From Special One to special club – United needs to react to Guardiola’s City appointment

February 4, 2016 Tags: , Reads 20 comments
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Befuddlement on the faces of supporters was clearly evident, Tuesday night, as they watched Manchester United play something close to ‘really good’ football. It is easy to mock the assertion that fans have ‘suffered’ since the Sir Alex Ferguson’s reign ended, but the pain has been tangible in the stands, as a thick fog descends on the Theatre of Sleep.

Only Louis van Gaal has the answer as to why he left it until February to allow his team to play with verve and guile, but the previous 18 months have condemned his tenure for many. The Dutchman arrived in England with a huge ego and equally large trophy cabinet, but the 5-3 defeat to Leicester City last term fundamentally ruined his best laid plans. On that day, United played 45 minutes of the most breathtaking football they had in many seasons, as Angel Di Maria danced and scored a wonder goal. And with options such as Wayne Rooney, Radamel Falcao and Robin van Persie, a brave new dawn appeared to be breaking.

Van Gaal lost his bottle that day, as bottom-of-the-table but soon-to-be-Premier-League-champions — maybe — Leicester ripped through United’s defence with an unfashionable striker named Jamie Vardy. Fast forward 18 months and all eyes are now focused on Eastlands. Manchester City — a team that is still in all four major competitions — is willing to bin the club’s manager even if Manuel Pellegrini creates history with a quadruple of titles. United fans remember all too well how difficult winning a treble is, so if the Chilean can match or better that feat, he will rightfully take a seat at the table of legends.

Guardiola is coming

Pellegrini won’t be in the City job for long though, as the Blues will be coached by Pep Guardiola, fresh from his success at Bayern Munich. His Bundesliga holiday is over, and despite the German league being entertaining, it is less competitive than the second-tier Championship in England.

Guardiola arrives in the Premier League for several reasons: his friends all work at City; the club has lots of money; and the league’s new TV deal kicks in next season, giving English clubs unprecedented power in the financial stakes. Also, City’s owners want to dominate world football, and have put their money on the table.

"This is modern sport, where billionaires can fund their dreams and vicariously live through the joy of football. Yet, as the Eastlands club makes its intentions for the next three years clear, (football fans hate the word ‘project’, but that’s what it is in today’s context,) United’s strategy is as clear as mud."

Van Gaal has one foot in retirement, eyeing the flight schedules to Portugal so he can set off to his paradise villa with Mrs Van Gaal, and the club is treading water like a disaster victim stuck out in the North Sea, desperately waiting for the coastguard. In real terms, United wants to employ Ryan Giggs as the next coach. Executive Chief Accountant Ed Woodward wants the dream of the World’s Greatest Club™ to continue like an upgraded version of Liverpool’s Boot Room, with Fergie playing the Godhead as United dominate the financial markets and European football in tandem.

It is pure mythology and blue-sky (no pun intended) thinking. The strategy behind the scenes is completely skewed. Yes, United has splashed out a small fortune on new players, but any objective assessment of the club’s spend, which is just £33.6 net in 2015 compared to City’s £124.5 million, offers a truer picture.

Van Gaal’s failure

Van Gaal’s team proved against Stoke that it has the capacity to up its game tenfold, but the manager’s caution is reflective of the Board’s abject failure. It is a group planning for a future where the club threatens to become the New York Yankees of football. The Yankees are no longer the dominant force in baseball, winning one World Series in 16 years, but the brand is splashed on hats across the globe as merchandise sales take over from the value of winning trophies. United stands at this crossroads, but there’s a chance the Glazers could attain a full house – if the family really wants it.

As sports club owners the Glazers have taken the Tampa Bay Buccaneers from heroes to zeroes, winning the NFL Super Bowl in 2002, but dragging the franchise down to new levels of toxicity.

The American football team has won only 12 games in three years, losing 36 in return. It is a record United fans should sit up and note, because the Glazers’ decisions have ruined a team in a sport they are most knowledgable about. The family’s depth of English football acumen is weak in comparison.

There is one coach who has the skill set and motivation to keep United in the mix, and he is currently unemployed and looking for a challenge. José Mourinho is himself a brand, much like United, but not one that all wish to to be associated with. United fans salivated and showed their teeth as he ran down Old Trafford’s touchline as Porto’s upstart coach in 2004, filling the stadium with hatred and rage — the exact reaction he wanted.

After Mourinho’s first spell at Chelsea, he went to Inter Milan and made a very average Italian team into the champions of Europe. However, he did it with a brand of anti-football no one wanted, although in Serie A it is acceptable to sacrifice stylistic principles over substance.

At Real Madrid, the Special One was given unprecedented control of football matters by president Florentino Perez, but the coach’s damaging relationship with the Spanish press left him little choice but to abscond back into the arms of Roman Abramovich — who was always going to sack him when the first opportunity arose, just to prove that he was right the first time.

Chelsea has spectacularly capitulated since the summer, but it must be noted Mourinho IS the reigning champion of England. He is not a bad coach, but he is not the most predictable human being in the world. When Mourinho gouged Barcelona assistant coach Tito Vilanova’s eye in 2011 — a horrendous moment described by journalist Paul Hayward as “a Shakespearian act of desperation by a manager now working outside the laws and spirit of the game” — Mourinho slipped down the hierarchy of coaching greats.

Mourinho’s destiny

Destiny has now pulled Mourinho and United together, magnetised by the motivation to prove that each is both valid in the modern game. Hated he might once have been, but United supporters are well schooled in the art of forgiveness. After all, Eric Cantona once jumped into the crowd to attack a Crystal Palace fan. He returned a hero.

Abramovich was all too pleased to lose Mourinho once results went south, and this time the relationship at Stamford Bridge was always going to end in tears. But United can offer the Portuguese coach a genuine chance of salvation, and the opportunity to prove his former Russian employer wrong, as he once did at Inter.

"The sacrifice for United fans will be stylistic, but the football of the past 18 months has been consistently vapid and insidious. Mourinho’s teams have played some of the least exciting football in living memory, but they have also been serial achievers and comprehensive winners."

These two elements are what United craves, as fifth position looks like an annual battle for the club at present and in the future. Mourinho will take United back to the top-four with ease, and the 10-point gap between the club and the top of the league will vanish as if it never existed.

If the Glazer family wants to see the football club achieve glory in the next two to three years, they will need to change the manager in the summer. Mourinho has many miles left on the clock at the age of 53, and has eight league championships to his name, including three European trophies.

Meanwhile, Giggs is a playing legend, but as coach he would be sat at the poker table with no hand to speak of, playing bluff as he tries to emulate the iconic manager who made him a great. It’s the wrong time; this time United needs a coach with a bomb-proof jacket, overt tactical knowledge, and a thick skin.

Over at Eastlands Guardiola will take City to the next level – and the club has already overtaken United in football terms. Do fans really care who has the biggest kit deal and the most fans in China, Australia and the United States? A union between United and Mourinho will make the club valid in the sporting arena once again. It’s the only thing that matters.

And if it all goes wrong? At least United placed themselves with the best opportunity to succeed, just as City have done with Guardiola’s appointment. Mourinho could rebuild United into a genuine world force and halt Guardiola’s procession to dominance that is already taken for granted by fans and the press before the Spaniard even steps a foot on English soil.


Kevin - February 4, 2016 Reply

I do not understand this piece. You argue for Mourinho’s pragmatism and insist it is the only way forward yet when Van Gaal plays the same way it’s a catastrophe?
If practicality and winning percentage is what you want then why campaign against Van Gaal? Mourinho’s football is power, preserve and bully.

Giggyjon - February 4, 2016 Reply

So if you are a Glazer what is wrong with United becoming the NY Yankees of the Premier League? They can continue to whore the brand globally and drive an increasing revenue stream for many years to come yet.

Many United fans still appear to be under the illusion that the parasites are hungry for success and will invest to make it happen. A net spend in 2015 of £33m versus £125m at the Etihad (at a time when he have secured record sponsorship deals) says it all.

For Glazernomics to work all they need is to be in the Champions League annually and the odd win in the FA or League Cup will suffice. This is the frightening truth and I don’t see that changing ever with this family in charge.

You can argue with some justification that a continued lack of success on the pitch will impact deals such as Adidas or Chevrolet, but the world is littered with tin pot brands that are desperate to be associated with the Premier League and particularly clubs with the history of United.

So it may be the wise choice to bring in Mourinho to try and hold back the tide, but it won’t change the fact the City board is investing to win (and win big) and the Glazers will continue only to invest whatever numbers they feel are necessary in order to maintain United’s appeal to sponsors. This may include the odd Galactico but only ones they see a commercial re-sale value for and who can shift shirts at a rate that make the players business case viable.

Mourinho won’t change that policy and more worryingly (even if we sorted the academy) he won’t ever trust youth as Van Gaal has.

So in conclusion yes the succession plan is key, and Mourinho is the best (perhaps only) option, but in reality he wil merely prolong Glazernomics and never be given the tools to allow him to compete with City.

We don’t just need a new manager after Van Gaal (whenever that is), we need these parasites gone. This is something that many fans seem to have forgotten amongst the spin from Old Trafford.

bobbynoble - February 5, 2016 Reply

“..We don’t just need a new manager after Van Gaal (whenever that is), we need these parasites gone.”

Couldn’t agree more.

Van Gaal will be gone sometime during the next eighteen months but the Glazers have the keys to the Theatre of Dreams locked away in their Florida bunker.

Denton Davey - February 5, 2016 Reply

Too many cliches.
Jo$e is a winning manager. He’s done it in Portugal, twice in England, in Italy and in Spain. No one else has a similar record of achievement. And, he’s done it with open expansive play – CSKALondon in his first stint and again in the first half of last year were scintillating; when Madrid won a few years ago – the year after Barcelona had embarrassed UTD in London – they scored a record number of goals and earned over 100 points. He’s also be very “pragmatic” – especially, with InterMilan and again in the second half of last year with CSKALondon when they cruised to an easy EPL title by strangulating matches and squeezing out points in a fairly dull manner – but, let’s not forget that three of those points were squeezed from UTD in a match in which Jo$e’s team gave LvG a lesson.

All the hand-wringing about Glazernomics is, quite frankly, boring and – to my way of thinking – beside the point. Sure, they inherited a great manager and he led UTD to an unprecedented run–of-success without spending much BUT Fergy’s also allowed his last team to just disintegrate without renewing it like he had done so successfully in the past. AND he also let Paul Pogba leave for peanuts.

David Moyes inherited the proverbial “poisoned chalice” and drank from it; LvG found the squad to be “broken” and has effectively dismantled it and is now in the process of rebuilding it. Things haven’t gone so well this season but if you adopt a glass-half-full view then the infusion of youth is promising and the defence is the second-stingiest even though there have been a fair-few injuries that have disrupted the creation of teamwork in the back-four.

The one point that is indisputable is that LvG’s preference for safety-first has been counter-productive; it’s worked OK against the better teams but has been disastrous against the middling squads and appalling against the DeadMenWalking. Far, far, far too many points have been lost against the kind of opponents who used to be put firmly in their place – both in Europe and the EPL.

The Glazers’ ownership has been accompanied by staggering growth in revenue – so much so that their debt-payments arising from the leveraged-buyout have been successfully navigated. They’ve owned the club for almost ten years – ten years of exceptional success both on and off the pitch. Clearly, the magic of SAF’s great run from 2006-2013 has been thoroughly run-down – and, equally, they made a huge mistake when they permitted the great man to nominate a relative nobody to succeed him. Hiring LvG – and giving him lots of money to spend – hasn’t been a complete success but a good argument can be made that the stubborn DutchMaster has rescued the team from the Titanic-like crash that seemed more than likely a couple of springs ago. The glass-half-full scenario suggests that there is now at least a reasonable chance that a new team is being created and that a couple of astute additions – NOT necessarily “world class” additions – will make a significant difference. Whether that happens – or not – will have little to do with the owners’ financial plans and quite a lot to do with wise, creative team-building.

When Brian Clough – still the best English manager in my life-time and certainly the most amusing and entertaining – rebuilt Notts Forest he did so by creating a team. He had a vision of what players would complement the ones who were already in place; some of his signings were ridiculed but Clough’s Forest team won two European Cups in succession something that neither Madrid nor Barcelona have accomplished in the almost forty years since then. That’s why I have emphasized the team for smart recruitment rather than silly galactico non-sense. UTD can offer players the moon-and-sixpence but really the truly great individual talents don’t want to live in Manchester when they can live in Barcelona, Madrid, or Paris. They’d even fancy London and Munich and Torino before they’d consider Manchester – and, in this regard it’s going to be very, very interesting to watch what Pep can do with an unlimited check-book. UTD’s check-book might not be “unlimited” but that doesn’t mean a couple/three key additions won’t make a huge difference. The Glazers have authorized a net spend of 125 million quid in the last two years; do we really think that they wouldn’t spend as much again in the coming summer in order to protect the value of their asset – especially when that asset is under-fire ? They may not want to spend that much money for two/three key additions but the money is there and it’s up to the manager – whoever he is – to make the case for spending it to put UTD back on its perch. They’re not billionaires because they’re stupid; they’re billionaires because they’re greedy and they must surely know that you have to spend money to make money.

So, whether it’s Jo$e or LvG at the helm, the manager’s JobOne is going to be defined by his ability to make the argument that the team has been retro-fitted and only needs some tweaks to be back in-the-hunt for trophies. AND trophies add a lot to the bottom-line as well as appeasing sponsors and attracting new ones.

NazManUnited - February 4, 2016 Reply

Hard Times call for Desperate Measures rising to Great Expectations

Opti - February 5, 2016 Reply

Being reactionary means you are always behind. Let LvG do his thing this season and then we judge: sack or stay (i.e., minimum = Top 4 + a cup).

Also, Jose is not the only quality manager available… notice, I did not say World Class, because he cannot stay more than 3 years at his clubs and has 0 record of bringing youth through from the academy. Also, there is a 95% chance that Mourinho will eye-gouge Wenger if Mou was United’s manager. It would be worse than LvG temper tantrums…

Bournemouth’s manager is more exciting prospect with Giggs as assistant than Mourinho. Just sayin’

edwin farrugia - February 5, 2016 Reply


bobbynoble - February 5, 2016 Reply

Looks like Mourinho for next season.

Denton Davey - February 5, 2016 Reply

Yep, GuardianOnline reports that “meetings have taken place”

bobbynoble - February 5, 2016 Reply

i bet you are partying already, DD

Denton Davey - February 6, 2016 Reply

Not partying yet – “Many’s the slip between cup and lip”.

But, be that as it may be, the only real question is what alternative to Jo$e makes ANY sense ? And, by that I mean, “any sense” in the real world and not a fictional post-FergyWonderland ?

LvG has, by and large, done what he was hired to do. The squad has been largely over-hauled and there is now a young group of potential first-teamers, one potential super-star and two kids who have the potential to be 10-year players (Shaw and Memphis).

Giggs is just not-on – he has no significant experience in management. When SAF was his age he had already broken the OldFirm’s duopoly and was well on his way to taking Aberdeen to a EuroTrophy, beating Madrid along the way. When Brian Clough was Giggs’ age he had transformed Derby County into a First Division champion. What’s Ryan Giggs done ?

Who else is there ?

Jo$e might not be everyone’s cup of tea but he has a tremendous resume with a long, long, long list of trophies. Sure, he’s a prat but he’ll be “our prat”. And for a quarter of a century, UTD had a boss who was widely detested for his arrogance and his rudeness – but he, too, was “our prat”. He also knocked Liverpool off their fucking perch !

Bulkmchugelarge - February 6, 2016 Reply

“As sports club owners the Glazers have taken the Tampa Bay Buccaneers from heroes to zeroes, winning the NFL Super Bowl in 2002, but dragging the franchise down to new levels of toxicity.”

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers were the worst franchise in the history of the NFL prior to the Glazers. Not that it matters but the Bucs had 1 play off appearance in its history before they bought the team.

Ed - February 6, 2016 Reply

Well that proves what excellent owners they are doesn’t it. All arguments over. We consider ourselves enlightened.

zahid - February 6, 2016 Reply

jose TROPHY hunter —– i would all day long choose him over pep…. he made porto champion, made inter world beaters, and took chelsea to another level! can pep do that? He chose easy option of barca with
messi, ronaldinho, etoo, deco just to name a few in his side! bayern were treble winners! Mancity job could be failure if his mr nightmare jose land up at manutd!

BIG NO FOR GIGGS- class of 92 — had enough of it! they are not proven coach at all costs! phil and gary big time faulure at valencia, nicky butt same story ! Even solsjear struggled T cardiff , and point to note– giggs is assistant to van gaal so he should be blamed at least 20% for manutd demise —– Any team will fear playing jose led utd then giggs one! its a no brainer! Any player would love playing for jose and not giggs!

Subterranean Steve - February 6, 2016 Reply

R.I.P. The Busby Babes.

The Munich aircrash was fifty eight years ago today.

Denton Davey - February 6, 2016 Reply

Jo$e is in Berlin right now – watching Borussia Dortmund play Hertha Berlin.

It’s hard not to wonder what means in terms of all the rumours linking UTD with Hummels and Gundogan and Reus and Aubemyang But probably not KagawaBunga who is on the bench.

Subterranean Steve - February 6, 2016 Reply

The best part of this story is that Dr. Frankenstein will not be with us next season.

Ramesh - February 7, 2016 Reply

This reads like a rehash of someone else’s article:

Ed - February 7, 2016 Reply

No, they’re just both articles about United and Jose Mourinho… and there have been quite a few of those recently. If that’s the standard then have Squawka “rehashed” this and this.

YankeeRedDevil - February 19, 2016 Reply

The Yankees have become less successful because of the nature of baseball economics. They are thwarted by several rules (i.e. soft salary cap and other spending limitations), so their financial success no longer ensures they’re ahead of everyone in purchasing the best players. Moreover, the nature of the sport (and the playoff system) itself works against them, as luck plays a major part, so the best team typically doesn’t win the title.

Despite that, I agree with your assertions. Both franchises are run by owners who inherited the team and are particularly too concerned with winning at all costs. The Yankees have become frugal recently (why give up one of your main competitive advantages?), and it has shown in the field, as they’ve been fairly poor (though still relatively competitive) the past two years.

The Yankees are, however, still run by mostly competent, smart baseball people, and they’ve begun rebuilding to achieve sustainable success again (i.e. building from within and through youth). MUFC are still run by clowns, and that’s the most worrying aspect. Even if they do find success, chances are it might be fleeting success, not exactly an indication of another MUFC dynasty.

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