From Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s love of his invisibility cloak, to Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s perfect imitation of a lighthouse, to José Mourinho resembling Billy Murray’s character in Lost in Translation – stuck in a foreign hotel room existentially regretting life choices – there have been many problems highlighted by Red Devils fans during the inquest into why there season has been a shit show, but the main issue is something far more insidious.
The problem was evidenced in post-match comments made by Ander Herrera and Paul Pogba last weekend, in which both men spoke with the air of victims of a natural disaster. That might seem a hyperbolic statement, but just take a look at Pogba’s words on their game against West Ham.
“We’re going to start to think we’re cursed. It doesn’t matter which team comes here, we dominate them, be it Arsenal or West Ham today.”
Combine that air of disbelief with Herrera’s, who looked like he was reporting a mugging in the tunnel as he described, wild-eyed, the events that had just taken place.
“I don’t know what we have to do to win one game, their ‘keeper was the best player of them again.”
Here, we see a pattern emerging. It is not difficult to imagine the United players sitting round the dressing room, led in their lamentations by a manager who last week claimed to be in command of “the unluckiest team in the league.”
This is a mentality that Mourinho has used throughout his career, the ‘us against the world’ attitude that saw his romantic return to Stamford Bridge combust when he got desperate and started to attack people almost at random, to the extent the players lost respect for him.
The problem with the way it is being implemented this time, with Manchester United, is that the fire seems to have gone out and all that is left is a defeated and paranoid tone, like that of an addict coming off a five-day bender.
Take Herrera’s comments about opposition goalkeepers having good games at Old Trafford; have opponents not always raised their game when playing against the league’s top teams? Can anybody imagine Sir Alex Ferguson encouraging his men to externalise the blame, mourning the fact that a goalkeeper has played well instead of the fact the players themselves weren’t able to capitalise on chances created? Would a just world be one where the man between the opposition sticks at Old Trafford is not allowed to have a blinder, despite knowing it is one of the biggest games of his career?
A predilection for blaming bad luck is a trait that haunted Liverpool and their staff for years, particularly during Kenny Dalglish’ second spell as manager. What big teams need to realise if they are to become successful is that the onus is not on the visiting side to play a completely average game of football, but their own determination to showcase their talents and up their performance level where necessary.
Manchester United fans – understandably and justifiably – are being patient with Mourinho and calling for the Portuguese to be given plenty of time with his United revolution. The problem is that if the side are united in self-pity rather than steel and grit, then all the money in the world can be spent without the slightest indication of advancement.