From the selection of personas available to him in times of alleged crisis, Jose Mourinho chose the sunny, upbeat one for the press conference ahead of the Champions League meeting with Valencia that could, theoretically, turn into his last game in charge.
The description, from two senior figures in the Manchester United dressing room, is that the mood there is “depressingly bad”. And this was in the few days before the dismal defeat to West Ham.
The scene afterwards was naturally even worse, further feeding this cycle of bad results and escalating pressure to win the next game – a tough Champions League encounter against Valencia, that comes from this wider cycle in Jose Mourinho’s career.
No one can now doubt this really is one of those seasons. No one can doubt this now feels all in the balance, maybe the end game. Results may force executive vicechai rman Ed Woodward hand.
United are nine points off the title pace just seven games into the season, and to outside eyes at least Mourinho seems to have compounded their worst start for 29 years by conducting public feuds with his players. Paul Pogba was substituted at the weekend and Alexis Sánchez dropped altogether, the Chilean reportedly furious about being taken to London and made to sit in the stands.
The conclusion being drawn is that what happened to Mourinho in his final season at Chelsea is happening all over again in Manchester, though that could be an oversimplistic analysis.
“The manager is trying to turn this around, he wants to make us stronger,” said Nemanja Matic, a player who was at Chelsea with Mourinho the last time things went awry and one who declined to comment on whether he was experiencing any sort of deja vu.
“It’s not my job to analyse that,” the midfielder said diplomatically. “The players all know the situation is not good and we know we can do better. Everyone is trying to give more and hopefully Valencia will be a chance to show that.”
“I don’t think with talking you can resolve something,” Matic said. “You need your leaders on the pitch, the ones who are not scared to play. In the next games we will see who is the leader. Talk in the dressing room doesn’t mean anything. Sometimes it can help but most important is on the pitch.”