Manchester United crisis: Jose Mourinho, Ed Woodward, Glazers, players among culprits
The 2018-19 Premier League season is just two weeks old, but Manchester United already appear to be on the brink of crisis under Jose Mourinho.
Sunday's 3-2 defeat at Brighton, following the unconvincing 2-1 opening-day victory against Leicester at Old Trafford, exposed the problems facing the club as they attempt to mount a title challenge.
United are in disarray, but who is to blame and how have they got themselves into this mess?
The reality is that cracks are appearing in every corner at Old Trafford and nobody can escape scrutiny.
The buck always stops with the manager, and if Mourinho cannot steer United back on course, he will pay with his job.
But it seems an awfully long time since he was the "special one" -- the charismatic, game-changing coach who moulded teams into winners at Porto, Chelsea and Inter Milan.
The qualities that made Mourinho stand out at his first three big jobs -- tactical nous, supreme confidence and the ability to get his players fighting as one, under his leadership -- appear to have deserted him at United.
He now cuts a sour, surly figure, his tactics look obsolete in comparison to Pep Guardiola, Jurgen Klopp and a host of other attack-minded coaches, and his heavy-handed man-management has done little to encourage a sense of happiness and unity within the United dressing room.
Mourinho has also gone public with his frustrations about United's recruitment this summer, perhaps overlooking the fact that he has now had five transfer windows as manager to reshape his squad.
He is displaying the signs of tension and displeasure that preceded his exits from Chelsea and Real Madrid, so the future does not look pretty for Mourinho and United right now.
The summer exit of his longtime assistant, Rui Faria, has left Mourinho without his trusted right-hand man and we have yet to see how significant that may be.
Eight members of the team that finished Sunday's game at Brighton played in the quarterfinals or beyond at the World Cup, so there is no doubt that United possess quality players capable of performing at a high standard.
But right now, they are consistently under-performing in a United shirt, and the lack of fight and determination in the second half at the Amex Stadium was perhaps the most worrying aspect of the defeat.
Substitutes Jesse Lingard and Marcus Rashford -- both home-grown players -- showed some of that fight and passion, but not enough of their teammates did.
While rivals Manchester City, Liverpool and Tottenham play like teams and a collective unit, United resemble a group of individuals.
Paul Pogba does not seem to know his role in the team, none of the club's five centre-backs -- Mourinho signed Sunday's pairing of Victor Lindelof and Eric Bailly -- look good enough for a team chasing a top-four finish and David De Gea's form in goal has deteriorated in recent months.
There is a lack of character and an absence of leaders in Mourinho's team. Too many of the players are happy to wait for others to take the initiative, which is perhaps an indictment of Mourinho in that he has made his players too frightened to take a risk and make a mistake.
Individually, United have quality, but as a team they are producing less than the sum of their parts.
It has become fashionable to dismiss Mourinho as a manager who sends his team out to "park the bus" and frustrate the opposition, but the evidence is difficult to argue against.
Last season's dismal 0-0 draw at Liverpool halted United's momentum early in the campaign, while the 0-0 Champions League stalemate against Sevilla was a night when Mourinho's team displayed little ambition and they paid for it heavily by losing the second leg and being eliminated.
During his first spell at Chelsea, Mourinho had a similar focus on defensive solidity, but that team of Arjen Robben, Didier Drogba, Frank Lampard and Joe Cole would also blow opponents away with its attacking power.
Mourinho has been unable, or unwilling, to repeat that formula at United. His tactical approach, the safety-first mentality, looks outdated in a modern game that sees fortune favour the bold, both in the Premier League and Europe.
United lack flair and fluidity and the new contract handed to Marouane Fellaini this summer suggests there will not be a tactical evolution any time soon under Mourinho at Old Trafford.
Would City, Liverpool, Real Madrid or Barcelona entertain a player like Fellaini in their squad or would they attempt to win a game by beating their opponents with pace, movement or invention?
The answer is clear. United, however, are painfully predictable to watch and that is because the whole world knows how Mourinho's team play and how they can be stopped.
This is the thorny issue at the heart of Mourinho's discontent -- he simply believes that the club have failed to deliver his key targets.
A centre-back and a wide player were regarded as crucial summer additions by Mourinho, but United's hierarchy, led by executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward, were not prepared to pay what they regarded as excessive fees for Toby Alderweireld, Harry Maguire or Yerry Mina.
So who makes the final decision? The manager or the board?
United's scouting department submit a list of options for each position to Mourinho and the manager is then left to identify his favoured options, but there is clearly a breakdown somewhere in the process as United's recruitment has been scattergun, with little sign of a clear strategy.
But having sanctioned Mourinho's signing of two centre-halves in Eric Bailly and Victor Lindelof since 2016, Woodward may be justified in withholding money for another one if he believes that the manager has made enough mistakes in that department.
If that is the case, it does not bode well for Mourinho or United.
The lack of a director of football is a problem and is perhaps a reason why the club now has a squad built by four different managers, plugging any gaps that appear in the here and now rather than one assembled with an eye on the next five years.
Woodward, the Glazers and the strategy
What is Manchester United's long-term strategy? It is a question that only the Glazer family, the club's owners, and executive vice-chairman Woodward can answer.
Woodward, whose position under the Glazers is rock solid, has been in charge of the club for more than five years, so he has had ample time to make the changes he believed were crucial when he replaced David Gill following Sir Alex Ferguson's retirement as manager in May 2013.
But United are still in a state of flux, looking no nearer to reclaiming their position at the top of the game that they held when Woodward became the top man.
They have spent huge sums on Paul Pogba and Romelu Lukaku, and were also prepared to beat Manchester City to Alexis Sanchez, but where are the smart, astute signings? Where is the sense of vision or strategy?
Either by design or coincidence, the Glazers have appointed three safety-first, cautious managers in David Moyes, Louis van Gaal and Mourinho since Ferguson's departure -- appointments that have gone against United's traditions of attacking, bold, exciting football.
Jurgen Klopp was a target in both 2013 and 2014, but they ended up with Moyes and Van Gaal instead, which suggests that the Glazers had absolutely no strategy because Klopp's style of play is the polar opposite of that of Moyes and Van Gaal.
City hired Pep Guardiola because of his approach to the game and his trophy-winning CV. Liverpool went for Klopp because they wanted charisma and attacking football.
We still don't know what Woodward and the Glazers want, so it is anyone's guess as to who they might turn to if, or when, Mourinho goes.
What happens next?
United have two tough games before the international break, with Spurs at Old Trafford next Monday followed by a trip to Burnley on Sept. 2.
A failure to win either of those games will only deepen the sense of crisis and raise questions over Mourinho's future.
Supporter discontent is beginning to boil over, but if Mourinho goes, are there any credible options to help United turn the tide?
Zinedine Zidane is available after walking out on Real Madrid last season, but he would not be inheriting a squad with the talent of Sergio Ramos, Cristiano Ronaldo and Luka Modric at Old Trafford, so would he really be the right man?
Mourinho still has time to turn the situation around, but will either he or United be prepared to wait for that to happen?