Despite the rather impressive win at Turf Moor last week, Man United are still in a state of flux at various levels. With the fans showing the club and its board, whose side they are willing to rally behind, on the ground – be it by flying a plane carrying a banner with the very phrase coined by the manager, aimed at its highest-ranked Executive – or by singing the name so vociferously that makes you wonder whether there was a disagreement at all in the first place, with the way the things have gone at United in the past few weeks and months.
Jose Mourinho has had quite a few significant slips-up at United so far, in the pre-season, in transfers and even in some of his man-management but none bad enough to destabilize the dressing room in a way it has happened in his previous clubs. From last week, at least one thing was made plain and clear. Mourinho still has the backing of the traveling fans; who, as is the case with most football clubs, remain the lifeblood of the team.
Even though his ultra-negative demeanor in the pre-season drew parallels with his most recent sacking at Chelsea, the one key difference seems to be the fact that the manager has not lost control of the dressing room, yet. That could be partly due to the fact that Manchester United are still largely a tight-knit group with a good blend of local and foreign players – and most of the older senior players he has – are too loyal to him to create internal conflict.
One of the key management tenets of the Portuguese is how he can walk in and galvanize an entire squad with his intense and pressured approach. There is a reason why he always took over sides that were in disarray – needing a shot in the arm; a quick fix to deliver instant success even though his methods papered over cracks, lacking a real solution for the long term. His successful teams had a purpose – both on the pitch and more importantly off it too.
The Portuguese mentioned, in an interview with Rio Ferdinand, how he liked to really ‘squeeze players’ physically and most definitely mentally to get the best out of them, as he has so often done with his best players – when he felt the attitude needed improving.
At United, that unconventional approach has had its merits and demerits as with all his previous clubs. Out of all the players this season, it has, rather surprisingly, been Luke Shaw who seems to have bought into the Portuguese’s ways and also managed to come out of it the other side with a lot of credit.
The 22-year-old has been subjected to every trick in Mourinho’s managerial playbook – from dropping him from the matchday squad for games at a time after ‘a mistake’, constant public criticism, called out for a lack of effort in training, games – you name it, Shaw has been put through it.
His winning goal against Leicester in the opening week, even though in some ways – fortuitous, cannot have come at the better moment to help boost his confidence levels. In fact, the idea that the winning goal came through his attempt to atone for a bad touch – in itself has been the theme of his time at Manchester United.
Shaw – for the talent he possesses, should have, in all fairness, already made the Man United and England spot at left back his own – in a way his idol Ashley Cole did for a decade at England and Chelsea – Shaw’s boyhood club; but a combination of misfortune and a lack of application and laxity have proved to be the stumbling blocks. His ceiling is high – and he is, finally making a tangible positive impact on the playing style of Manchester United at both ends of the pitch.
Maybe, at long last, the clouds look to have passed. And Mourinho may have some player in his hands.