Ask any Chelsea player who experienced the forgettable 2015-16 season at Stamford Bridge and they will tell you that Jose Mourinho has been more scathing of his players than he was on Thursday after Manchester United’s defeat to Fenerbahce.
But while there wasn’t any talk of feeling “betrayed” by his squad, he left nobody in any doubt that he was hugely dissatisfied with the attitude of his United side as it went through the motions on its way to a 2-1 reverse in Turkey.
“I think they deserved to win. Football is not just about quality, it is about effort, commitment, it is about playing the limits, giving everything,” he told BT Sport shortly after the final whistle. “A team that concedes a goal after two minutes is a team that is not ready, is a team that is not mentally prepared, not focused, not concentrated.
“Our problems started in our global attitude where they were playing a Champions League final and we were playing a summer friendly. That is the reality of the way the game started.”
It was an honest and emotional assessment from a manager who has done a lot to deflect criticism away from his players in recent weeks. As is Mourinho’s way, he has stretched his histrionics to the limit in a bid to make the headlines about something other than the poor performances of a squad worth more than any other in Premier League history. It is just such behavior which will see him serve a touchline ban at Swansea on Sunday.
But he will hope that what he sees from the stands is a far better approach from a group of players most of whom don’t seem to realize the repercussions of failing when wearing the red shirt of Manchester United.
There was a time when a United defeat was practically a public holiday in every English city outside of Manchester, but with losing having become far more prevalent under David Moyes and Louis van Gaal, Mourinho is currently looking powerless to stop the slide.
Even Paul Scholes, a man driven by that United quality of never accepting defeat, has become used to watching his beloved side fail, almost to the point of apathy. “I’ve been depressed for a couple of years … It doesn’t matter anymore,” he told BT Sport.
Mourinho was brought in ahead of other viable candidates with a more familiar United bent to their style because the club needed someone with his track record as a winner at a time when the club was becoming an irrelevant at the top end of the game. But he is increasingly looking like the Jose of 2015-16 rather than the previous incarnation whose every touch seemed to turn to gold.
He hasn’t been helped by some of what Van Gaal left behind. Mourinho came in knowing that the Dutchman’s philosophy was all wrong, but only now is he seeing just how rotten some of the big-money signings made under his predecessor really are.
Morgan Schneiderlin and Luke Shaw are shadows of the players they were at Southampton, although in the latter’s case injury has played a part, while Marcos Rojo, Memphis Depay and others have fallen short at every turn since first pulling on the shirt. Mourinho made some additions that so far have not worked, of course, but there is still a lot of surgery needed.
The best he can hope for in the short term is a big response from his players to his stinging assessment. By the time he dug out his Chelsea squad with talk of betrayal, he was already a sitting duck and would be gone within days. This time he will hope that there are enough players as hurt as the fans at United’s current plight.
Standards at Manchester United are meant to be higher than what was served up in Turkey. The performance was more reminiscent of last season’s loss to FC Midtjylland than the European nights that made this club what it is under the likes of Matt Busby and Alex Ferguson.
Some people might think that United don’t matter anymore, just as Scholes has seemingly accepted the club’s plight, but Mourinho now has the job of getting a reaction out of his squad. The United fans who traveled all the way to Istanbul deserved better than a side going through the emotions, and with the manager having accepted as much he needs to find a way to pay them back with a return to winning ways.
With an international break to follow, the trip to Swansea on Sunday could be a defining point in United’s season. And another no-show from the Red Devils like the one on Thursday would take the club one step closer to being the irrelevant group they should never be allowed to become.