Manchester United need kings, not conspiracy theories

Date published: Monday 28th November 2016 7:30

Jose Mourinho’s tried and tested methods are not working as well as they did elsewhere at Manchester United, who were held to a 1-1 draw by West Ham at Old Trafford.

“We are the unluckiest team in the Premier League,” insisted Jose Mourinho after Manchester United drew 1-1 with Arsenal last weekend.

“In the last three matches at home, against Stoke we have to win 5 or 6-0 and we draw, against Burnley we have to win 5 or 6-0 and we draw and today we have to win 2 or 3-0 and we draw too, so I think we are the unluckiest team.”

For a fourth consecutive Premier League match at Old Trafford, United were held to a draw. For a fourth consecutive Premier League match at Old Trafford, United played the majority of the game on the front foot. For the fourth consecutive Premier League match at Old Trafford, could United consider themselves unlucky? The answer to that is simple: No.

Wherever Mourinho has been successful, the Portuguese has managed to convince himself, his players, and his club’s fans that the world is against them. Whether it be officials, opposition players, supporters, the fixture list, injuries, medical staff, mysterious forces or ghost goals, at some stage or another his team will have to overcome all of these things to come out on top.

To be fair to ‘the Special One’, his record suggests adopting a siege mentality works, and the loyalty shown by his key players at Porto, Chelsea (the first spell, at least), and Inter Milan is testament to this.

But at what point do the excuses, the public displays of disgust at officials, and the bizarre press comments become too frequent? For the fourth consecutive game at Old Trafford, it appeared the Red Devils were starting to believe the conspiracies.

And yet things were looking rosy for the hosts, who deserve credit for failing to be rocked by West Ham’s early opener. Rather than panic, Manchester United (because we can’t call them just ‘United’ when they were playing West Ham United, can we?) restored parity less than 20 minutes later with a sumptuous goal of supreme quality.

The movement of Zlatan Ibrahimovic as soon as Paul Pogba dropped his shoulder was exquisite, and the Frenchman rewarded his team-mate with the kind of pass which makes you realise why he cost a world-record fee. That is the ability which this squad possesses. That is a glimpse of just how good they can be.

Less than five minutes later, however, Manchester United, in control and in the ascendancy, suddenly were rattled.

Pogba received a booking for a diving in front of referee Jon Moss, and Mourinho exploded in anger on the touchline and was unsurprisingly sent to the stands, again. At one stage of his career, such moments were considered a Machiavellian ploy; a reminder that the world is indeed against his team.

These days are now long gone, as it becomes apparent he cannot help himself. It is certainly no longer helping his players, who rather than become emboldened, started to cut their own frustrated figures. Marcus Rashford, Jesse Lingard and Ibrahimovic all squandered chances which they should have done better with.

Even if Manchester United perhaps are unluckier than most, the old saying suggests you make your own luck. Mourinho was able to field a starting XI which cost roughly £235million to assemble. By the time the three subsitutions had been made, the cost of the eleven players in a red shirt of the field was around £278million. That’s without including the likes of Ibrahimovic’s huge wages. The Old Trafford faithful have every right to expect more than three goals in the last four league matches held at the ground.

This weekend marked 24 years since Manchester United signed Eric Cantona, who went on to be the catalyst for Sir Alex Ferguson’s dynasty. Cantona became the King of Old Trafford because he acted like the King of Old Trafford; he believed that’s what he was.

On Sunday evening an enigmatic Frenchman did grace the Theatre of Dreams, but he was wearing Claret and Blue. Dimitri Payet displayed the swagger of Cantona, coupled with the ability. On numerous occasions the little genius tricked his way out of trouble, while he created Diafra Sakho’s goal with a wicked free-kick, and had the audacity to almost catch out David de Gea with a cheeky attempt of his own in the second half. No wonder he’s reportedly wanted by the Red Devils.

After the match the message from Manchester United remained like a broken record. “Another game the same. We control the game completely from the kick-off,” said Ander Herrera. “They score a very lucky goal and then we control and create chances.

“Their keeper was the best one more time. That happened against Stoke, Burnley and Arsenal. We don’t know what we have to do to win a game.”

That final sentence is a damning indictment of where Manchester United are at. The excuses need to stop, Mourinho needs to tell his players to start acted like royalty. Old Trafford needs a new King.

Rob Conlon

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