“Its all in the head” – Time to stand up and deliver or get out!

Jose Mourinho took over the control of Manchester United amidst a huge fanfare. A large percentage of United supporters were rooting for the appointment of the “Special one” after a regressive last season. Their wishes were granted and the former Chelsea manager was appointed as the manager at the Theater of Dreams. From there on it was all hunky dory for the Red supporters and the transfer season did very little to curb their enthusiasm. Some fantastic business in the market, which is very aptly known as the “Silly season”, saw incoming of some of the brightest young talent and a talisman called Zlatan Ibrahimovic. The pre-season was underwhelming but the start to the league and season was as bright as ever. Winning the Community Shield followed up with three successive Premier League wins, all looked like the bright sunshine after a dark, new moon night.

Things, however, took a turn for worse following the loss against Manchester City, with three losses in a row. They did ok to bounce back from that but then lost to Chelsea with a crushing scoreline of 4-0 only to overcome City in the EFL Cup couple of days later. Things have been extremely inconsistent for this United side over the past three months and there are two main school of thoughts right now. First; Mourinho is not up for the job (which seems rubbish), other; the players are not good enough. But when one has a look at the past 3-4 years, things seem different from what meets the eye.

It cannot be the case that, players who are well scouted and selected by managers, as knowledgable as Louis van Gaal and Mourinho, are not good enough, footballing ability wise, for United as a club. So why a lot of them are so mediocre when it comes to their performances on the pitch. Van Gaal’s first season saw the rise and quick fall of Angel Di Maria. The reason for his poor performances were made out to be his bad attitude and inability to handle pressure. A player of Di Maria’s class “failed” at United. Is this the reason why many others are failing too?

Footballing technique and ability can only take you to a certain level but when it comes to playing for clubs like United, there are a lot more things that needs to be looked at. United is a giant of a football club and every move made by the club and its players is heavily scrutinized and criticized if it fits media’s agenda. Players, hence, needs to be much better equipped to deal with this amount of microscopic, almost stalker level, attention. With such high attention levels, if the team doesn’t perform well on pitch there is bound to be a lot of criticism and finger-pointing. The players should know this when they sign for a team of this stature.

However, it seems that is not the case. A lot of the players who sign for the club do not want to deal with these things that come along with the package. Now, no one knows what happens behind the scenes but the recent remarks from Mourinho does make one wonder if mental fragility is indeed the factor making some players look absolutely mediocre. Henrikh Mkhitaryan, for instance, was prolific in making and scoring goals last season but he has been a distant shadow of himself. Luke Shaw and Chris Smalling, who seem to be the main focus of Mourinho’s scathing statements last night, have been average at best this season. Is it the fear of failing or handling the criticism that follows, affecting their performances? If that is the case, am sorry but they have no business playing for a club as big as United.

Mourinho seems to be hinting at the fact that some of the players at his disposal do not have the attitude that his United players should have.

“There is a difference between the brave that will be there at any cost and the ones that a little pain can make a difference.

For the team you have to do anything – that’s my way of saying.

It’s not just the players but it’s the people that surround the players. It will take time to change [the mentality] but with the help of players like Phil Jones, Michael Carrick and Wayne Rooney, it will be a possible mission.”

Smalling and Shaw, both made themselves unavailable for the game citing the reason of not being 100% ready, whatever that means. If it is not an injury, the first choice players have to be up for the game, there cannot be any reason why you shouldn’t. Same seems to be the case with Mkhitaryan. He was supposed to be United’s creative leader on the pitch but since the City game, where he miserably misfired, he has not been anywhere near to what was expected. Mourinho, earlier said, he was fit but not match fit.

“Some players find it very easy whereas others need more time. They need time to feel the intensity, the aggression, the game without the ball and the competitiveness.

“The realities are often different, particularly in terms of the competitiveness. It doesn’t matter who you are against, you have to play at the highest level otherwise you will not be able to do it. Micki needs time to become the top player he knows he can be.”

This basically means that in spite of being 100% fit, Mkhitaryan could not take a part in the playing XI because he could not show his competitiveness and aggression during the training. It is hardly Mourinho’s fault that he expects a certain amount of dedication from his players. But this is something that the players should already know when they come to Old Trafford. Giving 100% every time they are out on the field is the bare minimum that the millions of loyal fans of this club expects and deserves. It doesn’t matter what game they are playing, a league game, a Europa League game or an EFL League cup game. The players represent the club and trudging up and down the pitch for 90 minutes doesn’t count as “giving your all”.

There is a reason why Van Gaal and even Mourinho now, every now and then go back to Ashley Young. Yes, there is no doubt, he is one of the least talented player in the squad but work rate wise and attitude wise, he must be right up there. Why else would both these managers go for him in the squad when there are various better options, skill set wise. A lot of fans call for the manager’s head when they see decision like these and I understand where they come from. But what they need to realize is the fact that, we, the fans, only see 10% of what actually goes at the club. Manager is the best person to judge who has better chance of influencing the game and if he feels that Young, then trust him on it.

Hopefully the message that Mourinho gave in public last night was already been given in private to the players. Whoever these players are, need to have a look at themselves in the mirror and see if they can come up to the level that the manager expects them to be. If they can, good, time to act upon it, if not, even better, January is coming!

Written by Chinmay Padhye


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