In an effort to understand Jose Mourinho’s increasingly agitated state this summer, it is actually necessary to go back 12 months when the seeds for the Manchester United manager’s angst over the club’s approach to transfers were first sown.
Despite watching United beat Chelsea to Romelu Lukaku, and take Nemanja Matic from his old club, Mourinho never quite got over United’s unwillingness to pay an extra £5 million to secure the services of Croatia winger Ivan Perisic from Inter Milan.
Even with Perisic, Mourinho felt United would struggle to challenge the eventual champions Manchester City but, without him, the Portuguese believed his team lacked the balance and quality delivery they really needed out wide.
Alexis Sanchez arrived instead in January but, seven months later, as another transfer window prepares to close, Mourinho is again ruing what he doesn’t have rather than what he does and letting anyone who cares to listen know just how unhappy he is about it all, regardless of what that does to morale and relationships.
There are people at Old Trafford who concluded some time ago that Mourinho could be granted his every wish and would still find something to carp about. But while some subscribe to the view that they knew what they were signing up to when they appointed him in May 2016, it is not so much the number of fights he is picking as the identity of the targets and the ferocity of his anger and frustration that is causing the most consternation at United.
Mourinho used to be a master at waging war against perceived enemies for the benefit of his own club - be they referees, opposition managers, rival teams, even Unicef in one instance. But these days his squabbles are predominantly taking place in-house and it threatens to have a corrosive effect at a club whose season is at risk of being undermined before it has even begun.
The mood at Old Trafford changed at the turn of the year, when Mourinho’s public criticism of his favourite punchbags, Luke Shaw and Anthony Martial, extended to include his record signing, Paul Pogba, and other myriad targets.
After the humiliating Champions League exit to Sevilla in March, only Matic and Lukaku were spared in Mourinho’s brutal subsequent analysis but hope that the summer break might help to lighten his mood has been shattered during a turbulent couple of weeks on tour in the US. Instead, the criticism has widened and escalated.
It has reached the point where no-one feels safe from Mourinho’s sharp tongue or erratic behaviour - not executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward, whose relationship with his manager is being tested like never before, not the players who are walking on eggshells, not the support staff who are treading more carefully than ever. It has not helped that Rui Faria, Mourinho’s long-standing No 2, has gone. Faria left at the end of last season and United have lost a key sounding board, the one man who always had Mourinho’s ear and who could be relied upon to accurately gauge the manager’s mood.
The trouble with Mourinho’s frequent moans and rebukes, which have been building and building since January to the point where few would be surprised if his third season at Old Trafford implodes in a familiar state of acrimony and chaos, is that an end-game is hard to discern. What is he trying to achieve?
Relations with Woodward are strained, even if senior sources at United refute suggestions emanating from the manager’s side that he must sell before he can buy any more players. Woodward has little appetite for any change and wants stability, with the club already on the third manager of his reign.
Mourinho believes United should be acting more swiftly and decisively in the market and he has a point - at times it feels as though they are making up transfer policy as they go. But, on the flip side, there is a belief among the hierarchy that United cannot continue to stockpile players, just as there is a feeling Mourinho could be getting more out of those he has signed.
Neither David Moyes nor Louis van Gaal, nor Sir Alex Ferguson in his final eight years in charge, have had the purse strings loosened to the extent Mourinho has at United. There have also been differences over the age and profile of targets. United were reluctant to go the extra distance to sign Perisic, then 28, when they were committing up to £40 million to buy a 29-year-old Matic.
Similarly, Mourinho would swap Anthony Martial (22) for Chelsea’s Willian, who is 30 next month, when board members have questioned the long-term wisdom of that, not least having only signed Sanchez, 29, in January.
The stand-off over Marouane Fellaini’s contract was another example of United’s reluctance to bow to Mourinho’s every wish. Fellaini ended up signing a new deal more or less on the terms he was originally offered.
Mourinho’s relationship with the likes of Martial may be at breaking point but it is the barbed criticism, or those remarks that damn players with faint praise, that members of the squad are having as much trouble understanding.
Eric Bailly was described as being a “team boy, an honest man” but “no leader” in the same breath over the weekend. Antonio Valencia, a Mourinho stalwart, was appointed club captain only days before being rebuked by the manager for turning up on tour reputedly out of shape.
Similarly, few could fathom why Mourinho felt the need to undermine David De Gea at the club’s end-of-season awards in May, at which the goalkeeper swept the board, by claiming he deserved another trophy for being the “worst player in training”.
United feel dysfunctional at the moment and, as much as he tries to apportion blame, no-one is as responsible for that as Mourinho.