Miserable Jose Mourinho must quit complaining, start improving Manchester United
If ever you needed a reminder that the World Cup was over and club football was back on the agenda, Jose Mourinho's typically despondent news conference at UCLA on Wednesday provided it. What a wonderful month it was away from all this gloom but here we are again, gearing up for another season of hand-wringing from football's most incomprehensibly miserable man.
In keeping with his relentlessly sullen demeanour that has defined his time at Manchester United, Mourinho was at his wallowing best, complaining about the squad he has at his disposal, making veiled comments about players and groaning that the Premier League is against him.
Essentially, it smacked of a man who doesn't trust his players and is getting the excuses in early for another season of failure before a ball is kicked. Watching Mourinho brought back memories of David Moyes, who once suggested nefarious tactics were used by the Premier League to conspire against him at United. So there we have it, Mourinho: Moyesian in his outlook. Can there be a bigger criticism?
A manager's job is multi-faceted, and one crucial area is how you connect with the fans. After a month spent watching one of the greatest World Cups we've seen, the fans will be raring to go and dreaming of ending their Premier League championship drought, so is it any wonder many would feel a rain cloud after hearing the following:
"I'm worried because I'm not training and then I go to the Premier League without lots of players, but it is what it is and we have to try and make the best out of it with the players we have here," Mourinho said.
"I'm not worried about playing Liverpool here or Real Madrid or Milan, I'm not worried if we lose badly.
"The preseason is very bad, the positive thing of the preseason is only for the young boys that have a fantastic opportunity to train with us."
At one point he even said: "Everything is really bad."
With a large contingent of World Cup players needing time off, -- from Belgium's Romelu Lukaku and Marouane Fellaini, to England's Jesse Lingard and Marcus Rashford, and France's World Cup winner in Paul Pogba -- United will miss some key names. But then so will their rivals, with Tottenham needing to give Hugo Lloris an extended break and Manchester City's Kevin De Bruyne requiring time off too. Mourinho isn't a special case here.
On one hand you can sympathise with him: is this Manchester United squad good enough to make up 19 points on Manchester City following the non-event of last season's "title race"? Of course it isn't. But then it's either up to the money men to improve a squad that started to look stale five years ago, or for Mourinho to improve what he has at his disposal. You know, by coaching and nurturing them. Castigating and nihilism will only get you so far.
And so, with Ed Woodward in charge of buying the players Mourinho wants, it's difficult to think this broken record will change his tune now. This is the Mourinho that United are stuck with and with a hopelessly imbalanced squad that ended last season playing football that typified their manager's dour personality, United's rivals must be licking their lips.
It is shameful that a club of United's stature and spending power -- £350 million under Mourinho and counting -- could start the season with a back four that reads: Luke Shaw, Marcos Rojo, Chris Smalling, Antonio Valencia. Working from left to right, one has been targeted for criticism over the course of many months, one's defending mirrors his ability to make toast, one should be toast already, and the other is a workhorse who should have been put out to pasture years ago.
Fans of Eric Bailly may want to champion his cause, but the Ivorian ended the season out of the side -- for a nonsensical reason -- and was lumped in with Shaw and Andreas Pereira during the manager's news conference on Wednesday. Some company: a player whose intelligence has been mocked and another who went out on loan.
Mourinho knows his defence is a mess, but in lieu of Woodward competently negotiating a shortened transfer window the United manager will have to work with what he has got. Mourinho also has to get more out of an attack that scored the fewest out of last season's top four and that starts with re-energising Anthony Martial and somehow trying to make Alexis Sanchez look vaguely competent again.
His greatest challenge, though, will be Pogba. United's most talented player has been targeted unfairly since his return to Old Trafford by critics who seem to be more bothered about his haircuts and use of Instagram rather than what he offers the team. France's World Cup campaign showcased Pogba at his best: a force of nature with supreme technical gifts and the ability to do the dirty work in front of the defence as well as producing at the other end of the pitch.
France coach Didier Deschamps, a pragmatist at heart, got the best out of Pogba when the stakes were at their highest. If Mourinho, who shares similar views to how football should be played, can't get the Frenchman firing this season he probably never will. There's at least a blueprint to follow, but putting it into a consistent body of work has eluded Mourinho so far.
Given he has never lasted longer than three seasons at a club before, this is probably Mourinho's last chance to make this marriage of convenience work, or he'll face the same questions and criticism that have followed him after previous messy divorces.