With four defeats already for Manchester United this season, it seems like their campaign is already crumbling. Rifts and public feuds between manager José Mourinho and some members of his playing staff have compounded poor performances and results on the pitch.
Such crisis is of course nothing new for Mourinho, who has gained notoriety for unravelling in his third season at a club, a situation that often ends with his exit. Rumours are already starting to gain momentum that the club is looking at former Real Madrid manager Zinedine Zidane as a contingency if things don’t get better under Mourinho.
So, is this the end of the road for the Special One at United?
The one thing that Mourinho probably has going for him is that United – at least to some extent – retain a culture of putting trust in their managers. Things got really ugly under David Moyes, but he was not fired until it was mathematically impossible for them to qualify for the following season’s Champions League.
The football was pretty dreadful as the Red Devils finished fifth in Louis Van Gaal’s second season in charge. The club however held out until the season was over before they pulled the trigger on the Dutchman and appointed Mourinho.
Executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward appeared to confirm this stance when he told shareholders that it is unlikely the manager will be sacked on the back of a few poor results.
The big difference between the Moyes/Van Gaal eras and that of Mourinho is that back then, there was an entitled belief that the club was just going through a fallow period, and would somehow definitely find their way back to the top. Right now though, there is a real fear that the club could truly fall behind most of their rivals if the slump is not arrested.
Manchester City, Liverpool and Chelsea all have forward-thinking managers – both literally and figuratively – and seem to be generally stable and heading in the right direction. Tottenham have struggled a bit for form this season but in Mauricio Pochettino, have one of the most coveted managers in European football, one who has transformed them from an also-ran side to a constant fixture in the Champions League. Even Arsenal seem to have finally found identity and a sense of togetherness, and that has translated to encouraging performances and positive results.
Shadow of Zizou
The availability of a successful manager like Zidane is one of the biggest threats to Mourinho’s job at this time. If the Portuguese coach continues to antagonise players and results keep tanking as a result, he will likely force United’s hand and nudge them towards Zizou. For the moment, he can take solace from the fact that Woodward has demonstrated an ability to at least hold out until late in the season.