MANCHESTER, England — There was a moment during Jose Mourinho’s news conference on Thursday when he admitted, in a roundabout way at least, that not everything at Manchester United is perfect.
By then the manager had dismissed speculation he could resign in the summer as “garbage news” and even suggested he would stay at Old Trafford for as long as he is wanted. But asked later whether he feels he has been given all the help and support he needs to be successful here, his answer was, for a moment, revealing.
“Help, yes. Commitment, yes. Conditions in place is a different thing,” he said.
Mourinho went on to insist he hopes that by the time he leaves United the “conditions” will be right for the next manager, whoever that might be. But for a second, it was a brief look into how Mourinho is feeling, 18 months after taking the job. Simply put, the “conditions” — at the moment — are not right.
He has been careful to never explicitly criticise the board or the owners, and only Mourinho will know exactly what he means by “conditions.” He has acknowledged that there were issues with the squad he inherited from Louis van Gaal. He has readily admitted he is working with some players “he would not have bought” and without players “he would not have sold.”
It is something the board agree with, at least in private.
He has also had money to spend to rectify the problem, so far shelling out more than £265 million on seven players, but he revealed his frustration after the 2-2 draw with Burnley on Boxing Day by insisting it is “not enough.”
It was an eye-catching comment given the resources other managers are working with, but Mourinho will tell you he is not expected to compete with the likes of Swansea, Stoke or Bournemouth. He is paid to take trophies from Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain, both supported by oil-rich states. In comparison, annual revenue of more than £580m is peanuts.
City, Mourinho says, “buy full-backs for the price of strikers,” while in the summer PSG signed “two of the four best forwards in the world” in Neymar (€222m) and Kylian Mbappe (a loan move with a view to a €180m move this summer).
Sources have told ESPN FC that Mourinho’s issue is not with the money United have spent, more that he has not got everything he wanted. He was keen to sign four players in the summer, but only got three. Inter Milan set a €55m price for Ivan Perisic — who wanted to move — but United, who valued the winger at around €40m, haggled and haggled until it was too late.
Tottenham played hardball with Manchester City over Kyle Walker, too. But in the end, Pep Guardiola paid what was required and parted with a £45m fee and potentially £5m of add-ons.
It is not enough, yet, to make Mourinho consider his options. The 54-year-old is halfway through his three-year deal and the club hold an option to extend it by another season.
Sources told ESPN FC in October that preliminary talks over a new contract had taken place. There is no rush on either side to reach an agreement but discussions are ongoing. Mourinho, though, has caused much of the confusion about his future himself.
During the preseason tour of the United States, he told ESPN FC in an exclusive interview that he wanted to stay at United “for 15 years.” Then he told French TV show Telefoot in October he “was sure” he would not end his career at Old Trafford while talking up “fantastic” PSG — and it is easy to see why a stint with the French champions would appeal.
Two days later, before a Champions League game with Benfica in Lisbon, he repeated his claim, adding that it was “impossible in modern football that any manager is going to last 15 years in the same club.”
This week, he spoke more like a man again in it for the long haul — adamant he will be United manager next season and, as long as he is still wanted, beyond his current contract.
Mourinho insists he is happy, despite regular trips to his family home in London and the fact he has lived in the Lowry Hotel since his appointment. Indeed, sources insist that he has never missed a day at the training ground and only heads south when the players have been given time off.
The issue for the board now is to make sure Mourinho has the “conditions” he needs to be successful. On the other side, Mourinho will keep the pressure on until he gets them.
One League Cup and one Europa League trophy is a good start, but he is at United to win the Premier League and the Champions League. The club’s hierarchy insist they have delivered the investment agreed with Mourinho — loosely £150m per summer. That, however, will have to change in a world where the Neymar costs more than double the £89.3m former world record that United paid Juventus for Paul Pogba less than two years ago.
Mourinho and chief executive Ed Woodward will begin talking seriously about the summer window — both the players and the numbers — in February and March. There is a lot riding on the discussions.
There is money to spend in January, but sources have told ESPN FC that it will only be used if targets already on the list for next season become available. The ball, as far as Mourinho is concerned, is in United’s court.
Rob is ESPN FC’s Manchester United correspondent. Follow him on Twitter @RobDawsonESPN.