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English Premier League

Manchester United fans boo Jose Mourinho’s misfiring side but Ed Woodward will not sack third post-Alex Ferguson failure yet

  • Louis van Gaal and David Moyes were both let go later into the season
  • Sacking Portuguese boss would be admitting to another wrong appointment
PUBLISHED : Monday, 26 November, 2018, 5:10pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 27 November, 2018, 12:00am

Jose Mourinho moved through Old Trafford’s directors’ lounge towards Alex Ferguson after Manchester United’s dire 0-0 English Premier League draw against Crystal Palace on Saturday.

As he did so, Mourinho was called over by his boss Ed Woodward. Woodward, a key decision maker should Mourinho be dismissed, patted the United manager on the back in a reassuring manner. Mourinho then went to speak to the media, where he talked of his disappointment that his side had been unable to defeat 16th-placed Palace, who’d won only two of their 13 league games this season and scored only eight goals.

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Palace haven’t beaten United since December 1989, a result which shocked the confidence of United fans in Ferguson to the core. Most fans wanted the Scot dismissed and one held up a banner which read “Three Years of Excuses – Ta Ra Fergie”. There are some parallels with the current situation at United after the team’s worst start to the season since 1989. United are 14 points behind leaders Manchester City.

Woodward, who also oversaw the appointments of David Moyes and Louis van Gaal, needs the Portuguese to be a success. To oversee three consecutive failed managers would reflect badly on his watch, more so given the failure of so many of the players signed.

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Woodward is supporting Mourinho and will continue to do so. United sack managers when they fail to get the team into the Champions League, not in November. If the time comes, Woodward will speak with key members of the first team – as he did when considering the dismissal of Moyes and Van Gaal. The players will say what they said then – that there are clear problems and that they should share some of the responsibility. But it won’t be the players who’ll lose their jobs, at least not immediately.

United’s football contracts are heavily incentivised. Mourinho’s has a clause which makes him much cheaper to dismiss if his team don’t reach the top four, the minimum achievement at one of the three biggest clubs in the world. Not playing Champions League football hits United hard, for some of their own sponsors have clauses in their contracts should United not do so. United are currently seven points off a Champions League position.

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Mourinho firmly expects his team to move up the table from eighth. He thinks that the league table will look different by the end of next month. This is not as unrealistic as it might sound: five of United’s opponents from their next eight games are in the bottom seven clubs. But they have just failed to beat one of the other bottom clubs, Crystal Palace.

And it was a woeful performance – the latest from a United team who’ve failed to score at home in four of their nine games so far this season. Despite the plethora of attacking players, only six Premier League clubs have scored fewer goals than United. Romelu Lukaku, the club’s second most expensive player, hasn’t scored for 10 games. Paul Pogba, the most expensive, is more miss than hit.

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United appear to be going backwards. This time last year they sat second in the league and beat Arsenal away. Now, not only are arch rivals City miles ahead, but so are Liverpool. This is the perfect storm for United, but it wouldn’t be so bad if we weren’t seeing football on the Van Gaal scale of drudgery.

United under Mourinho have had some great moments, but far too many shocking ones. It doesn’t look like a United team. It barely looks like a team.

True, things have been worse at the club – much worse. United were even relegated in 1974, but Sir Alex Ferguson built an institution which was so successful that a third-place finish was considered failure. Now, that would be acceptable and if United miss out on a top four finish again, it will be the fourth time in six seasons since Ferguson stepped down.

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United can bridge the gap to fourth, the season still has two thirds to run, the team are well placed in the Champions League. Mourinho will be given time to do his job, but he’s lost the majority of fans now.

It’s one thing not being rated by always angry online fans, it’s harder to survive when the fans at matches who want you to turn it around have lost faith. There has been a gradual decline in support for Mourinho since the February Champions League elimination to Sevilla, but it was only two weeks ago that fans were singing his name. Fans change opinions quickly according to results, but the club would have to make a huge call to dismiss Mourinho.

Dismissing him now would cost £14 million (US$17.98 million), but what would other managers do in his place? Do exactly what the last three United managers have done and make numerous changes at huge expense with limited success? Or get more out of the players already at the club.

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Rashford looks happier with England, Lukaku with Belgium. Too many top players look average at United. At Chelsea and Arsenal, new coaches have come in and started well. But then Mourinho started well with three trophies in a decent first season.

And now? The best managers do not leave clubs mid-season. Tottenham will not let Mauricio Pochettino leave and United would rather not sack the man they thought was the closest thing to a guarantor of success in football. The good ship Manchester United continues to lurch, as it has since its greatest captain Ferguson departed.

Oh, for his thoughts as he waited to speak to Mourinho in the director’s lounge on Saturday night.

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