Mourinho flops in Europe but sacking not the answer despite Sevilla shambles
Jose Mourinho spoke to his own players on Tuesday night and then went to the Sevilla dressing room. He didn't have to go far. Until they're rebuilt, Old Trafford's adjacent changing rooms are small by the most modern standards, the tiny corridor between them the place for previous flash points between players.
Word seeped out that Mourinho had congratulated Sevilla's players -- another deflection away from the poor performance of his team.As were the odd quotes about having sat in the same chair when he was manager of Porto and Real Madrid when he knocked United out of the competition. He offered more consolation to United fans when he was manager of Real Madrid and said that the best team had gone out of the competition after he'd knocked United out in 2013, but then it's easier to be magnanimous in victory and whatever happens, the story is usually about the Portuguese. United knew that when they signed him, the fans who wanted him knew that.
They also knew the type of football he would bring -- and the overwhelming majority of United fans wanted Mourinho to be manager. What were they expecting? A reincarnation of Brazil's great 1970 side? United have made a bed and the club have to lie in it.
The home players were floored by Tuesday's defeat and Mourinho told them that they won't want to feel like this again, but it wasn't an unfortunate loss. They had 188 minutes to impress over two legs and only started playing when they went a goal down.
United were hugely disappointing. The second leg was the biggest game of the season and they were well beaten by Spain's fifth best team, a team that have lost 11 out of 28 league games this season. The Reds didn't appear to have a plan A, let alone a plan B for when things didn't go right -- and they didn't go right from the start of the game in Spain.
It's a big blow, one that came just as everyone was feeling positive after three straight league wins against Chelsea, Palace and Liverpool. But that's the story of this season -- two steps forward, one step back. And a big step back after Tuesday. Yet Mourinho was being realistic when he said his side was short of the quality required to win the Champions League.
And European disappointments are nothing new, as Mourinho stated. Under Sir Alex Ferguson, United were consistent participants in the latter stages of the European Cup, but suffered some horrendous results along the way. Elimination to Torpedo Moscow, Galatasary and Rotor Volgograd, anyone? Or how about going out of the Champions League to Basel, the Europa League to Athletic Bilbao -- that after failing to get out of a group with Benfica, Lille and Villarreal? United have a dreadful record against Spanish sides, who continue to be the pre-eminent European force.
There's understandable concern among fans, though, a nervousness that was prevalent during Tuesday's game. Saturday saw Old Trafford's best atmosphere in years, Tuesday one of the worst. The fans were also culpable in the defeat to Sevilla.
There's concern about Mourinho, about United's post-Ferguson recruitment policy where great players become really average when they pull on the red shirt. Alexis Sanchez is a very good footballer but, a game against fourth-tier Yeovil aside, United fans have yet to see it. Paul Pogba continues to have his worst spell at the club since re-joining. That pair should have been match winners against Sevilla, not also-rans. Other players are far too inconsistent.
Yet Mourinho deservers support. I don't buy the line that the man who won the league with Chelsea as recently as 2015 is finished. He's improved United and he'll improve them some more.
The solution, for now, is not to be found by sacking him and bringing in another who spends hundreds of millions of pounds and talks about correcting the mistakes of his predecessor. United will be chasing their tail if they do that.
The United job is not an easy one for any one man. The pressure is relentless; you're being attacked every day. It's easy to find fault with Mourinho when you're not facing his pressures but while it didn't reflect well on him that only four of his eight United signings started against Sevilla, he has made obvious improvements.
United are second in the league and on target for easily the best league finish since Ferguson's glory days. Rubbish football? It's far better than under the previous boss. Fans who watch United every week can pick out plenty of very memorable games this season -- three in the last month alone.
And, unlike Ferguson for the majority of his time at Old Trafford, he's competing with the untold riches of Manchester City and Chelsea. Look how Arsenal, a great club who create their own wealth like United, have fared since Chelsea and City came into money.
Even Ferguson will concede in private how well Guardiola has got City playing and how his players love playing for him. But Mourinho's methods are also not unpopular with United's players like Louis van Gaal's were.
Look at how long Ferguson needed to get things right and the fundamentals haven't changed. United spent a fortune in the summer of 1989 and finished 13th the following season after playing atrocious football.
Spending heavily doesn't guarantee success either. Barcelona and Real Madrid have been football's pre-eminent forces this century, but Barca regularly shattered transfer records and didn't win the European Cup until 1992. Madrid, with all their great players, fell at the round of 16 for six straight seasons until Mourinho changed that in 2011.
Patience is lacking in modern football -- especially among many modern football fans -- but it's something United have traditionally done well, from nurturing young players like Jesse Lingard who would have likely been cast off elsewhere because they weren't big enough, to developing Old Trafford over 40 years.
Mourinho, who wants to understand the culture of the club and has played homegrown youngsters far more than anticipated, deserves patience and support. He has enough enemies already, people away from Old Trafford who are desperate to see him fail.
He should be properly judged after three full seasons. That's what he asked for and that's what he should get. There will be more set-backs, more players failing, more awful defeats. The football isn't the best ever but it's not the worst. They'll also be some great moments though it's hard to think positively after a stinking defeat to Sevilla.
Andy Mitten is a freelance writer and the founder and editor of United We Stand. Follow him on Twitter: @AndyMitten.