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UNITED, DO THEY STAND?

Theatre of Dreams witnessed plenty of empty seats against Valencia as fans believe its time for Mourinho to pack his bags after three seasons of drab football

Manchester United FC are not the same institution they were five years ago. But to expect them to be so is unrealistic; and to blame Mourinho entirely for it, is unfair.

In an interview with British daily The Times, to promote the release of his autobiography Between the Lines, former Manchester United midfielder Michael Carrick admitted to having suffered from depression for two years after his side lost the UEFA Champions League final in Rome to Spanish champions FC Barcelona in 2009.

"It might sound like a crazy exaggeration comparing football to death but after Rome, I felt like I was grieving…. I'd had a string of massive highs: three league titles and winning a Champions League final, then I just hit rock bottom. Looking back at the mess my mind was in, it's crazy really, because Manchester United had still won the Premier League and League Cup in 2009 but, to me, that was irrelevant. Rome defeated me." Carrick reflected on how, despite having won the same Champions League title a year ago and also securing the English Premier League and the League Cup in the 2008-2009 season – having bested by Barcelona in the final left a lasting impression on his mind. His lines are a testament to the hunger that the Manchester giants were accustomed to.

Much happened to the mighty Manchester United in the years: a then 24-year-old Cristiano Ronaldo went to Real Madrid before the 2009-2010 season began; two league titles, an FA Cup, a League Cup and a UEFA Europa League trophy came their way; their talismanic manager Ferguson bid farewell, as did almost all the players he had ever signed; all-time goalscorer Wayne Rooney left seeking greener pastures. If one is to chart United's timeline in the 21st century, Sir Alex Ferguson's departure would be considered the most significant event to have ever taken place. Since his departure, United have been a shadow of their former hungry, vicious self. Three managers have so far stepped into Ferguson's gigantic shoes, none have been able to replicate his success.

Current manager, José Mourinho, since his appointment in 2016, has had his share of ups and downs. In his first season, he led United to a FA Community Shield, a Europa League and a League Cup. In the subsequent season, United finished a respectable second – their highest ever position since Ferguson's departure. This season, however, has been more unforgiving than any he has witnessed in his career.

The Portuguese tactician did not have his way in the transfer market, United had their worst start to a PL season in almost 10 years, they lost at home by three goals to Tottenham Hotspur and, seemingly, he is losing control over the dressing room.

There are many things that define Mourinho: a proven winner, an astute tactician, a lavish but smart customer in the football transfer market and, finally, someone who often gets on his players' nerves. Mourinho became a household name in England after his stellar first stint at Chelsea FC, after which he had impressive stints at Internazionale, Real Madrid and Chelsea again. However, Mourinho has shown a tendency to lose steam somewhere around the third season.

His third season at United has been no exception. Antagonising players by singling them out for poor performances, snarking at reporters in press conferences, letting his differences with the United board come out in the open – are among the complaints doing the rounds in the grapevine.

It was evident in the aforementioned words, Carrick and his contemporaries like Rooney, Rio Ferdinand, Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes and Edwin van der Sar had a hunger to win like no other. Not just because Ferguson ran a tight ship, but because they belonged to an era when footballers had very few things to do other than to kick the ball.

Ten years have passed since Carrick lost the final in Rome. Since then, the responsibilities of a footballer have transformed, for better or for worse. One of the most reviled aspects of today's professional footballers is their affinity to social media and their desire to be not just footballers, but brands. This is an affliction plaguing United's squad, just as much as it ails that of any other club.

It has, as former football and United greats have also pointed out, affected the ethos of the club. United are just not the same institution they were five years ago. What the United board must do is to let Mourinho's third season run its course,and then reach an informed and intelligent decision.

Sridhar Venkatesh

Sridhar Venkatesh

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