Jose Mourinho? Ed Woodward? Sir Alex Ferguson? Who’s to blame for Manchester United’s malaise?

I am really honoured and proud to be Manchester United manager. I would like to say a big thank you to the owners and to Mr Woodward for the recognition of my hard work and dedication’ Jose Mourinho, January 2018.

How quickly things change. In January, buoyed by the signing of Alexis Sanchez from Arsenal just three days earlier, Jose Mourinho agreed a new deal to stay at Manchester United and thanked his executive vice-chairman, Ed Woodward, for recognising his ‘hard work’.

Mourinho, Machiavellian as ever, capitalised while his stock was relatively high but the timing of the deal felt strange then and even more bizarre now. United were effectively out of the title race thanks to the consistency of neighbours Manchester City and Mourinho, despite a decent first season at the club, had only made small improvements in his second term.

One thing was clear; after finishing 19 points behind Manchester City at the end of the season, things had to change. Something had to change. A gap of that distance isn’t closed by small improvements, it requires a rather seismic one. Mourinho felt that change needed to come through recruitment. Woodward, though willing to release significant cash for the right purchase, essentially disagreed with the manager and vetoed Mourinho’s defensive targets.

The club are now searching for a technical director to bridge the gap between Mourinho and Woodward but following a 3-2 defeat to Brighton on Sunday many are questioning whether the Special One can survive a third season at Old Trafford.

With just two games gone in the season, United find themselves close to crisis. But who’s to blame for the club’s malaise?

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Jose Mourinho

Mourinho must take a considerable portion of the blame (Picture: Getty)

Dour, cheerless and downbeat, Mourinho ensured United entered this season in the worst mood possible with his grim demeanour throughout the club’s pre-season tour of the United States.

Mourinho insulted the club’s academy, told US supporters not to bother turning up, fined Anthony Martial for attending the birth of his child and suggested a title challenge was all but impossible without more signings.

Jose Mourinho’s signings at Manchester United

Eric Bailly £30m
Henrikh Mkhitaryan £27m
Zlatan Ibrahimovic free transfer
Paul Pogba £89m
Victor Lindelof £31m
Romelu Lukaku £75m
Nemanja Matic £40m
Alexis Sanchez swap deal 
Diogo Dalot £18m
Fred £52m

His mood cast a cloud over United’s preparations for the new season at a time when his vulnerable squad needed energising.

Mourinho’s mood stems from his belief that the club failed to back him in the transfer market. He wanted an experienced centre-back in the summer but Woodward saw little value in paying £70m for a 29-year-old Toby Alderweireld or £45m on an injury-prone Jerome Boateng.

Mourinho’s mood dampened United’s spirit on their US tour (Picture: Getty)

While his anger is somewhat understandable, such public shows of frustration do little to quash unrest at the club and inspires little confidence in a squad that is already plagued by a fragile mentality.

In any case, a lack of signings was not the reason that United managed just two shots on target in the second half of their defeat to Brighton. Sir Alex Ferguson’s best sides were not immune from poor first half displays but the manner in which United laboured in the second half on the south coast points to far bigger problems than purely the players at Mourinho’s disposal.

Anthony Martial, Romelu Lukaku, Juan Mata, Paul Pogba, Jesse Lingard and Marcus Rashford all featured against Brighton but United so often appear as if there is little to no attention paid to their offensive work on the training ground.

Manchester United vs Brighton

Possession: 67%
Shots: 9
Shots on target: 3
Goals: 2

The club are well within their rights to expect more from Mourinho given he’s been handed £370m to spend since joining the club two years ago. There is no distinguishable style of play, no consistency from one week to the next and the team show a worrying lack of hunger against weaker opposition.

Too often the Red Devils rely on a piece of magic from nowhere to unlock defences and the lack of cohesion in their attacking play hinders the team’s consistency.

Though Mourinho has stabilised the club, he must take a considerable portion of blame for allowing his third season at the club to descend into a mess just two games into the season and he’s almost solely to blame for the team’s bland style of play.

Ed Woodward

Woodward appointed Mourinho and he needs to back his own appointment (Picture: Getty)

Woodward provided a telling and worrying insight into the board’s priorities in May when he confessed results on the pitch do little damage to the club’s ability to make money.

Ed Woodward on the club’s ‘playing performance’, May 2018

Playing performance doesn’t really have a meaningful impact on what we can do on the commercial side of the business,’ Woodward told investors.

Perhaps it was that admission that convinced Woodward to overrule the manager in the transfer window.

There’s no doubt that David Gill’s resignation significantly compounded the pain of Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement but Woodward’s had sufficient time to recover from his panicked, inexperienced start to life as the club’s vice-chairman.

Ed Woodward sat seething in his chair after the Brighton defeat (Picture: SkySports)

His stint in his new role has been chronicled by haphazard negotiations in the transfer market, an inconsistent managerial policy and a worrying amount of leaks coming out of the club.

It’s five years since he jetted home from United’s tour of Australia to tend to ‘urgent’ transfer business. Woodward flew home to tie up a deal for Barcelona ace Cesc Fabregas but ended the deadline with just one signing – the deadline day capture of Marouane Fellaini.

It’s redundant to undermine the importance commercial prosperity plays in Woodward’s role, but too often it feels as though off the field results trump those on it.

Mourinho on handing Woodward ‘a list’ of transfer targets, August 2018

‘I would like to have two more players. I think I am not going to get two. I think that it’s possible I will have one. And that one, I gave a list to my club of five names a few months ago. And I wait to see if it’s possible to have one of these players.’

Woodward’s primary role should be aiding the club’s manager and by failing to back him this summer he undermined Mourinho.

There is logic in Woodward’s belief that the club should sign younger players but he was not appointed to make decisions on player personnel, Mourinho was. Woodward knew what he was signing up to when the club appointed Mourinho and refusing to back his own appointment looks even worse just six months after the Portuguese was handed a new deal.

The 46-year-old has overseen a kamikaze transfer policy since taking the reins in 2013 and has no right two years into Mourinho’s tenure at the club to shift the goalposts.

The club’s acceptance now that they need a technical director speaks volumes of Woodward’s inability to carry out transfer business but it at least recognises the vast sums of cash that has been squandered in the last five years.

Sir Alex Ferguson

Sir Alex Ferguson, bizarrely, has been criticised for his part in United’s troubles (Picture: Getty)

It’s testament to Ferguson’s genius that he’s been measured so harshly since his retirement.

The Scot left the club a title-winning squad, a thriving academy and in rude financial health. It’s scandalous to suggest he could have left the club in much better shape.

Ferguson’s investment in the latter years was mixed and he neglected the midfield, failing to sign a central midfielder in his last six years at the club.

Ferguson overlooked Mourinho as his successor (Picture: Getty)

United required significant investment upon his departure but they would have done so regardless of the strength of the squad. Any manager replacing Ferguson would have required it.

Ferguson’s unique control at Old Trafford meant the club needed ‘modernising’ when he retired and even David Moyes was said to be surprised at the club’s archaic scouting system.

But attempts to pin any blame at Ferguson’s door for the current problems are desperate and only reinforce the higher standards at which he’s measured by.

The players

Alexis Sanchez has scored just three times for United (Picture: Getty)

Quite simply, there’s only so much a manager can do.

United looked lost against Brighton and sleepwalked into a defeat that they can ill-afford as Manchester City and Liverpool maintain 100% starts.

Pogba has failed to justify his price tag since joining the club, while Alexis Sanchez has looked a shadow of the player that he was at Arsenal.

Eric Bailly was imperious against Leicester City but embarrassing against Brighton a week later and the less said about Victor Lindelof the better.

Pogba has failed to justify his price tag (Picture: Getty)

Mourinho has assembled a good squad at Old Trafford but too often the players play with fear and hesitation as they struggle with the burden of expectation.

If Mourinho’s to survive, he needs more from his squad and the results need to come fast.

MORE: Manchester United star Alexis Sanchez posts injury update ahead of Tottenham clash




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