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Transfer Talk: Man Utd prepping bid for Coutinho

Transfer Talk

Man United will back Jose Mourinho to build a team and create 'heritage' -- for now

It takes a brave, or foolish, manager to publicly attack his players, but Jose Mourinho has never been one to play by the rulebook.

Saturday's evisceration of the majority of his Manchester United players after the 2-0 FA Cup quarterfinal victory against Brighton at Old Trafford -- where left-back Luke Shaw once again bore the brunt of Mourinho's outburst -- was brutal, yet the former Chelsea manager had also given a more veiled criticism of his squad 24 hours earlier by suggesting the current United team lacked "football heritage" due to the club's recent lack of success in the Premier League and Champions League.

Mourinho has pretty much gone in two-footed on his players, climbed back to his feet, shrugged his shoulders and done it again at the next opportunity.

The Portuguese has paid the price for this approach in the past, most recently at Chelsea when he accused his players of "betraying" his tactics during the Premier League defeat at Leicester City in December 2015 which cost him his job at Stamford Bridge.

Mourinho knows the potential risks that come with singling players out for public criticism, but at United he also knows he is on safe ground when doing so. For now, anyway.

Quite simply, there is no mood within the United hierarchy to dispense with Mourinho as manager. Yes, there are senior figures at Old Trafford who would prefer the Portuguese to be less abrasive and sour, but the likes of executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward and the Glazer family (the club's owners) are also pragmatic and realistic.

For all of the noise and nonsense which surrounds Mourinho -- and much of it is of his own making -- the Glazers and Woodward only need to look at the Premier League table to realise that life for the club is as good as it has been since Sir Alex Ferguson stepped down in May 2013.

United sit second in the Premier League, and are in the FA Cup semifinals, having won two major trophies during Mourinho's first year in charge last season.

Being 16 points adrift of runaway league leaders Manchester City and knocked out of the Champions League at the round of 16 stage is the flip side of that argument, but Mourinho was on solid ground last Friday when he reeled off the list of underwhelming Premier League finishes post-Ferguson to illustrate the reality of recent seasons at United.

And this is why he feels secure enough to stand in front of a camera and lambast his players for their unsatisfactory performance against Brighton.

Mourinho knows that he is not going anywhere this summer and that his job is secure, so he is getting tough with those players who he believes are letting him down.

There is a school of thought among the power brokers at football's biggest clubs that the game is now all about managing three- to four-year cycles and that the best way to ensure success is to change before change changes you.

Even Ferguson bought in to the theory, with his 27-year reign as Manchester United manager punctuated by the Scot repeatedly refreshing his coaching staff or his playing squad.

While Arsene Wenger has seemingly allowed the Arsenal clock to stand still at some point in 2004 (when he last lifted the league title), Ferguson, and all of Europe's elite clubs, have accepted that change is a crucial part of every successful team's development and evolution.

In its most basic sense, it boils down to a club changing either the manager or the players, and it is the usually the manager because of the cost and upheaval involved of ditching half an unwanted squad. But on this occasion, United are prepared to buck the trend and stick with their manager at the same time as offloading the underperforming players.

Mourinho will be given the freedom to swing the ax this summer and clear out those members of the United squad who have delivered mediocrity for too long.

Man United manager Jose Mourinho looks on against Crystal Palace.
Mourinho will make some major changes at Old Trafford this summer.

This is a squad built by four managers -- Ferguson, David Moyes, Louis van Gaal and Mourinho -- and it is imbalanced and largely unremarkable, despite an investment of over £600 million on players.

While Mourinho has failed to mastermind a Premier League or Champions League challenge, he has arguably overperformed with the group of players at his disposal.

His attacking players should score more goals and blow opponents away more readily, but he does not yet have the midfield to dominate games and, in turn, create more opportunities for the forwards.

And the times that he has fielded a back four and goalkeeper made up solely of Ferguson buys (David De Gea, Antonio Valencia, Chris Smalling, Phil Jones and Ashley Young, for example) underlines the poor recruitment of defenders by Moyes, Van Gaal and even Mourinho, who has not signed enough of them.

But for all of that, and notwithstanding the dour football produced by his team this season, Woodward & Co. believe that Mourinho has, and is, making United stronger.

It is why they will back him to get it right, but Mourinho will be given the benefit of the doubt for only so long.

If United are in the same position this time next season, with the manager attacking his players and supporters growing restless with the uninspiring football, Mourinho's safety net will have disappeared.

He will get the chance to silence his critics with a team built in his own image. But once he has that, he will have no excuses.

Mark Ogden is a senior football writer for ESPN FC. Follow him @MarkOgden_


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