The destiny of Jose Mourinho always seemed to involve arriving at Manchester United at some point. Turns out his dream job didn’t offer a pleasant start to his tenure there. Yes, he might win the Europa League, a competition he dissed in the past, which will put the club in the Champions League next season. But when it comes to the league, their performances and results have been nothing short of disappointing.
Mourinho is the epitome of pragmatism in this sport, although he changes the narrative of what is considered success and what is not depends on how poorly or well he does. This season, the Europa League has become his only goal from a pretty early point in time during the season. United’s abysmal form in away matches against the bigger clubs, their poor scoring record (fewest goals among the top 7 clubs) and their depressing football might put this season as the worst in the Premier League era.
Louis van Gaal was fired last season after failing to finish in the top 4 (managed that in his first season), while his club looked bad in European competition, not to mention impotent on the pitch. Besides bringing Mourinho over, Manchester United signed Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Paul Pogba, among other less bombastic signings. Mourinho doesn’t enter a season thinking about the top 4 or Europa League. Those are excuses to be used when things go bad. And they did.
United will finish the season with 5 or 6 losses, far less than Arsenal with 9, on par with Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester City, all clubs that will finish above them. United also had an incredible run of 25 unbeaten matches. But most of them were draws, a result that means very little for top clubs in the 3-point era. United finished 15 matches in draws out of 37. Middlesbrough, headed towards relegation, are the only ones that come close with 13 ties.
It took Mourinho well over half a season to find a midfield combination that works for him. It didn’t necessarily mean exciting football, but it helped bring out the most of Pogba and find some use for Marouane Fellaini, who is probably far too important to Mourinho and the club than he ever should have been allowed to. Yes, Mourinho is always about the second season, as it was in his most recent title campaign when managing Chelsea. But overall, Mourinho has 1 league title in his last 5 seasons as a manager, with his failure to turn the 2015 championship with Chelsea into something more still a resounding echo in his and everyone’s mind, especially considering how well Antonio Conte is doing with a very similar squad to last season’s.
Yes, there was the Charity (or Community?) Shield, and the League Cup. But United are operating in a stratosphere that doesn’t measure success by minor titles. It’s all about standing out in the league and in the Champions League. Saying this season was a success when the results have been poorer than last year despite all the money invested and the changes they underwent would be a lie. But Mourinho has never had a problem twisting the truth when being asked about things he’s uncomfortable admitting to.