We may be three months away from Christmas, but there’s a definite festive feel to the current situation at Manchester United.
And I don’t mean that chestnuts roasting on an open fire as the family huddle round the Monopoly set listening to Gordon Ramsey Sings Christmas Classics feel. I mean that real festive feel, where you find yourself wondering how you’re going to survive the next few hours with family members you can’t stand.
Unfortunately for United fans, Jose Mourinho and Paul Pogba are those warring relatives. And they’re going to have to survive more than a few hours in each other’s company before they can relax in front of a bit of classic Only Fools and Horses.
How long this feud could go on for is anyone’s guess. Three months if Pogba is genuinely looking to force a move in January. In Mourinho’s case, anywhere between three years and three minutes depending on whether you think Ed Woodward is about to sack Jose or reward him with a new contract and a sponsorship deal with Just For Men. After all, Woodward is the king of sponsorship deals and Jose has greyed at an alarming rate this last few months.
Of course, some would say the Pogba vs Mourinho issue is a storm in a teacup, which is all well and good if that tea isn’t boiling hot and you’re not using one of those huge novelty mugs. Get a storm in one of those babies and you’d better run for cover!
And the fact is, whilst in public things may appear professional with Mourinho and Pogba, burning underneath is that resentment and frustration that no amount of mince pies is going to cure.
So how will this end? Or to be blunt, who will win the war?
Jose Mourinho, with all his experience and trophies, yet growing increasingly irritated that the world around him is changing and the realisation he must change with it if he wants to stay relevant? Or Paul Pogba, the epitome of modern youth culture and vibrance, frustrated by the rules and restrictions placed on him by Mourinho?
The truth is Manchester United have had an abysmal start to the season. So bad that if you took it to a vet they’d probably put it out of its misery. A title challenge is already over and it’s only the start of October. The Champions League looks like it will be the most competitive in years but the closest United will get to the trophy is if they offer to polish it. And with the embarrassing exit from whatever they’re calling the League Cup these days, the FA Cup offers the only real viable chance of silverware this season.
Not acceptable for year three of a Mourinho reign that was meant to deliver so much more.
Then we come to Pogba, World Cup-winner this summer with France, but dreadfully inconsistent in a Manchester United shirt. So much so that with United’s recent Marvel link up there were rumours they were looking to cast Pogba as the Invisible Man.
History tells you that Mourinho will be the one to go. When the going gets tough it’s always the manager who pays the price. They pick the team, they pick the tactics, and they take the fall. Then manager is sacked, players who have underperformed suddenly become superstars under a new manager, everyone is happy. Apart from Mourinho. But he’s never happy anyway.
But what if it doesn’t go that way? While most football fans are pretending to like the Bake Off during the international break because there’s nothing else on, Mourinho is jetting off round Europe to watch obscure international games. Which means he’s either scouting for new signings, or he’s using the time to clock up some air miles so he can reward himself with a couple of tickets to see Take That: The Musical when he does ultimately get the sack.
The suspicion is he’s looking at signings. Ed Woodward doesn’t want to be the chief executive whose three managerial appointments have all failed, so it looks likely he’ll compound his mistake by chucking more money at it. Then take himself off and pray vigorously that Mourinho turns this mess around.
Still, miracles can happen! There are plenty of points still to play for and if United were to go on a long and successful winning streak, and the seven teams above us mysteriously went down with a bout of flu for the next seven months, maybe we could scrape top four?
Unfortunately, I think not.
Letting Mourinho scout players in October is a bit like offering a turkey a month-long cruise round the Caribbean in January. Maybe he’ll be one of the lucky few who make it but the odds are he’ll be lucky to last till the first week of December.
It’s extremely sad to see United have to go through this again, but come Christmas Pogba and his boys will be smiling round the tree filming Jesse Lingard bust some moves to Cliff Richard’s Mistletoe and Wine.
And Mourinho will be retired to the corner like Uncle Albert telling people old war stories about how things were better when he was in his prime.