Manchester United’s Portuguese manager Jose Mourinho. AFP PHOTO / Lindsey PARNABY
Jose Mourinho has warned Manchester United’s under-performing stars that they need to “grow up” in the wake of the team’s tame exit from the Champions League.
The fall-out from United’s shock failure in a 2-1 home defeat against Sevilla is still being felt at Old Trafford, with Mourinho launching an impassioned defence of his record during Friday’s press conference ahead of the FA Cup quarter-final with Brighton.
United boss Mourinho admitted his players must learn to cope with the pressure of expectations, a problem that has become all the more apparent in the wake of Tuesday’s European setback.
“The fans have to be sad with being out and the players have to learn how to cope with that level of expectation and that level of pressure,” Mourinho said.
“They have to survive and when they survive they become stronger. An easy life, and the fans not upset, and no critics? That’s not good.
“If you want to make a real top team with top mentality, you need to grow up and the best way is to have this kind of feeling.
“I don’t want the fans to have low expectations, I want the fans to have high expectations because I want the players to have expectations too.”
Those players have been a major problem for Mourinho this season, especially in recent games when the form of Paul Pogba and new signing Alexis Sanchez have come in for criticism from pundits and supporters alike.
But Mourinho said losing to Sevilla was not the major surprise that many claimed, even though he had spoken of his ambition to reach this season’s Champions League final.
And, tellingly, in his analysis of his players’ performances this season, only Romelu Lukaku and Nemanja Matic were spared their manager’s thinly-veiled criticism.
Go for the jugular
“I also said we are not one of the top teams, not one of the favourites to win,” Mourinho added.
“I told you that with these words because I cannot tell you with different words while I am still in competition. I cannot be in competition, go there and say we have no chance.
“It’s the same thing. You cannot expect me to say, ‘this and that player, they have to do better’.
“I prefer to say that Matic and Lukaku are performing at a high level from day one until the last match.
“I cannot tell you the ones that are not performing. I cannot tell you before a Champions League match.
“We went out to a side that’s more successful than Manchester United in the last seven years in Europe.
“We are out to a team that knocked out Atletico Madrid in two legs. We are knocked out by a team that is brilliant in their approach for many years, with their scouting system.”
Despite his argument, Mourinho’s relationship with his club’s supporters is clearly at a difficult point after the events of midweek.
Mourinho conceded that, with free-spending Manchester City on course to win the title by a record margin, it will be difficult for United to challenge them in the short term.
“We try but the reality is that some clubs, they were ready to win,” he said.
“One thing is to go for the jugular and another is to build a different process.
“If the clubs that are in a better situation than us stop investing and we invest, we are side to side. If they keep investing the same or more than us, it’s difficult. It’s as simple as that.
“So the fans, they read what people write, they listen what people say.
“I used to call them idealists or idiots — they can be both. In my dictionary, the dictionary of life, a person with a lot of ideas can be an ideologist or an idiot.
“The people, they listen to the ideologists and they also listen to the idiots. That’s life.”