Mourinho is ensuring that his big budget cast give big budget performances

Mourinho is ensuring that his big budget cast give big budget performances

After some years of mediocrity, Jose Mourinho is starting to get his well paid players playing. And if they are not happy with the part they play, they can exit the stage.

Craig Millar

If an actor is paid £10million for a film, do people complain? In general, no. Of course, it is gross, obscene even. And yet it is accepted that the 'A-list' actors are paid incredible sums. Yet elite footballers don't seem to be afforded the same indifference.

If a footballer has a bad game, then the first thing that is brought up is the money they are earning. An actor can make a bad film, but whilst the reputation and future earnings could be affected, nobody judges the money they receive.

In 1995, Kevin Costner was Hollywood's darling, and he got involved in a project called Waterworld. Now, anybody unfortunate enough to have paid to watch this film would have wanted their money back. Those who watched it and didn't pay, well they just wasted nearly three hours of their lives.

It was one of the biggest budget films ever at the time, yet the film stank. It was a disaster. Ironically, it ended up making money from video sales, but it was a flop in the box office. Costner still got paid.

In many ways, Manchester United have been like the Waterworld project. They have been throwing money around ever since Sir Alex Ferguson retired, but the public have been short changed.

Was it the cast? Or was it the Directors?

The players brought in by David Moyes and Louis van Gaal were done at a huge cost, both in transfer fees and wages. Moyes wanted 'A-listers' but struggled to attract them, even with the lure of money. Van Gaal went initially that way, but the likes of Radamel Falcao and Angel Di Maria got stage fright, and he changed his approach.

He brought in a raft of decent players, some with mere potential, but he struggled to make them work together and the result made for dour viewing. He wasn't looking to make a blockbuster, but more of an 'art house' flick. 

The trouble with 'art house' films is that they may be technically brilliant, and actors can carry out the directors' instructions to the letter, but they are usually downright boring.

Van Gaal did claim success in the form of the FA Cup, and that run itself was in stark contrast to most league games. There was passion, there was excitement and it culminated in a gripping finale. The final was like a Rocky film, with United seemingly on the canvas only to deliver a late knockout blow.

The players have to take some of the responsibility for the performances that ultimately cost van Gaal his job. The great actors on times ad lib, but none of United's players were prepared to move away from the script. There was no risk. it was all too safe.

United have players that want to be on the stage

Old Trafford is one of the great stages, and although it is likely that most players came for prestige and not just money, the fact is they were brought in on bloated wages. When van Gaal went, he left a squad that could basically rest on their laurels.

Jose Mourinho seems to understand what it means to play for Manchester United and six months after his arrival, players now understand those days of going through the motions are gone.

He made his intentions known. Firstly with Bastian Schweinsteiger, then one of his own signings, Henrikh Mkhitaryan. He tried to force Schweinsteiger out of the club and made him train away from the first-team. It didn't work. When you earn big bucks and believe you deserve the stage, then even Mourinho is limited in what he can do.

Schweinsteiger, to his credit, has been professional as ever, and Mourinho has relented in bringing him back in the main group though he has only played one cameo role. With Mkhitaryan, Mourinho again was a little humiliating with his treatment.

He openly criticised Mkhitaryan after hauling him off at half time in the Manchester Derby. He then continued to leave him out of squads altogether, fuelling speculation that Mkhitaryan may be on borrowed time. However, also to the Armenian's credit, he admitted being at fault and has returned with some Academy Award winning performances.

Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Paul Pogba have been outstanding of late (Photo: Alex Livesey / Getty Images)
Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Paul Pogba have been outstanding of late (Photo: Alex Livesey /Getty Images)

The four players he brought in included some top stars for huge money, but the onus was on quality. All four are showing their class, and that has rubbed off on the group he inherited.

Exit Stage Right

The job is a monster but he is slowly, but surely, ensuring that everybody on the project has to play their part. No exceptions. He had a difficult task to assess the players he adopted, but he has done that now. Those who do not want to be involved, can exit the stage.

Morgan Schneiderlin has expressed his desire to do just that. It has been somewhat of a surprise that Schneiderlin has struggled to make an impact, and possibly more so that he is prepared to go out with a whimper. He battled his way through the lower leagues, but has decided he cannot stand the heat.

In one sense, it is understandable, he wants to perform. Yet having worked his way to the top, he is not prepared to fight to stay there. West Bromwich Albion could be his destination, but Mourinho has also shown that despite United being cash rich, the days of United giving away players is gone.

As Moyes and van Gaal blew money left right and centre paying over the odds, the players who made way were allowed to go for a song. Players like Chicharito, Nani and Rafael were allowed to go for much less than their worth, but Mourinho is being practical. The bid for Schneiderlin was cheeky at best at around £13 million, but he correctly dismissed it out of hand.

Indeed other players unable to get game time, most notably Memphis Depay and until recently Anthony Martial, have had their hopes dashed by being told there will be no loans. In doing so, he is forcing the players to choose the easy route to perhaps more money, or commit to the long haul. Mourinho is cleverly finding out about the fabric of his squad.

Performances are worthy of the arena

And so after a difficult start, some inconsistent performances and some poor results it seems that Mourinho has found the right recipe. The team are now performing like a Manchester United team should.

They are exciting, industrious and a joy to watch. For the past two months, almost every performance has been a thriller. The big stars are putting in big performances, but the supporting cast, such as Ander Herrera have been excellent.

When the prizes are handed out at the end of the year, United may well be missing out on the big one. Chelsea have shown so much consistency and are going to be hard-pressed to overcome. However, there is more than one gong on offer.

If the title eludes United this year, there is a great chance to pick up some other silverware. A league cup semi-final approaches and United will be looking to see off Reading and St Etienne in the other cup competitions.

Even if United did go empty handed, it is clear that Jose Mourinho has put an end to United's 'Waterworld' period. This team is compulsive viewing, and there will be plenty of returning customers.