Ferguson misses the mark: United must aim higher

January 31, 2017 Tags: , , Reads 11 comments
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“I think he’s doing really well,” noted Sir Alex Ferguson of José Mourinho’s start at Manchester United. “It’s not easy coming to United. It’s not easy to transform the club’s fortunes from my time. But I thought Louis van Gaal did a good job and I think José’s doing a great job.”

Those seeming innocuous comments, reported widely last week caused no rumpus, barely even a stir among the United faithful. It was, as we might expect, a simple case of a United legend – who still follows the club’s fortunes – backing the club’s current manager.

Ferguson’s opinion carries weight. He was United’s manager for 26 years, won 13 league titles and countless other trophies. He is the manager the game accepts as the best. Yet, here he is lauding the achievements of a man who’s barely muddied his office carpet after an ordinary six months in Manchester. It could sound like the bizarre acceptance of mediocrity.

"Seeming innocuous comments caused no rumpus among the United faithful. It was, as we might expect, a simple case of a United legend backing the club’s current manager."

Van Gaal was very far from doing “a good job.” The Dutchman stifled the life out of world-class talents, such as restricting Juan Mata to a right-wing role; he repeatedly left Morgan Schneiderlin out in favour of Marouane Fellaini; and squeezed Wayne Rooney into the team even when the Englishman dropped far off the pace.

In his first season, the Dutchman too often relied on bizarre tactics, such as launching it long at Fellaini. His second campaign bore witness to a succession of gutless performances that left Old Trafford stunned into silence.

Van Gaal’s time was one of confusion, at once relying on the multi-talented English teenager in Luke Shaw, while bizarrely throwing his lot in with mercenary striker Falcao. Even Van Gaal’s decision to appoint Ryan Giggs as his assistant left the legendary Welshman grasping at any managerial opportunity that comes his way.

Jose Mourinho

One can’t help feel that even Marcus Rashford’s emergence, which came on Van Gaal’s watch, was a happy accident. After jettisoning James Wilson on loan, Van Gaal’s hand was forced due to a glut of injuries. Four goals in Rashford’s first two games gave Van Gaal an elevated sense of self-achievement. He has ‘found a gem!’ It was, of course, Rashford who deserved the plaudits for injecting life into Van Gaal’s static team.

And if by “good” Ferguson means Van Gaal’s theatrical dive, which earned the attention of every meme and vine merchant with a laptop, then van Gaal did a brilliant job.

It certainly wasn’t good finishing fourth and then fifth in the Premier League, even if Van Gaal’s team did win a frenetic FA Cup final against the one of the worst Premier League sides of 2016. For many clubs this is good. It would never have been good for Ferguson.

The Scot’s argument that “Jose’s doing a great job” is arguably even more odd. Notwithstanding United’s recent form, which still leaves the club in sixth place drowning in the wake of Antonio Conte’s barnstorming Chelsea, it is a curious assessment.

“Great” means forcing Henrikh Mkhitaryan into exile for three months, during which time United floundered when challenged to break down defensive teams. In reality, Mkhitaryan’s presence could have earned the Reds six additional points and United could have utilised a lock-picker of the Armenian’s prowess during the autumn. After all, Mkhitaryan dominated the Bundesliga last season with 18 goals from midfield, arriving at Old Trafford amid huge fanfare and a £26 million price tag.

It also means leaving Shaw an outcast, ostracised to the point of disillusionment. In truth, Shaw has cried out for a manager to put an arm round his shoulder, the way Ferguson would have done.

If by “great” Ferguson means benching Chris Smalling, arguably last season’s most impressive outfielder, then Mourinho has done well too. Smalling, who was on an upward trajectory after last season’s breakthrough, should be one of the Premier League’s best centre-backs. That form has dwindled along with his confidence, and Smalling has reverted to the panic stricken centre-back recognisable from the 2014-15 season.

Then there is the abuse of Rashford and Anthony Martial, two of the club’s most exciting attacking prospects, who are being linked with loan moves elsewhere to kickstart their careers. The pair should be given the freedom of Old Trafford, competing with Pedro and Eden Hazard, Christian Eriksen and Delle Alli at the top of the Premier League.

Marcus Rashford

Mourinho is far from doing a great job – not yet anyway. For that United must no longer be a fading force that fails to qualify for the Champions League. Success is ingrained in the club’s DNA. When the team falls short of perfection, questions should be asked.

Indeed, there is a very real possibly that United will finish sixth this season and miss on bagging a trophy. It would be hard for Ferguson’s to characterise José’s performance as “great” then.

None of this observation is meant as vitriolic criticism of Ferguson, nor the achievements or credibility of Van Gaal and Mourinho. Patience is a virtue around Old Trafford these days. Perhaps the halcyon days once so common under Ferguson will return, but for now supporters must wait, and the team must pounce when the moment arises.

Yet, accepting mediocrity has never been the United Way. Demanding commitment and dedication, ambition and perfection – that’s the United way. Ferguson’s way.

Acquiring world-class players doesn’t necessarily work, nor does hiring world-class managers . Yet, United can surely only reclaim the glory that was once so common by once again setting the aim sky-high. That was Ferguson’s goal when he took over a floundering club in 1986.


Robbie Stewart - January 31, 2017 Reply

he either misses the point or he just doesn’t want to slate the manager I think it’s the latter of the two.

Rob - January 31, 2017 Reply

Another commentator who wants immediate success and yet demands that Rashford be “given the freedom of Old Trafford”. Presumably this means first choice striker, maybe on the wing but everyone moans when he’s out there too.

There’s this fantasy among fans that Jose should have faith in youth yet be automatic challengers for the league. In reality, neither Martial nor Rashford have been amazing this season, they’ve both had moments but Martial disappears too often for too long and Rashfords end product a lot of the time has been poor. Improve these and they become undroppable.

It’s down to the players, they are being given a chance and 6th is about right for the team’s collective output.

Ryan - January 31, 2017 Reply

@DomBooth19 Smalling was deservedly benched for his appalling performance v Chelsea

NazManUnited - January 31, 2017 Reply

@DomBooth19 Things can only get better 😎 I hope I haven’t jinxed it 😂

JonB - January 31, 2017 Reply

As Eric said, ‘When the seagulls follow the trawler, it is because they think sardines will be thrown into the sea.’

Fergie might be retired but has no intention of starting a feeding frenzy by publicly criticizing his successors.

Gaz - February 1, 2017 Reply

This notion that Smalling is/was on a path to greatness at Utd is ridiculous in my opinion. He’s a 27 year old who has been at the club for 6 years and I’m still to be convinvced he’s good enough to be anything more than a backup for us. Under LVG last year, he had his best season for us in large part because he had the benefit of sitting behind the most rigid, defensive, uninspiring and “safe” Utd team in many years. No doubt he’s a really nice guy who wants to do well for the club but the reality is there’s just not enough “football” in him to be considered a truly elite level center half.

Jay Wizzle - February 1, 2017 Reply

Yeah… this is a belittling assessment of Mourinho’s work this far.

I think we need to be a little more careful. We’ve had 3 years of middling recruitment, with few standout acquisitions. Most of the players we’ve signed have been average or slightly better than average, or young promising players.

This is not to mention the fact that bar RvP, since 2012 our acquisitions would not exactly walk into the Bayern’s or Real Madrid’s of their day. It is telling that many of our teams carry overs from SAF’s days were signed before 2008.

And that is not to mention the clear infrastructural and organizational chaos that SAF’s retirement threw in and David Moyes compounded.

I repeat, this is not like walking into a Bayern Munich and taking over. With that backdrop, I think Mourinho has done well so far. He’s managed so many issues we’ve had nonchalantly. We have players who suit possession football and some who suit counterattacking, and yet he has melded them into a somewhat cohesive attacking style. He has managed to ease out an obviously underperforming Rooney. He’s attracted top talent in Mkhitaryan, Pogba, Bailly and Zlatan.

SAF’s assessment might very well be right.

Fusilli Jerry - February 1, 2017 Reply

Really refreshing read, not afraid to go against the flow. SAF is, I believe, still significantly on the payroll, so unlikely to strike discordant notes in public. In private though, if only he could mentor our talented Portuguese tactician in the subtle arts of man-management, so that instead of publicly bullying – and mishandling – players our rivals would love to see us sell, they were nurtured to fulfilling their potential.

Absolutely 6th isn’t acceptable, and in chiding Pogba and Lingard’s video, Rio has today done the best thing anyone associated with the club has done all season.

Incidentally, we can praise Mourinho for tackling the Rooney problem; I praise the player for not a peep out of him/his people in response.

Marco - February 1, 2017 Reply

“Accepting mediocrity has never been the United way” ? Sorry but I have to disagree. We had damned-near a quarter of a century of it between 1969 and 1993 when a few FA Cup wins was the best we could come up with. Hiring David Moyes was to accept mediocrity. Implementing a transfer policy of ‘no value in the market’ and signing the likes of Bellion, Owen, Djemba-Djemba, Kleberson, and Anderson was accepting mediocrity. The hopeless lack of planning when Fergie retired was arguably worse.

Jose has a mammoth task ahead of him and, so far, we’re going in the right direction and do you seriously think that he will settle for 6th and the odd cup final? Did he do that at Chelsea, Real, Porto, or Inter? No. Why would he change here?

Giggs11 - February 2, 2017 Reply

This is why Jose only likes to work with established players.

At the moment we just don’t have the quality of forwards to convert the chances, the stats are obvious.

Rashford and Martial are still young and as LVG said, youngsters are inconsistent. Maybe next season or season after these two will be hitting peak years but until then they are developing… A bit like Ronnie and Rooney in their younger years, although they were overall much better… IMHO.

In the meantime we only have Ibrahimovic as a proper class striker. Rooney… Well I think Fergie should have done us a favour and sold him off before he left the club.

If he comes Grizeman looks good, he will need time to adjust so we’ll probably need another striker besides, and maybe a midfielder to solidify the team.

But with a proper preseason… Next season will be could be a vital turning point. Anything up from here from this position upwards is a bonus and a positive.

Cautiously optimistic, Giggs11.

dayus - February 5, 2017 Reply

What is actually the “the United way”. I think it’s time for reality check. United is in transition.

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