These are worrying times at Manchester United.
The 13-time Premier League champion has made its worst start to a top-flight season since 1989 and Jose Mourinho’s side currently languishes in 10th place in the standings following a 3-1 humbling at West Ham on Saturday.
Mourinho’s relationship with star player Paul Pogba is reportedly less than harmonious, meaning time could be running out for United’s beleaguered manager, who, for all his success, has an unfortunate habit of not making it through three seasons at the sides he has coached over the course of his career.
On Tuesday United welcomes Valencia to Old Trafford in the Champions League. As the Red Devils’ domestic ambitions for this season look more and more bleak, Europe offers a clean slate after an opening round victory over Swiss side Young Boys.
A loss to Valencia, however, could put Mourinho in even deeper water, with stories of player discontent becoming increasingly widespread.
“If you’re not winning football matches then inevitably we know what happens with managers,” Alan Shearer, the Premier League’s all-time leading goal-scorer (260) and now TV pundit, told CNN World Sport’s Patrick Snell the day before United’s loss to West Ham.
“I don’t think they’ll be good enough to win the league this season. But, as I said, if they don’t get the results that he wants and the football club wants then the manager loses his job.”
The Pogba problem
Shearer, who scored 206 goals for his boyhood club Newcastle United after winning the 1994/95 league title with Blackburn Rovers, is acutely aware that the friction between Mourinho and midfielder Pogba is not helping anyone’s cause at Old Trafford.
Shearer says that the 25-year-old World Cup winner “needs to get down, to knuckle down, and start putting in some performances and stop criticizing at every opportunity.
“Pogba has been talking too much. And players have got all the power nowadays. He came back a much stronger person from the World Cup with a winners medal and that puts him in a stronger position.
“When I first started out in the game many years ago back in the late 1980s, it was the clubs that held all the power. Now it’s gone full circle. The players have all the power now.”
As for the question of blame, Shearer refuses to take sides, but notes that Mourinho’s history in these situations is unfavorable.
“Mourinho — not for the first time — is fighting with individuals in his football club. It happened at Chelsea and of course we know what happened there.”
it is widely believed that Shearer had the opportunity to join Manchester United during his mid-1990s heyday. Had the deal from Blackburn to Old Trafford taken place, it is only natural to wonder how many more medals the now 48-year-old could have won.
History shows that Shearer returned home to his boyhood club of Newcastle United — as the world’s most expensive player — which resulted in legendary status being cemented by the passionate Geordie fanbase, even if he could not deliver a Premier League title to St James’ Park.
As for a potential move to United, Shearer has no regrets with how his career panned out.
“I wanted to go back home,” said Shearer, who hung up his boots in 2006 for a career in the media. “I wanted to go to my football club that I stood on the terraces as a young boy.
“I was born in Newcastle and for 15 or 16 years I stood on the terraces and watched my heroes.
“Newcastle, at the time that I went, were actually challenging for the Premier League. So I wanted to go there and I had 10 magnificent years and if I had the same decision to make tomorrow I would make the same one and go back home.”
There has been a continued power shift in the post-Alex Ferguson era of the Premier League.
The blue half of Manchester — reigning champion City — went back to the top this past weekend, with Liverpool and Chelsea — who played out a tremendously thrilling 1-1 draw — sitting menacingly in second and third place respectively.
Shearer has been particularly impressed by the Reds’ recognition of needing to strengthen key areas if the historically heavyweight club is to win a first ever Premier League title, notably signing defender Virgil van Dijk, goalkeeper Alisson and midfielder Fabinho.
“[Liverpool] identified where they had to improve,” starts Shearer. “They had to improve defensively. They did that when they bought Van Dijk last January. They knew they needed a goalkeeper, they went out and spent a fortune on a goalkeeper and also a defensive midfielder.
“So they have got strength in depth now. And also with the front three that they have [Firmino, Mane, Salah] they will cause any teams problems. If they don’t, they know one will come off and perhaps Sturridge can come in there also. So they will give it a good go this year in the Premier League.”
Shearer was speaking to CNN from Washington D.C. — part of a Premier League initiative to further expand the brand and connect with the US fanbase. So who does he feel will win the title?
“That’s a tough question,” he concedes. “I do think it will be between Manchester City and Liverpool. It will be a hell of a lot closer than it was last season with City running out 19 points away from Man Utd in second place. But I’m just going to pick for Manchester City.”
Rooney ’embracing’ U.S. life
Shearer seemed to be relishing his stateside travels, mingling with the ever growing American fanbase and recognizing how global football has become.
And in a neat moment of serendipity, the Premier League’s all-time leading goalscorer got to spend some time with the player who is directly below him on that list in second place: the now DC United forward Wayne Rooney.
“He’s embraced it all,” says Shearer of Rooney recently making the move to the States.
“He made the point of saying to me it was important that he brought his family over … because when you’re back in England and you see a lot of foreign players coming into our league, a lot of them don’t embrace it.
“He felt it was hugely important that he did that because if he is happy off the field then he will be doing all his good work on the pitch which is what he is doing.
“Everyone at the football club is very happy with what he is doing and it seems as if his appearance at the football club [means] everyone’s performance has increased by 10% which was the aim of the owners bringing him in the first place.”
Perhaps Rooney’s former club Manchester United should be taking note.