Old Trafford expects. After two years of progress and big-money signings, only trophies will suffice.
Jose Mourinho, the wizened old Portuguese Man o’War, will hurl himself into the trenches come August for arguably the most vital campaign of his career.
Mourinho’s ‘third season syndrome’ is well-known. After a period of relative success, the 55-year-old tends to come off the rails in the third season into a contract.
Will the season end in success or in ignominy? If he is to succeed in his third tour in Manchester, there are five questions he simply has to answer.
1 Can he get the best from Paul Pogba?
Paul Pogba is better dab-less.
Bereft of his usual jocularity, the Frenchman anchored his country’s midfield superbly well as they won the World Cup.
The tournament demonstrated everything that he is capable of and everything that he showed so infrequently last year.
Pogba is a better player than the naysayers would have you believe but he’s not as bright as his evangelists suggest either.
A man with an £89 million fee and a ballooning reputation can’t afford to be middling: Mourinho needs to find a player who can protect him better than Ander Herrera did last time out.
2 Can he topple Guardiola?
The Guardiola-Mourinho rival barely ignited last season.
Manchester City were just too good, out of sight before one could say ‘free eight’.
Mourinho, heading into his third year in the red half of the city, is no closer to toppling his nemesis than he was when he first arrived.
If anybody can do it, however, Mourinho can. The Portuguese’s mechanistic Real Madrid battered and bruised their way to La Liga title in 2012, going 23 matches unbeaten to topple a preening Barcelona.
The Red Devils came closer than anybody last year but it’s unclear whether he could survive another season finishing so far behind.
3 Will he play a more expansive style?
Mourinho is a master of PR. Why, then, does he insist on a style that is so fatalistic? Probably because it’s won him so many trophies.
The Portuguese, however, can ill afford to remain static as the game threatens to move on without him.
Arsene Wenger has already paid the price for stasis, and Mourinho – with his extravagant transfer spending and continually negative headlines – may have to forego his most defensive instincts.
4 Will he get rid of the dead wood?
Luke Shaw, Anthony Martial and Matteo Darmian – three players without a future at Old Trafford and three players whose lack of game time last year caused Mourinho headaches.
The 55-year-old will look to chart the same course for them as he has the good ship Daley Blind, who recently returned to Ajax after an ineffectual four-year spell in the North-West.
The resulting vacancies could then be filled by players with more to offer – Sergej Milinkovic-Savic and Ivan Perisic, to name but a few.
5 Will he survive the season?
It’s not a flippant question. Mourinho’s talent for implosion has already shown itself twice at Chelsea and once at Real Madrid, whilst his cut-throat self-interest was evident in spells at Porto and Inter Milan.
If he doesn’t get his way, or if he gets a better offer elsewhere, the Portuguese will have no qualms about upping sticks.
His flattery, when linked with the Paris Saint-Germain job last year, helped serve as a reminder; Mourinho might be a master but he is by no means a loyal servant.
What questions do you think Mourinho has to answer? Let us know by commenting below.
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