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Adam Lanigan: There is only one place to go for the latest version of Premier League Weekly

(Martin Rickett/PA Wire.)
(Martin Rickett/PA Wire.)

EVENTS at Manchester United have dominated the opening two months of the season as the club has made its worst league start since 1989.

It has been football’s equivalent of the Bodyguard with everybody hooked on the unfolding developments at Old Trafford.

Like the Bodyguard, the waters are murky and there is a long list of shady characters, but who is to blame for what is happening to United?

The main character in this drama is obviously manager Jose Mourinho. He has been central to everything that has happened since the summer. Frankly, he has been at odds with the world since the pre-season tour. He is not happy with his chief executive, his star player and a host of others in the squad, the Media, even the Police were in the line of the fire as United turned up late for Tuesday’s Champions League game at home to Valencia. In football, the buck stops with the manager and some of United’s performances this season has been woeful. While his tactics in the 3-1 defeat at West Ham last Saturday were questionable. The biggest concern is that after two years in the job, Mourinho does not seem to know what his best team is and the quality of football being served up has been very poor, which does not help his cause one bit. However, given the Machiavellian nature that we know the Portuguese has, is this all part of a grand plan to engineer his own dismissal?

United’s star player has not helped matters. As the club’s record signing at £89 million, he should be the heartbeat of the United team, just as he was for France during their World Cup triumph this summer. But his performances have remained inconsistent, he has dropped hand grenades in Media interviews and his agent Mino Raiola has been keen to link him with a move to Barcelona. Having begun the season as captain with Antonio Valencia injured, Mourinho felt compelled to strip him of the vice-captaincy in front of the rest of the squad as well as the pair being caught on camera in a frosty exchange. Pogba has now been gagged by the club from saying anything more. If only his feet were as potent as his lips, it seems.

Yes, Jose Mourinho seems to have fallen out with most of the United squad, but the performances in losing at Brighton and West Ham were so far away from what most of us have come to expect from the Red Devils. United have always lost matches, but not without desire and urgency and basic hard work. Mourinho is at pains to point out that he worked miracles to get his squad to finish second last year with 81 points. There has barely been a change of personnel, so there can be few excuses for the way they have started this campaign. In fact, some of the games have been so poor that you almost ask the question – has it reached the point where the players are actively trying to force the manager out?

Sorry, Ed, you’re next in the frame. The United Chief Executive is the mastermind behind the club’s commercial juggernaut. If there is something that can be sponsored, you name it, United have it. Beer, wine, noodles, it really is quite remarkable how Woodward has made the club such a money-making machine. United probably have more sponsors than some people have friends! But ultimately, fans are not bothered by how good the commercial results are. The only thing that bothers them is the result on a Saturday and they have not been good enough. Whether Woodward should have quite such a hands-on role in football though is another matter. Mourinho wanted another centre-half this summer, but the man above him thought neither Toby Alderweireld or Harry Maguire made financial sense. Is that the right due diligence from the man who signs the cheques or unnecessary interference? After David Moyes and Louis van Gaal, Mourinho was supposed to the sure thing, the man who guaranteed success. He has won the League Cup and the Europa League, but the bigger prizes are no nearer returning to Old Trafford. If Mourinho fails, surely that counts as another failure against the man above him.

Remarkably, the United owners seem to have been getting away scot-free in this troubled time for the club. But the Glazers have created a situation at United whereby money is everything. If United wins the Premier League, that is wonderful, but the bottom line is to make sure they are in the top four and are guaranteed Champions League football and the huge revenue that brings. It could be argued that going to Old Trafford is now a soulless experience where you are surrounded by tourist fans from all over the world armed with their bags from the souvenir shops and half-and-half scarves. But soul does not have a monetary value, unlike expensive tickets and club merchandise. Moyes and van Gaal were dismissed as soon as Champions League qualification was missed which hinted at a reactive ruthlessness. Florida may be a long way from Manchester, but the world is small at the top and the Glazers will know what is going on with their destructive employee in Mourinho. Are they prepared to take decisive action or let this toxic situation run and run?

Of course, this is a light-hearted one to finish on, but Sir Alex Ferguson set the bar so high at United it has been impossible for anyone to follow him. 13 Premier League titles in 20 years was exceptional, but this is now the sixth season without him and it is almost certainly going to be another one without winning the league. Everyone is so ingrained in the Ferguson era that his standards will always be those that anyone else is judged against, and players and managers are finding that impossible to match.

Stat of the Day:
19.4 – In the five seasons post-Sir Alex Ferguson, United have finished an average of 19.4 points behind the Premier League winners. After seven games this season, they are already nine points off the top.

Adam’s Saturday Scores:
Burnley 1 Huddersfield 0
Crystal Palace 1 Wolves 1
Leicester 2 Everton 1
Tottenham 3 Cardiff 0
Watford 2 Bournemouth 2
Manchester United 2 Newcastle 0