Man United's U.S. tour: Inside story of Jose Mourinho's frustrating summer
MIAMI -- On the last of Manchester United's 17 nights in the United States, there was at last a shred of positivity.
A 2-1 win over European champions Real Madrid in Miami's Hard Rock Stadium added a bit of shine to a tour that has, for the most part, been played out under a cloud.
It started badly and, over the course of more than two weeks, gradually got worse.
First there was Alexis Sanchez, left at home while the rest of the squad flew to Los Angeles because of a visa issue. It was particularly unfortunate the news broke just hours after United's official website had published an article about how the Chile star would be ready to rediscover his best form after a first summer off since 2013 and a full preseason.
That was out of Mourinho's control.
What he could control, though, was the tone he set from the minute he got in front of the cameras.
His first news conference of the summer started with handshakes for the 10 English journalists who had followed the team across the Atlantic. It may seem like a small gesture, but it hasn't always happened, and it felt to those in attendance that it might be a sign of the United manager's improving mood.
Then he started talking.
Tough. Worried. Bad. Really bad. Just some of the words Mourinho used to describe a trip that had not even really begun.
Then it was on to Paul Pogba. The question was whether Mourinho was looking forward to welcoming back a player who should be full of confidence after winning the World Cup. But instead of saying yes and congratulating his man, he suggested the midfielder should think long and hard about what had made him successful in Russia.
He went further in an interview with ESPN FC a few days later, telling Pogba his performances for France had improved because he had been fully focused on football. The message was clear: No nightclubs, no entourage and no distractions equalled better football.
The uncertainty surrounding Anthony Martial's future caused another problem.
The France international has let it be known that he wants to leave Old Trafford this summer. Sources have told ESPN FC that Mourinho is willing to let him go, insisting he does not want players in his dressing room who do not want to be there.
Ed Woodward, meanwhile, is under no pressure to sell a 22-year-old with two years left on his contract who could go on to become one of the best players in the world.
Sources have told ESPN FC that the differing stances has caused friction between the pair, as has their approach to transfers.
Mourinho wants two more players before the deadline -- a centre-back and a right winger -- but Woodward is working in a difficult summer complicated by the World Cup and a shorter window.
As rumours of growing tensions increased, a meeting between Woodward and the Manchester-based journalists on tour, scheduled for Miami the night before the Real Madrid game, was cancelled.
The traditional sit-down summer interview with the United manager also never happened -- only the third time in more than 20 years it has not gone ahead.
Woodward's official reason was his busy schedule. Mourinho claimed his decision was in response to a perceived lack of support from the press.
The official line from the communications department was that everything was fine -- that Mourinho was happy and smiling on the training pitch and around the team hotel. But that felt like a ruse.
Mourinho's unhappiness, at least in public, peaked in Ann Arbor.
After the heavy 4-1 defeat to Liverpool in Michigan, he hit out at newly appointed club captain Antonio Valencia by suggesting the calf injury that forced the Ecuadorian out of the tour had been caused because he had returned from his break out of shape. "Too much holiday," was the way it was worded.
Then, in an interview with in-house television channel MUTV at the Big House, he questioned why Martial had not returned to the United States following the birth of his son.
It was unprompted and caused enough concern among United staff members that they wanted to check what was said before it was given the green light to be aired. In the end, a communication mix-up between the team in Michigan and the one in Manchester meant it went out straightaway.
In other postmatch comments, he said he did not know why American fans would pay to watch his depleted squad and said Eric Bailly was "not a leader."
The were plenty of other odd moments, too, like letting Chris Smalling stride up to take the decisive penalty in the shootout against AC Milan in Los Angeles before calling him back. Goalkeeper Joel Pereira stepped up instead and missed.
At the same time, Mourinho's injury list was growing by the day. Nemanja Matic was sent home after having surgery in Philadelphia for a hernia problem. Sources have told ESPN FC that the Serbian tried to play through the pain -- he trained once in L.A. -- until the medical staff accepted the problem would not get better on its own.
At Barry University in Florida, a day before the clash with Real Madrid, only five senior players -- Juan Mata, Fred, Luke Shaw, Matteo Darmian and Sanchez -- were able to train.
Darmian, who publicly admitted during a mixed zone interview that he wants to leave, had to start the final three games. Mourinho is willing to let him go, probably back to Italy, but wants reinforcements first, and that is controlled by Woodward.
There was an awkward moment after the game against Real Madrid when United's executive vice-chairman was caught on video chasing Mourinho down the tunnel, shouting: "Jose, Jose." The embrace and brief conversation didn't look like two people on the same page, at least from the outside.
Ed Woodward ran after Jose Mourinho for an urgent chat in the mixed zone last night.— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) August 1, 2018
What could they be talking about? 🤔 pic.twitter.com/RoHCmvKqSX
Sources have told ESPN FC that Mourinho has the board's full backing, but there have been no guarantees Woodward will splash out in the final days of the window.
Mourinho at least tried to change his tone in Miami. After the victory over Real Madrid, there was praise for the youngsters who had been part of the squad and for tournament organisers Relevent Sports for providing "perfect" facilities.
But asked whether he still thought his team was "in trouble" -- words he used earlier in the trip -- he insisted "nothing has changed."
There was still room for the odd dig -- first at the under-23 players who were relegated last season and the World Cup players who have not followed the example of Romelu Lukaku, Marcus Rashford and Phil Jones and agreed to cut short their holidays to "help the team."
In an interview on the final leg of the tour, Ander Herrera described his fifth summer at the club as "the most strange." It felt like a fair summation.
There have been positives -- the form of Sanchez and Andreas Pereira, to name two. But we won't know whether Mourinho has been right all along until Leicester turn up at Old Trafford a week on Friday.
There are some supporters who say the complaints and the criticisms have all been a front to get what he wants from the club, from Woodward and from his players. Others will tell you it's the lead-in to the third-season meltdown many have been predicting from the start.
There is no doubt that it has been a difficult summer. The question now is whether it will be an equally difficult season.