thorn in his side. While the current players do not (at least publicly) do not want him sacked, the rhetoric coming from the likes of Paul Scholes suggests otherwise. The United legend has not called for Jose’s head. That being said, he has overtly doubted Mourinho’s ability to salvage the situation. This is a sentiment that is shared by fans as well. When United were undergoing a rebuild in the late 80’s, it took Ferguson three seasons before he could turn the club from bad to good. Finishing second place last season was a decent job given that this was the first time United finished in the top three for the first time since the Fergie era. It was diminished by City’s recording shattering title run and their shock Round of 16 Champions League exit. To finish lower than second and possibly not even make the knockout round of the Champions League will be seen as an abysmal season by the United faithful.
Unlike some of the other elite clubs in Europe, United do not want to be seen as a club that burns through managers. It costs the club and the Glazers millions. Louis van Gaal and David Moyes were not given the pink slip because of a few bad results. Both of them were shown the door after they were unable to make to qualify for the Champions League. That and Ed Woodward felt that both managers had lost the locker-room.
United were clearly outplayed by Brighton, Derby, Wolverhampton, and West Ham. Ten minutes into their fixture against Newcastle, it looked as though Mourinho would be fired at halftime. But the came a memorable comeback that has saved Jose for now. While spirit has been lacking since the Portuguese manager took the reins, there is no denying that a squad this talented should be performing better. Less than six months ago, Manchester United made a similar second-half comeback that delayed the inevitable title-winning party that City would have. United were inconsistent during that game and have been so on a week-to-week basis. Numbers do not lie, nor does the league table. Eight games into the season, all only one of the big six is outside the top tier.
The announcement of Luke Shaw’s contract extension is a positive sign for both player and club. No player in the past two years has been more ostracized by Mourinho than Shaw. Over the summer, it looked as though his Manchester United tenure was all but over. Now, Shaw might be the first outfield player on the game sheet. After the international break, Jose and Co. return to the spotlight. A positive result against Chelsea will start to ensure that tensions do not reach a new high.