The Warm-Up world exclusive: I am part of the resistance inside the Mourinho administration
After news broke that Paul Pogba could be looking to leave Manchester United as early as January, The Warm-Up was urgently contacted by a senior source last night. We disrupt our normal service to bring you their message in full.
Manchester United's executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward (R) listens as Manchester United's Portuguese manager Jose Mourinho talks
The Warm-Up is taking the rare step of publishing an anonymous op-Ed essay. We have done so at the request of the author, a senior official in the United administration whose identity is known to us and whose job would be jeopardised by its disclosure. We believe publishing this essay anonymously is the only way to deliver an important perspective to our readers.
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Jose Mourinho is facing a test of his reign unlike any faced by a modern Manchester United manager. At least since the last one. And the one before that.
It’s not just that Pep Guardiola looms large. Or that the fanbase is bitterly divided over Mr. Mourinho’s leadership. Or even that he might now lose Paul Pogba to Barcelona in January.
The dilemma — which he does not fully grasp — is that many of the senior officials in his own administration are working diligently from within to frustrate parts of his agenda and his worst inclinations.
I would know. I am one of them.
To be clear, ours is not the popular “resistance” of Mark Goldbridge and other disaffected fans. We want the administration to succeed and think that many of Mourinho’s decisions have already made United safer at the back and more resilient when taking on the best that the midtable of the Premier League has to offer.
But we believe our first duty is to this club, and the manager continues to act in a manner that is detrimental to the health of our beloved team.
That is why many working at United have vowed to do what we can to preserve our footballing institutions while thwarting Mr. Mourinho’s more misguided impulses until he is out of power.
The root of the problem is Mourinho’s amorality. Anyone who works with him knows he is not moored to any discernible first principles that guide his decision making. Other than an unquenchable desire to secure the “respect” he feels he has earned - and a dedication to getting it long.
Although he was appointed to lead at Old Trafford, the manager shows little affinity for ideals long espoused by United: a free-flowing attacking style, daring wingers and genuine charisma in our play. At best, he has invoked these ideals in scripted settings. At worst, he has attacked them outright.
In addition to his mass-marketing of the notion that the press is the “enemy of the people,” Mourinho’s impulses are generally extremely pro-trade, especially when he was trying to convince us to spend £80m on Harry Maguire on transfer deadline day. Then £35m on Yerry Mina. Then £18m on Diego Godin. Basically, any defender he could lay his hands on. It was down to me, I mean us, to overrule him.
Don’t get me wrong. There are bright spots that the near-ceaseless negative coverage of the administration fails to capture: a Europa League title, a League Cup, Scott McTominay, securing new official potato snack partners in Malaysia and seeing a dramatic upturn in our social media metrics.
But these successes have come despite — not because of — the manager’s leadership style, which is impetuous, adversarial, petty and ineffective.
From Carrington to the offices at Old Trafford and the United megastore, senior officials will privately admit their daily disbelief at the commander in chief’s comments and actions. Most are working to insulate their operations from his whims.
Meetings with him veer off topic and off the rails, he engages in repetitive rants about winning more Premier League titles than all the other managers combined, and his impulsiveness results in half-baked, ill-informed and occasionally reckless decisions that have to be walked back. Like starting Ander Herrera in a back three against Spurs.
“There is literally no telling whether he might change his mind from one minute to the next,” a top player complained to me recently, exasperated by a meeting at which the manager flip-flopped on a major policy decision he’d made only a week earlier. Having spent the summer talking Paul Pogba down after winning the World Cup, suddenly he was installed as captain and described as a “monster” after scoring a penalty against Leicester
The erratic behaviour would be more concerning if it weren’t for unsung heroes in and around United. Some senior officials, and one in particular, have been cast as villains by the media. But in private, we have gone to great lengths to keep bad decisions contained to Carrington, though they are clearly not always successful.
It may be cold comfort in this chaotic era, but United fans should know that there are adults in the room. We fully recognize what is happening. And we are trying to do what’s right even when Jose Mourinho won’t.
The result is a two-track managership - or head coachship, as Jose might put it.
Mourinho - Manchester United - 2018
Image credit: Getty Images
Take transfer strategy: In public and in private, Mr Mourinho shows a preference for ball-winning autocrats and big, tall strongmen, such as Nemanja Matic and Marouane Fellaini, and displays little genuine appreciation for the kind of gilded forwards who have been natural allies to the United way for decades.
Astute observers have noted, though, that the rest of the administration is operating on another track, one where stylish and more fragile attacking talents are quietly protected, engaged as peers rather than ridiculed as enemies within.
On Anthony Martial, for instance, the manager was determined to sell one of the best young forwards in football. He complained for weeks about the amount of paternity leave he took during the summer tour of the USA, and he expressed frustration at his refusal to return for a set of matches that even Mr Mourinho had effectively said were not worth the admission price for local fans. But I, I mean we, knew better, and started trying to tie Martial down to a new contract. Such actions had to be taken.
This isn’t the work of the so-called deep state. It’s the work of the steady state.
Given the instability many witnessed, there were early whispers within the board of invoking the Zidane Plan this summer, which would start a complex process for removing the manager. But no one wanted to precipitate a constitutional crisis. So we will do what we can to steer the administration in the right direction until — one way or another — it’s over.
Image credit: PA Sport
The bigger concern is not what Mr. Mourinho has done to United but rather what we as a club have allowed him to do to us. We have sunk low with him and allowed our discourse to be stripped of civility. That dig about Antonio Conte’s hairline was simply unacceptable.
Sir Alex Ferguson put it best in his farewell speech on the pitch at Old Trafford: "I know how good you are. You know the jersey you are wearing and you know what it means to everyone here. Do not let yourselves down." All United players and fans should heed his words and break free of the tribalism trap, with the high aim of uniting through our shared values and love of this great club.
We may no longer have Fergie prowling the touchline. But we will always have his example — a lodestar for restoring honour to public life and our national dialogue. He certainly never stripped discourse of civility.
There is a quiet resistance within the administration of people choosing to put club first. But the real difference will be made by everyday fans rising above politics, reaching across the aisle and resolving to shed the labels in favour of a single one: United.