Jose Mourinho wasn’t happy with his Manchester United squad in the summer of 2018 and his relationship with Ed Woodward grew increasingly strained. Mourinho had warned United were in danger of further falling behind their Premier League rivals.
United traveled to the United States for their pre-season tour and the tension was palpable for the media that had traveled across the Atlantic to report on the fixtures. Mourinho was far from content with life at United and he wanted that to be known. United signed Fred, Diogo Dalot and Lee Grant that summer and Mourinho’s defensive wishlist had been disregarded by Woodward.
With just under three weeks remaining before the window was closed, Mourinho admitted to reporters: “Of course I’m not happy,” when asked if he was pleased with the strength of his squad. United didn’t sign another player for the remainder of the window and Mourinho knew what that meant for his time at Old Trafford. That’s why I have pushed so hard for new defensive signings.
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Mourinho’s destiny had been sealed by Woodward’s stubbornness and he was sacked just 131 days after the summer transfer window closed. He remains the last manager to win a trophy at United four years later and not listening to Mourinho’s demands that summer – to strengthen United’s defense – must be high in Woodward’s catalog of regrets during his time as executive vice-chairman.
That’s quite the statement considering the wide range of calamitous decisions that Woodward committed during his 16-years spent at the club. Woodward left that position in February this year and lessons can still be learned from his relationship with Mourinho.
Woodward didn’t value Mourinho’s advice as he should have. Mourinho was outspoken during his stint in Manchester and time actually looks kindly on many of the former United boss’ warnings and predictions, including from a press conference in December 2017, a year before he was sacked. Mourinho had long been wary of falling behind Manchester City and Liverpool.
“I won’t take away from what Manchester City are doing, but it’s difficult to compete with them,” Mourinho admitted. “Sometimes you don’t have that financial… I don’t say potential because I think we have it – but not that profile of club where there are no limits. There is only one way to compete, which is patience and time.”
Mourinho warned that ‘patience and time’ were required at United but the club’s decision-makers hardly had those qualities when relieving him of his duties after a two-year period in charge. United have chased short-term success since and it’s backfired.
United didn’t heed that advice from Mourinho, nor did they listen to the transfer targets he wanted in that fateful summer. The club’s direction over the last four years might have been different if they had, however, it’s never too late to learn from mistakes.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s tenure will be remembered as deceptive progress and United have found themselves hopelessly meandering again after his departure. Ralf Rangnick has been unable to inspire improvement from the squad that Solskjaer assembled and tactically neglected, and there’s isn’t much joy or hope found around the club as the season reaches the business end.
After drawing to Leicester at the weekend, United are on track to hear the Europa League music at Old Trafford next term. United have interviewed Erik ten Hag to become Rangnick’s permanent successor and they remain keen admirers of Mauricio Pochettino, but whoever does land the position in the coming months, they’ll be taking on the biggest challenge of their managerial careers.
United are now officially a club in transition but that can work to their advantage. United’s decisions have been clouded by wrestling with the club’s identity in recent seasons. Their short-term outlook has been counterproductive in regards to winning trophies and it’s time for an overdue change in approach. The next manager needs ‘patience and time’ to rebuild something special.
United need a radical culture reset and their playing squad needs to be cleared out. The club needs a fresh start and this summer is that exciting opportunity. United fans are more than open to a transitional period to lay the foundations for long-term success.
It’s going to be impossible to eventually compete with Man City and Liverpool without ‘patience and time’. Mourinho, probably sitting with his feet up in his manager’s office in Rome, was right once again.
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