Jose Mourinho has let it be known this summer that he knows who he can and can not depend on.
The fringe players and youngsters he took with him on Manchester United’s US tour are not part of his inner circle, as he explained after the 4-1 defeat to Liverpool.
“This is not my squad," he proclaimed. "Half of my squad are missing and half of the players out there today will not be at the club after August 9.”
He has also made it clear that he can no longer trust Anthony Martial after the Frenchman left the camp to be at the birth of his son and failed to return immediately.
“He has the baby and after the baby is born – beautiful baby, full of health, thank god – he should be here and he is not here," he declared.
And, above all, he has left us in no doubt that he and Ed Woodward are on different wavelengths when it comes to the transfer market.
“You ask me about players I would like to buy, to add to the squad," he said. "I would like to have two more players. I think I am not going to have two.
“I think it is possible I am going to have one; that is possible. I gave a list to my club with five names a few months ago and I wait to see if it’s possible to have one of these players.”
Mourinho has never been one to keep all of his frustrations in but since arriving at Old Trafford two years ago he has never gone on such a concerted offensive as this summer, and certainly not when it comes to Woodward.
While many United fans have serious misgivings over the executive vice-chairperson and his primary motivations, Woodward has delivered the majority of what the manager has demanded over the last 24 months.
In their first summer working together, United bought all four players Mourinho had identified and, come 2017, only Ivan Perisic had escaped their grasp.
And while Mourinho did repeatedly point to having only been delivered 75 per cent of his wish list, he did express a calmness about the situation as last summer’s transfer window was coming to a close.
“I told Mr Woodward that obviously my plans were four, but I also told him ‘Be cool, no pressure from me, do what you think is best for the club.’”
But this summer has been one long onslaught on many different fronts, with Mourinho making it clear that he needs to be backed to the hilt if he is to be expected to meet his targets on the field.
First, he used his engagements with RT during the World Cup to question why the Perisic deal hadn’t got over the line. Then, he embarked upon his string of sulky tirades during the pre-season trip to America.
He has even gone to the extent of using Scott McTominay in a back three against Real Madrid to underline the shortage of senior centre-backs, as Woodward mulls over pursuits for Toby Alderweireld and Harry Maguire.
His public statements reflect a general belief around the club that Mourinho and Woodward’s relationship has frayed to a large extent. While Woodward has agreed to go into battle for the players Mourinho has identified, his inability to strike a quick deal has been of concern.
Even should he now land one or both remaining targets, the seed has been planted in the manager’s head that his board are not willing or able to get him what he needs and when he needs it.
“The market ends on August 31, so there is plenty of time,” Mourinho said last summer, “but obviously, the objective for me as manager is always to have the players as soon as possible and try to coach them in the team and develop the team with them.”
The failure to get new players in early has reared its head again this time around, to the extent that United have brought in only one senior signing in midfielder Fred with just a week remaining of the transfer window.
That is not what Mourinho had in mind at the start of the summer and certainly not what striker Romelu Lukaku was expecting when he spoke about the summer window in March.
“We are Manchester United," he stated. "We have to improve every year and I know that a lot of players, a lot of good players, will come in next summer. That’s for sure.”
But Woodward’s insistence on haggling for every last dime where possible was identified as the reason for not getting Perisic last summer. Furthermore, the decision to step back from talks with Tottenham over Alderweireld when the two parties were £20 million apart earlier in this campaign has raised further eyebrows.
The images of the pair in discussions at the Hard Rock Stadium in Miami following Tuesday’s victory over Real Madrid showed there is still a relationship of sorts between them, but to some inside the club there appears a change from their previous understanding.
Spotted this last night in the mix zone after Real Madrid v Manchester United. Ed Woodward running after his manager shouting “Jose, Jose.” Finally stops his man and I’ll let you decide the conversation... #MUFC #Mourinho #ICC2018
( @ESPNFC ) pic.twitter.com/WoyueW49qa — Charlie Gibson (@CharlieMooseGib) August 1, 2018
As a former accountant and investment banker, Woodward seemingly can’t shake off his financial instinct, attempting to drive the hardest of bargains and showing a willingness to walk away if he perceives that United are not getting their absolute money’s worth. That lack of urgency doesn’t sit well with Mourinho’s desire to go all out in a bid to get the team winning titles again at any cost.
In the past few days, Mourinho has softened his public stance, even putting his frustrations into context in an interview with BeIN Sports .
“I think in every pre-season it happens basically the same with probably every club, which the manager wants more,” he explained. “It is our nature and our way to always want more for your team.
“But then club decisions are different and normally you don’t get what you want, which happened basically during all my career. So, if I get one player until the end of the market, that’s fine.”
It appears from that statement, and from opinion within Old Trafford, that Woodward is willing to deliver at least one more signing before next Thursday’s deadline.
But Mourinho won’t forget this summer’s transfer campaign in a hurry and will not be dissuaded from using it publicly as explanation for any evident failings in United’s play at a later point.
Should the Mourinho trend of succumbing to a third-season implosion continue, you can bet your bottom dollar that Woodward’s transfer strategy will be one of the things the Portuguese will identify as key elements behind his failure to deliver at Manchester United.