For Manchester United, the season ended with a whimper rather than a bang. Their meek performance in the FA Cup final, the last chance of silverware in an otherwise disappointing campaign, seemed to cap off a perfect storm of awfulness that began with Manchester City winning the league with 100 points and Liverpool reaching the European Cup final. Had Liverpool prevailed it would have made the season far worse for many United fans and undoubtedly increased pressure and expectation towards Mourinho.
The thing about Jose Mourinho is that results are everything. United may well have progressed in terms of results and league position but the style of play is unacceptable to many Old Trafford regulars. The ends justify the means but only if trophies are involved; United fans were willing to overlook some of Sir Alex Ferguson’s more negative tactics towards the end of his spell because he consistently secured the biggest prizes. If Mourinho cannot ensure a win in a one-off cup game then some are left wondering what exactly he’s good for.
His comments after the game were equally infuriating. He said:
“I think we were the best team, but that is football. I am quite curious to know what you say or what people write because if my team plays like Chelsea did, I can imagine what people would say.”
While United were undoubtedly the better side in the second half, Mourinho’s team hardly had a shot of note over the course of 90 minutes. More troublingly, it seems as though the Portuguese is sensitive to criticism of his methods and is engaged in some kind of personal vendetta with the press rather than focusing on what is good for the club. He went on to say:
“I congratulate them but I don’t think they deserved to win. It was a bit hard for us to play without Lukaku against a team that defends with nine players.”
Romelu Lukaku seemed to improve United after entering the fray but, setting that aside, it is inarguable that Mourinho made his name with the kind of sterling defensive performances exhibited by Chelsea at Wembley. Had United taken the lead, it would have been a similarly drab affair with United defending in numbers and protecting their lead. The hypocrisy is astonishing and suggests that the manager is naïve, deluded or simply saying things he cannot possibly mean.
Next season will be tough for Mourinho and his team. Arsenal, Tottenham, Chelsea and Liverpool will likely improve their domestic form while neighbours Manchester City will be expected to retain the title. This was a genuine chance to end the season on a high and it was squandered against relatively meagre opposition. Chelsea’s manager, Antonio Conte, is not expected to take charge when the new season begins and yet he still managed to secure victory on the day. Like his predecessor Louis van Gaal, Mourinho is beginning to look like a busted flush and the departure of popular players in the summer could be the beginning of the end for the erstwhile special one. Unless United mount a serious title challenge next term, the patience of the fans may well be in short supply.