Jose Mourinho, the Manchester United manager, has been ranting about the ‘insufficient’ funds he has at his disposal to turn the club into a truly world class, all conquering machine. He argues, rightly so, that the noisy neighbors have been buying full backs at the price of strikers. He is right. However, in hindsight, Pep Guardiola has spent only €75 more than Manchester United have (although the reason is that they have been able to recoup handsome amounts on the players that they have sold)
Yet, City seems to fly away from an airplane while others, including United seem to scramble through railroad towards what seems like an already decided title.
What changed? There was a belief that this might be the season when Mourinho gave his first press conference. There was genuine belief among the supporters, the Carrington was buzzing, and even club officials felt that this might be their season. Partly because of the magic, that Jose Mourinho seems to do with his teams in his second season, and partly, the United squad actually looked like a unit that could go all the way.
SO why Manchester City does seem to be flying away with the title with their latest fifteen points lead?
Let us analyze why, by the looks of it, come May, the victory parade of the champions will adorn blue colors and not the red of Manchester.
In the recent Manchester Derby, which is slowly brimming towards being a ‘classico’ in itself, Pep Guardiola had Bernardo Silva and Ilkay Gundogan on the bench, Jose Mourinho had Scott Mctominay and Juan Mata. City had Kevin De Bruyne playing as the attacking midfielder, United had Jesse Lingard. Zlatan Ibrahimovic, with his twenty-eight goals last season, is good but the blue side of Manchester had Sergio Aguero on the bench, an unused substitute, and he is certainly among the top two strikers in England.
THE WIDE GAP:
The Gulf between Manchester City and Manchester United is huge; there are arguments that Guardiola inherited a more settled unit whereas Mourinho had to clean the mess of David Moyes’ and Louis Van Gaal’s tenure and their inadequate styles. Although the arguments are true to an extent, Guardiola has managed to implement his blue print in a more successful manner.
DIFFERENT AS CHALK AND CHEESE:
Txiki Begiristain, the director of football has been doing splendid work in the shadows with a truly excellent youth set-up and sensible even if extravagant recruitments. Pep Guardiola has instilled a mindset that you do not need to out-muscle and tire out your opponents, you can score goals through their legs and yet they will applaud in awe!
The blue print of a classic Jose Mourinho team is simple. Two tall, burly central defenders, with every player, despite of how gifted they are offensively, need to track back, with a devastating counter attack and lightning fast wingers, He had Arjen Robben in his first spell with Chelsea and with Real Madrid, where his team garnered hundred points in a season, had Angel Di Maria. When teams open up against United, they still are a frightening force as it was evident in the opening minutes against Arsenal; the problem arises when teams sit back as they generally do against top sides.
The glaring predicament is, Mourinho has not changed where his colleagues like Klopp, Nagelsmann in Germany and chiefly, Guardiola, have changed how football is percieved. It was Louis Van Gaal who revolutionized football with his Champions league winning Ajax team, but it was his unwillingness to adapt that led to his downfall. Mourinho needs to understand that the target-man approach or placing burly and tall players in the penalty box during the set pieces won’t win titles, especially when winds of fleeting football are blowing in his own city.
United doesn’t have a bad football set-up either, with potentially world class players like Marcus Rashford are still being churned out but this is still not the class of 92. The arrival of Louis Van Gaal did modernize the structures and functions to a certain degree and it was his off-field work that had impressed the powers that be. Yet, the foundations are not as strong as they once were; we do not see academy products turning into world class professionals on a regular basis. The cream of the crop are choosing Manchester City, with parents of young players being assured of a secure future even if their child do not make it to the top level with a world class center in place where even Children of former Manchester United heroes like Robin Van Persie were admitted.
DIRECTOR OF FOOTBALL:
The Glazers, inspite of how much they adore Ed Woodward, need to understand that the club of the magnitude of Manchester United does need a director of football. Woodward might be indispensable for his commercial sense of understanding, but a director of football will bring a sense of being proactive instead of reacting to situations.Manchester United have hired Javier Ribalta, the wonder man of free transfers for Juventus and that for now, is at least the right step towards overhauling the off field world at Old Trafford. The difference here is that Begiristain and CEO Ferran Soriano are already planning ahead. Their drive and commitment to convince Guardiola to leave the Bavarian Giants and join the second best team in Manchester, let alone England, is exemplary.
Manchester City have a clear cut focus and are quick and discreet with their recruitments, They signed Gabriel Jesus when he still was unproven but was considered a gifted wonder from Palmeiras, in hindsight, for a paltry sum of £27 million. They poached Leroy Sane and Kevin De Bruyne when they were ready to explode, they might not have a hundred percent hiring record but more often than not, they have succeeded and that is down to qualified and experienced backroom team along with the manager. Manchester United only have Anthony Martial to show for recruiting a potential star, and that too, when Thomas Muller rejected them. United did identified Perisic as a vital cog but failed due to difference of few millions, this indicates lack of clarity and confidence on part of the hierarchy, if he was seen as a necessity for the unit, he should have been signed.
ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM:
Another problem for Manchester United is Mourinho often falls out with players or even whole dressing rooms! He unquestionably is very demanding of his players, staff but these modern players are not tough as John Terry or Diego Milito, their talent, and confidence needs to be caressed and nurtured instead of giving a dressing down in public.
Henrikh Mkhitaryan is the latest name on the list that had a falling out with Mourinho, and the list will only get longer.
If Mkhitarayan leaves in January or even summer, after just one season, his story might turn out a la Salah or De Bruyne, a player of his talent needs to be integrated and carefully managed to get the best out of him. It does not mean that top managers do not have a firm hand on their players, stories of how Pep Guardiola controlled his mega-stars at Barcelona are legendary, but players need to be allowed to express themselves according to their strengths.
STEPPING INTO THE FUTURE:
Manchester City is unbeatable this season and there is a growing belief that this team just might match “the Invincibles” of Arsenal. Jose Mourinho is a proven winner, and if there is anyone who can stop Guardiola’s rolling juggernaut, it is him.
The fight for the title for Mourinho is all but lost unless City find exceptional and monumental ways to shoot themselves in their foot, ergo Manchester United need a winger in January to embellish their prospects in Champions League.
There have been moments where Manchester United have been devastating with Paul Pogba marshaling from the centre of the park but there have been moments where they have been too casual with their approach, Mourinho needs to instill the hunger, to maintain the consistency through spirit crushing fixtures and schedules
Standards have already been set in England, a pedestal is already above Mourinho, and his arch nemesis stands on it,
and Mourinho knows, that no one remembers the runner-ups!