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Has José Mourinho already got Third-Season Syndrome at Manchester United? - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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José Mourinho may have felt he had to give his Manchester United players a very public rollicking following Thursday night’s debacle at Fenerbahce. To get to this point so early in his tenure, though, shows the crisis that threatens to engulf United unless results and performances are turned around quickly.

In his 16th competitive fixture, Mourinho oversaw a 2-1 loss in a Europa League group game that was a quasi-disaster of disjointedness that featured his players losing the plot 69 seconds in when Moussa Sow opened the scoring.

Mourinho decided he had no option but to question the team’s commitment and effort: the base elements any professional footballer has to possess. It shows the slide Mourinho and his side are on. For any manager, the exposure of players – the men on whom their own success or failure depends – in the media is the nuclear option. Sir Alex Ferguson rarely did this during 27 years at the club.

Yet afterwards the Portuguese compared United’s effort to that of a “summer friendly”. These are strong words which may be deserved but was this really the cutest play given footballers’ fragile egos and his own high-maintenance style?

The problem Mourinho has is his track record of blowing up at clubs. Some may view his response at the Sukru Saracoglu Stadium as evidence he is entering his own particular third‑season syndrome two years early.

The term is shorthand for Mourinho’s inability to last longer than that at any club, though it is an approximation as he did go into a fourth season in his first Chelsea incumbency. The point, though, remains: Mourinho’s CV does not show a man who has brought stability in the previous seven tenures of a 16-year career. The concern for United and supporters is his mood music after only four months at the club. It is starting to strike the same note as last season’s doomed final months at Chelsea, at Real Madrid and towards the end of the first spell in west London.

It means any justified criticism of his squad is viewed via that prism. “Uh-oh, here he goes again,” seasoned Mourinho watchers must think when hearing the latest rant against his United charges.

His previous post ended last December when Chelsea sacked him for losing a dressing room filled with high‑end players. Cesc Fàbregas, Diego Costa and Eden Hazard are among those who are thought to have tired of Mourinho’s managerial antics. A dismal title defence and a string of defeats caused him to lambast the squad after losing to Leicester, saying they had “betrayed his work”. The net result: Roman Abramovich, the owner, chose his squad over Mourinho and the Portuguese left the club three days later.

His disquiet had shown itself as early as August last year when, after a 2-1 defeat to Crystal Palace at Stamford Bridge, he said: “I’m not happy, I cannot say I had 11 players performing at the same time. Two or three of them their individual performance was far from good. I blame myself for not changing one of them. I kept him in the game for 90 minutes.”

Sound familiar? This was Mourinho after the 2-1 derby defeat to Manchester City at Old Trafford on 10 September. “Even our central defenders [Eric Bailly and Daley Blind], who were top-class until today, lost easy balls. What I told them at half-time was: ‘For some of you, it looks like you are trying to do what I told you not to do.’ I made a couple of [selection] decisions because I thought the individual qualities of certain players would give me what I wanted. But I didn’t get it.”

The two he was referring to were Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Jesse Lingard, who started the match but were hauled off at half-time. In one post-game briefing – after just the fourth league outing under him – Mourinho managed to question directly four of his players. Luke Shaw was also hung out to dry in the next league match – September’s 3-1 defeat at Watford.

At Real, Mourinho had fractious relations with Cristiano Ronaldo, Iker Casillas, Sergio Ramos, Kaká and Pepe. His first Chelsea stint soured in similar fashion, with Claude Makelele claiming there were problems between Mourinho and John Terry, though both captain and the club strongly denied this.

At United, Shaw’s treatment in particular has not gone down well in the dressing room, while the manager’s attitude towards Bastian Schweinsteiger has also raised eyebrows. When he was appointed, Mourinho told the former Germany captain he should train with the youngsters. He may have had a good reason but to then reinstate Schweinsteiger to first-team sessions as he did this week sends a mixed message to his squad.

Bafflement was the main impression given off by the side that went down to Fenerbahce. On too many matchdays, United seem befuddled and comatose: not the norm for a Mourinho team.

That is until last year at Chelsea. The hope will be United are not at the start of a similar capitulation. Mourinho has stated he wishes to stay at Old Trafford until the end of his three-year deal, at least. Yet at the moment him seeing out that contract appears in the balance.

It can all change, of course. The solution, as always in football, is simple: start winning consistently and playing well. Do this and harmony returns. Then having to choose whether to bawl out players in front of the microphones is removed.