Josh in the Box

For lovers, the apparent consensus is that the magic begins to fade after seven years. But, for Jose Mourinho, his flings with football mistresses have been somewhat of a fleeting fancy. Throughout his illustrious career, The Special One has never held down a managerial post for longer than three years.

Bad (or perhaps good) news, Manchester United fans, The Special One has entered a particularly turbulent part of his career trajectory: the troublesome third season.

Everywhere he’s been, the pattern has been the same: amass enormous trophy hauls in the first two seasons before ultimately falling out with everybody in the final season and ending up unemployed.

It’s been the same story at Porto, Chelsea, Inter and Real Madrid – but is the horizon looming for Jose Mourinho at Manchester United?

Alienating the players

“Losing the dressing room” is a phrase often banded about by football analysts when a manager’s control over his team begins to weaken, and it’s a phrase that was particularly relevant to Mourinho during his second spell at Chelsea.

With Mourinho, the public comments he makes about his players have always been something Manchester United fans have taken umbrage with. And while Luke Shaw is his favourite verbal whipping boy, Mourinho seems to have made a somewhat peculiar target of World-Cup-winning French star, Paul Pogba.

Accusations were rife last season that Paul Pogba’s struggles were down to José’s tactical inflexibility; too many rigid and unyielding restrictions were placed upon a footballer best suited to a free, playmaking role.

But for Mourinho, that doesn’t seem to be the case. Speaking to ESPN, Mourinho said, “I don’t think it’s about us getting the best out of him, it’s about him giving the best he has to give.”

“It’s [The World Cup] closed for a month, where he can only think about football. Where he’s with his team on the training camp, completely isolated from the external world, where they focus just on football, where the dimensions of the game can only motivate.”

In essence: if he stopped fannying around with daft haircuts and leading Jesse Lingard along in a merry dance like some kind of demented Pied Piper, he might actually play some decent football.

And while certainly true, it’s hardly the approach most managers would take when discussing their returning World-Cup-winning talisman.

Of course, Pogba seems the sort of person who could handle Mourinho’s psychological tricks. Luke Shaw, on the other hand, has only just been coaxed out of a dark cupboard under the stairs at Carrington to participate in the US pre-season tour.

Setting the expectations low

Inspirational speaker, Les Brown, once famously quipped, “It is better to aim high and miss than to aim low and hit.”

While Jose Mourinho has traditionally been a subscriber to this philosophy, ahead of the 2018/19 campaign, he appears to have been reading the David Moyes Manual on Guaranteeing Disappointment.

Mourinho may not have stooped so low as admitting he expects Liverpool to beat his team, or indeed claiming Manchester United have to be on the level of Manchester City, but he has made sure every single sports journalist in the US and beyond is aware that his side is “not ready” for the new season.

“Not ready” in what sense? He hasn’t acquired the players he needs? The players aren’t fit enough? The current squad features enough dead wood to start a bonfire?

Either way, Mourinho appears to be making it patently clear that he doesn’t want supporters getting too carried away. City were sensational last year, Liverpool have strengthened, Tottenham are strong, and according to Mourinho, “Manchester United are not a team yet.”

Promising.

Failing to acquire transfer targets

This doesn’t land squarely at Jose Mourinho’s door thanks to the massive and never-ending ineptitude of a certain Ed Woodward, but he’s approaching the key third season at his time at United and is in possession of a squad that looks nowhere near capable of putting together a title challenge.

Since Ferguson departed, leaving behind an ageing, unbalanced side lacking in tangible world class talent, the succession of managers since – Moyes, van Gaal and Mourinho – have somehow managed not to improve the squad.

If anything, Mourinho seems keen to ship Anthony Martial out, while showing no signs of entertaining suitors for the calamitous Chris Smalling. Instead, the club tied down Marouane Fellaini to a new contract despite the mountainous Belgian possessing about as much footballing talent as a literal tree.

With the deadline fast approaching, United have reportedly baulked at Spurs’ valuation of Toby Alderweireld, clung onto Matteo Darmian, and refused to be drawn into a bidding war for any footballer who threatens to bring any entertainment to Old Trafford.

With enough left-wingers to fill a bar in Cuba, United look desperately unbalanced, and Mourinho desperately disgruntled.

The league is Mourinho’s saving grace

Everywhere he’s been – Porto, Chelsea, Inter, Real Madrid, Chelsea again – Mourinho has promised and delivered one thing: he will win you the league championship.

And on each of the aforementioned occasions, that league championship win has always occurred in the first or second (and often both) seasons of his tenure.

Never has Jose Mourinho won the league in his third season. But to keep himself in one of the most prestigious footballing jobs in the world, he is very well going to have to.

Problem is, Manchester United look miles off the pace.