You name it, Jose Mourinho has complained about it these past few weeks.
A lack of signings, the quality of pitches, the quality of referees, the fitness of his captain, the quality of his young players, the failure of Anthony Martial to return to pre-season following the birth of his child, the number of players missing after the World Cup - the Manchester United boss looks and sounds like he’d rather be anything other than Manchester United boss right now.
The sparkle is gone. The Special One is no longer so special. He is a greyed, dishevelled shadow of his former self.
United fans are dreading the time-honoured third season Mourinho spiral which already seems to be in motion this summer. But what we have seen from Mourinho over the past few weeks is an illustration of deeper problems at Old Trafford.
The fractures are most obvious in Mourinho’s remarks about transfer spending, or rather a lack thereof. “I gave my club a list of five names a few months ago,” he sighed after Saturday’s disappointing 4-1 pre-season defeat to Liverpool, a result which underlined United’s current problems. “I wait to see if it's possible to have one of these players.”
Mourinho’s comments were a not so thinly veiled dig at Ed Woodward, Man Utd’s vice-chairman and public figurehead who has taken on the role of de facto head of recruitment for the past five years.
But Woodward is not a head of recruitment. He is not a director of football or sporting director either. He’s not even a figure with football at the forefront of his mind.
Woodward is a money man, a man charged with exploiting and making the most of Manchester United’s potential as a brand. He is very good at this, maybe even the best in the game. The Old Trafford club has an official tyres partner, an official medical systems partner, an official paint partner and an official mattress and pillow partner. No club in world football makes as much money as they do.
Change is Needed
This summer certainly isn’t the first instance of negligence from the former accountant and investment banker.
David Moyes and Louis van Gaal suffered similar frustrations in the transfer market.
Moyes wanted a new midfield, but ended up with Marouane Fellaini as his sole summer signing made on deadline day. Van Gaal wanted full backs, but was handed Radamel Falcao and Angel Di Maria.
For the sake of everyone associated with Man Utd, Woodward must recognise his own shortcomings and implement a more modern system at the club.
United need a director of football. A head of recruitment at the very least. They need a new infrastructure that won’t just set them up for this season, but for the next 10 seasons to come. A modern club needs a modern framework and the Old Trafford club is currently stuck in the dark ages.
They remain in the shadow of Sir Alex Ferguson. The appointment of Mourinho matched the Scot in terms of strength of character and blockbuster appeal, but the way they have operated since the arrival of the Portuguese two years ago suggests there is little understanding of the changes that are required.
Ferguson was an anomaly. He was the last vestige of a model that had grown outdated elsewhere in the sport, but still worked for him right up until the moment he retired as a Premier League title-winner five years ago.
Ferguson was a one-man footballing infrastructure. He had become Manchester United and Manchester United had become him. It was impossible to separate the two entities from each other.
What's the Plan?
But in the years since Ferguson’s retirement, United have failed to adapt to their new reality.
While Arsenal have implemented a structure to mitigate the impact of losing Arsene Wenger, another manager of Ferguson’s mould, Man Utd are still a club waiting for an emperor. They’re waiting for another Ferguson, which is a problem given that the Scot was the last of his kind.
There is no vision at Manchester United. Across the city, Manchester City have an ideology that extends beyond Pep Guardiola, beyond the here and now. Sure, the former Barcelona and Bayern Munich boss is the purest manifestation of this manifestation, but City are building something that will outlast Guardiola. United have no such foresight.
Some may argue that as long as Mourinho delivers Champions League football, as long as he keeps Manchester United relevant, Woodward and the club’s shareholders will be happy.
Mourinho might be feeling that himself, given how Woodward sanctioned the world record signing of Paul Pogba, as well as the signing of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Eric Bailly, in his first season in charge - when Man Utd found themselves out the Champions League.
But as long as Woodward and United continue as they are, success will be sporadic. Champions League qualification will not be a given. There will be no pattern, no sustained trajectory. There will be good seasons and bad seasons, all contributing to a sense of instability that could affect the stature of Man Utd as a club.
When Mourinho leaves, whenever that may be, they will start over again, from square one. There will be no overarching strategy to kick in.
Mourinho might well get the players he needs between now and the closing of the transfer window on August 9. Toby Alderweireld, Alex Sandro and Willian could pitch up at Old Trafford, solving many of the problems that have dogged United in recent seasons, putting Mourinho’s mind at ease at least for the time being.
These would only be short-term measures, though. They might help Man Utd get closer to Man City this season, but it would take them no closer to where a club in their situation should be by now. Rather than focusing on new signings, Woodward should look to find a figure or two to help him from bearing the brunt of Mourinho’s comments again.