According to Jose Mourinho, Manchester United are still two years away from being top contenders. This enigmatic message has the football world confused considering the signings he has made over the past two summers. Being regarded as one of the best managers in the world, surely he has had enough time to build a team to carry out his football philosophy? Is two years a reasonable time frame or too little too late.
My first instinct was to consider whether or not Mourinho was speaking his mind or trying to bait Premier and European rivals into underestimating Manchester United. But that would not make sense for a few reasons. First of all, Mourinho is never afraid to be blunt in any press statements. Why would he stop now? Secondly, I doubt there is anything a Manchester United manager can say that will cause rivals to underestimate them. United is one of the biggest clubs in the world, and whether they finish first or seventh in the league, teams always look to play their best against them.
However, if Mourinho does believe Manchester United are still two years away from returning to the level they were at in Sir Alex Ferguson’s final season, that raises a number of concerns. It raises concerns as to what Mourinho is hoping to achieve this season and what defines success. Most other English clubs would love to make extended cup runs and receive cup trophies season after season, but Manchester United have a different set of standards. Cup runs are expected of the club and cup wins should be in addition to bigger trophies not a full on replacement.
It may also be concerning to the players currently at the club. Players such as Paul Pogba, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, and Romelu Lukaku returned to or joined Manchester United hoping they could be a part of a title contending team top of the division. If the goal was to contend for European places and domestic success, Pogba, and Mkhitaryan especially would have been content to stay at Juventus and Borussia Dortmund respectively. Our star players are aware that they are shouldering a lot of responsibility in the club’s ambitions. But this sort of statement could cause doubts not only to whether the club they play for is the right one. It could also be seen as an insult to them, especially if they feel they are good enough players to compete for more than just Mourinho’s supposed expectations based on that statement.
To be blunt, Manchester United have to be title contenders this season. No excuses. The quality in this team is comparable to other clubs that Mourinho have led to domestic and to a degree European success. The Champions League is a bridge too far yet for Manchester United, but regardless of how far they go in cup competitions, United need to mount a similar title challenge. Managers are not judged on how well they build for two years from now but how well they perform in the present. Mourinho surely understands this, so we should take away that Mourinho feels that United is not ready to be Champions League contenders. However, the club is more than capable of at least finishing top three if not winning the title this season. It’s between the Manchester clubs, Chelsea, and possibly Arsenal. Here’s to the Red Devils getting off to a good start at Old Trafford against West Ham United.