LONDON: Jose Mourinho knows, better than anyone, that rebuilding Manchester United in his own image is a long job. Longer, perhaps, than even he expected when he landed the appointment he had always coveted.
Despite United’s erratic start to the season there is no speculation about him being sacked even if they should lose to neighbours City tonight in the League Cup.
He has at least two transfer windows to set the squad to rights. Also, he is considered to have brought a far greater degree of realism to the job than Louis Van Gaal: for one thing, Mourinho knows all about Premier League football and the Dutchman, perhaps, was too old and set in his ways to adjust.
Van Gaal expected the league and the players to adapt to him; he made few allowances for the nature of the English game with its specific pressures which include a wide media focus on the personalities, their achievements but – most of all – their perceived failings.
Mourinho has made mistakes. He has surprised senior players by being too much of an absentee manager at training, often leaving assistant Rui Faria to run the show while The Special One retreats to his office.
Mourinho’s judgment of players has also been baffling; he has held Marcus Rashford back too long while being too patient with Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
Henrikh Mkhitaryan also continues to suffer on the sidelines without any hint from Mourinho about the midfielder’s lack of opportunity.
Owen Hargreaves believes the player’s confidence has already been undermined. The 27-year-old has only started once since his move from Borussia Dortmund and did not travel with the squad to face Chelsea on Sunday.
Hargreaves said: “He had a slow start at Dortmund too but was the players’ player of the year last season. He got 23 goals and 32 assists, which is staggering numbers. The thing is, he’s such a wonderful player but I think he’s also quite a sensitive guy.
“It would have been perfect if he started off flying with goals and assists, but the slow start has probably hit his confidence.”
That probably applies to the entire squad. Old United hero Paul Scholes thinks Mourinho was not “ruthless enough” in his transfer dealings and has confused the players over team selection.
Scholes said: “What I saw of Mourinho at Chelsea, he had 13 or 14 players who played every week. He never rested players even in the League Cup or whatever competition he was in. With United it is still a settling-in period – it is going to take a bit of time for them to knit together and see what they are about.
“Is there an identity to the team yet? I don’t think there is.”
Last weekend’s Chelsea game at Stamford Bridge may have been tougher for Mourinho than he let on; it had been a game looming on his personal horizon ever since the fixtures were announced. Now it is out of the way he may start to come out of his managerial shell.
United contracted Mourinho because of his proven track record of achieving results (not attractive football but this is not the priority) so he will have at least one season and a half (until the start of the FA Cup in 2018) before alarm bells begin to ring if nothing has improved.
Van Gaal, with hindsight, is considered to have been stuck in the past; fine in the national team arena but no good in the elite club world.