Paul Parker thinks Jose Mourinho needs to stop publicly criticising his young players and must mount a serious challenge for the Premier League title next season, in our exclusive interview with the former Manchester United defender.
How do you analyse Jose Mourinho’s first season in charge?
Although there’s well over a month to go, I think that in general, the football is better. There’s more purpose to United’s play and the team are creating more chances than they did under Louis van Gaal.
Although they are having more possession though, there’s not enough attempts at goal or goals from players in different positions.
It looks like there’s a mentality of ‘can’t lose’, and, because of this, there isn’t enough players on the field that are trying to get into the box and put themselves into a position to score. There’s a feeling that they’ve been programmed to do a job, rather than given the freedom to express themselves in the final third, and that’s frustrating.
I think it comes down to where United currently are under Mourinho. From an attacking point of view the play revolves around Paul Pogba and Zlatan Ibrahimovic. In reality, it should probably all go through Mata, but as we know he is now out with a groin injury. For me, he’s the one that is the most creative and in those one against one situations I always feel like he’s going to score or do something special.
Last Saturday against West Brom I’d have liked to have seen Henrikh Mkhitaryan step-up and hopefully he will start to reproduce his Borussia Dortmund form on a more consistent basis. In his defence, one problem I think he’s having is that he’s playing with the shackles on and without freedom. It doesn’t look like he’s allowed to go out and play the way he wants.
What do you make of Mourinho’s Luke Shaw comments?
In any industry, I don’t think you can go and speak about another employee like that. We want to give our kids as much advice as possible but if we are going to be critical, go and do it behind closed doors rather than in public.
I certainly don’t think you can do it to a young lad like Shaw. Everyone knows that he’s a talent because we saw it before his horrific injury.
What he needs is an arm around his shoulder and a bit of reassurance. At the moment he’s being judged by people outside the club who don’t know anything football. People have read what Mourinho’s said and judged him and I don’t think any human being should be criticised in that manner in the public domain.
Ultimately, we all want to say that criticism doesn’t bother us, but it does. I thought Mourinho might have learned something from his previous role but I don’t think he has.
You wonder what the other players think when they hear him saying such things during a press conference. Do they think his comments about Shaw are a little bit out of order as well? Are they wondering if it might be them on the receiving end next time? I wouldn’t want to walk into my local pub, football club, wherever, knowing that I’d been publicly humiliated by my boss.
It’s certainly not something I can remember any manager I played under doing. Nothing came out like that when I was at United under Sir Alex Ferguson. It’s completely the wrong thing to do.
READ MORE: Under-fire Shaw comes out fighting
What are United missing in order to make the next step and challenge for the title?
Freedom in their play. United always played freely. Mourinho can make a side difficult to beat, but great managers make them difficult to beat and capable of scoring goals at the other end as well.
No disrespect to the likes of Burnley, West Brom and some of the others but you’d expect United to score at least one goal against them and win the game. I don’t care about how many chances they missed or if the bus was parked. You know how these teams are going to play beforehand and you have to find a solution, a way through.
The year before we won our first Premier League title, Sir Alex saw a problem and signed Eric Cantona. It’s all well and good saying we had this many shots and this many attempts but on Saturday we knew West Brom would play that way before kick-off.
Mourinho is managing Manchester United now and not Chelsea. He has to understand that when teams come to Old Trafford they are showing his side respect by playing defensive football. Rather than being critical of the opposition he should look at himself.
Has Marcus Rashford got what it takes to be United’s number nine?
Not under the present regime. The reason Ryan Giggs was so good was because Sir Alex said ‘go out there and enjoy yourself’.
When Ryan tried to beat two players and it never worked, he wouldn’t let that bother him because he’d get the ball again and have another go.
There’s playing with no fear, versus today’s youngsters who think they have to go out, play well, score a few goals and immediately impress, otherwise they won’t feature the week after. That’s enough pressure on its own.
United is a religion and the fans want to see young players given a chance. At the weekend Mourinho criticised his young forwards and again that’s wrong. Perhaps he should also be looking at himself. Did he do his job properly as manager? You can’t put the blame on the players all the time, someone has to be accountable. He took the pressure off his team at Chelsea when he was manager there, why is he not doing it at United?
One of Sir Alex’s strengths was that he never held a grudge against his players and this to me proves that Mourinho can’t go out there and question his players in the way that he has. He knew how West Brom would play last weekend but didn’t have an answer.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic has impressed, but is his lack of pace an issue for United?
Yes. Mourinho’s whole game plan is centred around Ibrahimovic and Pogba.
Against West Brom, Ashley Young tried to dummy his way down the left and then cross to the back post for Marouane Fellaini, like against Middlesbrough, but it didn’t work.
Sometimes if there’s a brick wall in front of you, you need to find another route rather than trying to go through it.
The team I was part of, the one in the late 1990’s and the one in the 2000’s, relied on pace and width.
Clever teams now know that they can squeeze a bit higher and get closer to Pogba. He’s having more touches than he did at Juventus because he feels under pressure, and his first instinct is usually to look up and try and play it into a space for Ibrahimovic. It’s become predictable.
As I’ve mentioned, United’s greatest creative strength is Mata. Not only does he look like one of nicest people in football, he’s a clever passer too, and the only United player that runs past Ibrahimovic and tries to score, not because he’s particularly fast, but because he plays with his brain. His assists and movement off the ball is fantastic and he’ll be missed.
When Cantona turned up, Sir Alex would tell us to give him the ball because he knew he could make things happen. Mata’s the same and when he plays United have a better chance of making things happen. It’s certainly a better approach than knocking the ball into the box and hoping that your 6ft 5in striker will get on the end of it.
What do you expect from United next season?
United need to be in the Champions League first of all. They’ve had three or four opportunities to get into that top four this season and have failed at every opportunity. Next season though, forget qualifying for the Champions League, United have to try and win the Premier League.
Manchester United is Manchester United and at this moment in time must go for everything. I’ve read that Mourinho might sacrifice the league this campaign in order to win the Europa League. I don’t know where that nonsense has come from but that’s not acceptable at a club the size of United.