Jose Mourinho did not want to criticise his players after Manchester United’s defeat to Brighton & Hove Albion, because he felt he would be ‘unfairly’ criticised for doing so.
The man who has not held back when speaking out about players such as Anthony Martial, Luke Shaw and Paul Pogba during his time at United, was now strangely silent.
But his response still spoke volumes and ultimately, it was never going to stop Mourinho from receiving plenty of criticism.
His team were dreadful on the south coast; they defended like school kids, attacked without any vigour or panache and then admitted that they had the wrong attitude.
There has been plenty of negativity surrounding United throughout the summer, and a result such as this, after an underwhelming display against Leicester City on the opening day, was all that was needed to bring it out.
It has laid the problems that United have bare.
They made no signings in the transfer market, continue to lack any sort of identity in their play and there is quite clearly disharmony between players and the manager.
The first issue is Mourinho’s biggest gripe, although it does have to be taken with a pinch of salt.
They signed Fred, Diogo Dalot and Lee Grant (back-up keeper), fairly uninspiring summer of business.
Jose wanted a new centre-back in the summer, even though he spent £30m on Eric Bailly in 2016 and £40m on Victor Lindelof in 2017, who both started yesterday. He did not get one and he is clearly unhappy.
But why would United trust Mourinho with another centre-back? He wanted Bailly and he got him, he wanted Lindelof and he got him – now they are not good enough.
United did not back Mourinho in the transfer market this summer as they have in the previous two.
Mourinho knows this and alarm bells will be going in his head. He wouldn’t speak about their transfer business yesterday, maybe because, like Paul Pogba last week, he felt it would get him into trouble.
Whilst his disappointment with transfers is understandable and a club not backing their manager does not make it easy, the lack of any sort of pattern to their play is Mourinho’s making entirely.
All successful sides have a style, a way of playing that is engrained into them and becomes their identity. Just look at Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City, Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool and Mauricio Pochettino’s Spurs sides. Even Maurizio Sarri’s Chelsea are showing signs of a typical Sarri side.
But the current United side do not. There are disjointed, ponderous and have no rhythm to their attacking play.
Brighton played well yesterday and their defensive record is fairly good for a bottom-half side, but four shots on target is never good enough for Manchester United.
Mourinho’s pragmatic and frankly dull football might secure United a top-four finish, it may see them lift a second tier trophy, such as the FA Cup or Europa League again, but that is not good enough.
United expect to be title-challengers, they expect to challenge in Europe and two years into Mourinho’s reign, they do not like close to that currently. A glance across the city shows that it isn’t impossible to get a side to that level in a two-year spell.
And it is not like Mourinho does not have the players at his disposal, even if he would like to make you think otherwise.
That brings it nicely onto the third big problem: the clearly fractured relationship between Mourinho and a number of his charges.
When you are constantly moaning about a lack of transfers, digging out players in public and appear fed up with your job, it impacts the dressing room. Taking a swipe at United’s young players, as Mourinho did during the tour to the US, was another low blow.
Mourinho might say he has never had a problem with Pogba, but nobody believes him; Grant might claim the atmosphere is brilliant during their pre-season tour, yet he wasn’t fooling anyone.
If the atmosphere was good, if the players were behind Mourinho, would they go into a game with such a bad attitude? Would they come out and admit their attitude was the problem?
No, because it now looks like Mourinho cannot inspire his side. Just two games into a season, United’s captain has essentially come out and said they were not prepared for the game.
The blame for that lies solely at Mourinho’s feet.
He will go down as one of the managerial greats, but it feels like Mourinho is out-dated.
His pragmatic approach on the pitch is from a bygone era, certainly at the top of the game, and the way he used to get the best out of players does not seem to work anymore.
Either Mourinho needs to change, or United will be forced to make a change, and everything currently points to the latter.