We need to talk about Jose.
After yet another disappointment for Manchester United – this time defeat by Arsenal – it’s about time Mourinho’s tenure to date at Old Trafford was called what, by the club’s very high standards, it is… mediocre.
The Special One arrived at the Theatre of Dreams in the summer with all the fanfare of a marching army, a transfer war chest the size of a small country’s GDP and the accompanying expectation that goes with his bravado and bluster and glowing reputation.
He signed the most expensive footballer ever and broke the bank to pin Zlatan Ibrahimovic to a one-year contract on weekly wages which exceed many League Two clubs’ transfer records.
He took charge of a team which, while floundering in the league under Louis van Gaal, still managed to win silverware last season in the shape of the FA Cup.
Now, of course, Mourinho has already bagged the League Cup and could still add to the trophy cabinet in his first term – United are perfectly placed to advance to the Europa League final ahead of the second leg of their last-four meeting with Celta Vigo on Thursday – but how exactly has he advanced his team? How has he advanced his club?
Sure, some will point to the improvement of Ander Herrera, the evergreen cool of Michael Carrick, the continued improvement of Marcus Rashford and the defensive dominance of Eric Bailly but clubs like United require more than a handful of A-star students. The whole class has to function at the highest level.
That obviously isn’t happening… you only have to look at the standings of a relatively substandard Premier League.
United are fifth. By the end of the season that could be sixth. They remain reliant on key individuals, some of whom have been bizarrely treated – Henrikh Mkhitaryan the most prominent example – and some of whom have picked up injuries at inopportune times.
They have been too inconsistent – both individually and collectively, with Paul Pogba’s undulating season-defining his team’s – and they have been blunt up front.
Too many times has the biggest club in the land drawn a blank when presented with a wall of defenders from Burnley or West Ham or whichever visiting side has arrived at Old Trafford knowing that their opponents have a knack of giving in to old fashioned hard graft.
Mourinho has treated his players with confusing ambivalence. Luke Shaw was left out in the cold much like Mkhitaryan, while Chris Smalling and Phil Jones have both been slapped down by the Portuguese’s acid tongue.
And for all his excuses and comebacks in press conferences, Mourinho remains judged on his League record. The quirk of being permitted into the Champions League by way of winning the competition’s inferior cousin proves he is not the most unlucky manager in the country, as perhaps he’d like us to think.
In fact, that he can deliver top-class European football in his first season despite putting together an erratic, ditchwater-dull, at times numbingly methodical team suggests he is blessed.
The Premier League sides – all bar one – have sat back and gifted the title to another club this year. Again. And again United are nowhere near.
Van Gaal ended 2015-16 with 66 points. It was considered a campaign of borderline catastrophe. Mourinho is on course for a maximum of 74 but with tricky trips to Southampton and Tottenham to come. Has he really improved the country’s biggest club? Not much. Not yet.