The current turmoil at Manchester United is playing into the hands of their rivals, according to former Old Trafford No.2 Mike Phelan.
Jose Mourinho faces a must-win game at home to Tottenham, following United’s abject 3-2 defeat at Brighton, which has increased the pressure on him.
Champions Manchester City may have dropped points at Wolves, but Phelan – who spent 14 years working alongside Sir Alex Ferguson – said United’s local rivals can only gain strength from the current crisis unfolding at Old Trafford.
“I think what is there at the moment is fierce competition within the city,” said Phelan.
“If Manchester United are at loggerheads within the club, I think it just helps fuel Manchester City’s cause more than anything else.
“And I think that’s something they need to be very careful of, because City are a very big club now and they’re very well run.
“They know how to use certain situations, and I think that helps – unrest across the road helps. It can’t not be a help and they use it well.”
Mourinho spent the summer complaining at a perceived lack of support from United executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward in the transfer market, while discontent among some of the players continues to simmer.
Record signing Paul Pogba’s agent Mino Raiola continues to agitate for a move away for his player, whose relationship with Mourinho is strained, while the overall morale within the United squad is said to be low, following such a bleak summer.
Mourinho has to shoulder the blame for such issues, having fostered such a negative and divisive mood during United’s pre-season tour of the US and the early stages of the new campaign.
But Phelan does not believe Mourinho is laying the groundwork for an early United exit, despite many believing the 55-year-old is already on borrowed time and will not last the season.
“I don’t think so,” said Phelan, speaking to Sportsweek. “You’re the manger of Manchester United, why would you want to leave that situation?
“I think it probably is delicate right now, in terms of his managerial role, but at the end of the day, most things are controlled by results.
“You’ve got to perform well, get the right results and enjoy the time that you’re there. Not many people become manager of Manchester United.
“Sir Alex had it for a long, long time, then a few have come along since, to try to emulate him and make them the champions again.
“It’s something you’ve got to embrace, rather than not embrace, because it’s a fabulous time to be at a football club of that magnitude.”
Mourinho’s sulky and downbeat mood has clearly affected his players, who are reflecting their manager’s dark demeanour with joyless performances on the pitch, devoid of any verve or passion.
Phelan said any manager of United has a duty to send out the right messages as United boss and suggested Mourinho was undermining the rich heritage of the club with his sullen approach.
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“Any manger of any big institution, which is what Manchester United is, internationally, you have a role and a responsibility to give out the correct messages,” said Phelan.
“You don’t have to avoid conflict, but you certainly have to conduct yourself in a way which is befitting of the tradition of where you’re working, and I think that’s something you can do by keeping your own counsel and getting on with the job.
“But he [Mourinho] is a completely different character and he expresses himself in a completely different way, and that’s a natural thing these days.
“There are opportunities to say things and there are opportunities to keep it to yourself. He chooses one way, and with that there are consequences in what you say.”
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