There are few certainties in life. Death, taxes and José Mourinho becoming the next manager at Old Trafford are three of them. The Portuguese’s long awaited arrival in Manchester to secure his dream job seem a foregone conclusion, and barring another Ed Woodward inspired screw-up, he will likely take charge this summer. Who needs who more – manager or club – is rendered irrelevant this point; Mourinho will be the United manager sooner or later. But what will his Manchester United look like? Read More
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. Read More
“He’s got incredible energy and very importantly he likes attacking football.” It was the kind of off-the-cuff boast that Manchester United’s executive vice chairman has become known for. Summer 2014, brimming with the kind of bravado inspired by victory, Woodward added another supposed truism to his unveiling of a new manager secured: that Louis van Gaal’s style would bring “the kind of football Manchester United fans love.” That attacking football is “part of our DNA.” Woodward got only one part of the story correct. Read More
There are many ways to describe Manchester United’s latest performance in a season littered with setbacks. “As timid as a mouse,” comes to mind, but that might be disrespectful to the little critter that made its way onto the pitch at Old Trafford this past Sunday. It certainly moved with more purpose and adventure than United’s players. Read More
Modern economic theory is built on the mathematical technique called “constrained optimisation.” Resources are scarce and people are assumed to behave in a way that maximises their individual happiness given what they have. It is natural to extend this analysis to football clubs.
Manchester United, as a business entity, seeks to maximise its profit. To maximise profit, the Glazer family run club must achieve good results on the pitch – after all, few firms want to be the “regional partner” of a struggling club, where the relationship is essentially about reflected glory. In other words, the Glazers must pay close attention to matters on the football pitch if they indeed are rational, profit-seeking – some might argue profit-exploiting – businessmen.
The Glazers have so far behaved “rationally.” They have also delegated on-pitch matters entirely to the manager, perhaps to the detriment of the club.
United is falling behind other clubs in terms of structure, with many inside the industry viewing United’s scouting department, in particular, as antiquated, while the argument for hiring a director of football holds much merit. Yet, the behind-the-scenes backroom structure does not concern the Glazers greatly, especially if they intend to sell United sometime in the future – not unlike politicians who invest in industries that yield immediate profits, but not in social infrastructure.
At Old Trafford first-team football is the fruit-bearing industry. Alarmed by the Reds’ recent performances under Louis van Gaal, the Glazers and executive vice chairman Ed Woodward will be carefully considering a plethora of options available, including a replacement.
One feasible strategy could be to inject a lot more cash in the winter transfer market to keep United in contention for a place in the Champions League, and then go for Pep Guardiola come the summer. Van Gaal will surely not be allowed to see out his contract if the Bayern Munich manager can be convinced that Old Trafford is his best next step.
Should United lose out on Guardiola to Manchester City – a club that has tailored its structure around capturing the former Barcelona manager – the Reds will be in a particularly precarious situation. Jose Mourinho might be jobless, and seemingly waiting for Woodward’s phone call, but there is no guarantee that he will be available at the end of the season. For one, Rafa Benitez’s struggles at Real Madrid is such that the Spanish club might act in desperation and bring the ‘Special One’ back to Bernabeu.
Should Van Gaal complete his contract, which runs to 2017, both Guardiola and Mourinho will probably be unavailable; Carlo Ancelotti too. Elsewhere few élite managers will be available – Jurgen Klopp has made a mixed start as Liverpool manager, but is unlikely to have departed within the next 18 months, while Diego Simeone could well be managing Chelsea. With Arsene Wenger’s time at Arsenal winding down, the Gunners might also be searching for a replacement by summer 2017.
Meanwhile, there is little evidence, on the pitch or statistically, that supports the proposition that Ryan Giggs will become a leading manager, as romantic as the idea is. And at the end of the day United is not the Class of 92’s plaything.
The conclusion, even if Van Gaal does last out his contract, is that United will face a real challenge securing a manager proven and tested on the biggest stages. Or, in other words, United might have to settle for a lesser name or gamble on an up-and-coming younger coach come 2017.
That leaves Mourinho, who might charitably be described as being divisive and, perhaps not unfairly, often odious. His teams have sometimes played a brand of football even duller than Van Gaal’s, although there is no denying the former Real Madrid boss’ managerial pedigree. Mourinho is also available now. And the £7 million that it will cost the club to fire Van Gaal is little in the grand scheme of things. After all, United would struggle to recruit a much-needed and capable left-back for that kind of money. The club stands to lose a lot more should it fail to reach next season’s Champions League.
There appears to be little chance of securing Guardiola in the summer, while June 2017, when Van Gaal’s contract runs out, appears to be even more difficult. The opportunity to sign Mourinho now is thus even more urgent. If the goal is to secure a top manager at Old Trafford, then Van Gaal must surely go.
But the question remains as to whether there is any benefit in bringing in Mourinho. Van Gaal is struggling, but he has a chance to turn things around, just as Mourinho may not necessarily decelerate the Reds’ slide down the table. And should Mourinho be appointed and turn things around, as his CV suggests he might, then the Portuguese’s appointment would essentially amount to giving up on Guardiola for the next four years.
In this sense, if Van Gaal ultimately goes early, it is either Mourinho or Guardiola. Many supporters prefer Guardiola, whose football is based more on flair and positivity than the Machiavellian football Mourinho preaches.
Is there a realistic chance in appointing Guardiola? After all, the Spaniard did not bother to let Sir Alex Ferguson know of his move to Germany despite the Scot’s request that the pair keep in touch. There have been many reports suggesting that Guardiola is fascinated with United, although more reputable journalists, such as the Guardian’s Raphael Honingstein, consider City as Guardiola’s most likely destination.
Another crucial issue is whether United, currently sixth in the Premier League, will be in the Champions League next season with Van Gaal in charge. It would be an entirely different proposition for Guardiola to come to Old Trafford with the Reds out of Europe’s premier competition.
There are 19 games left with United only nine points behind Arsenal, with the Londoners an injury or two away from dropping points. An exceptionally strong second half of the season could conceivably see United sneak onto the podium.
In short, United would be betting an awful lot on capturing Guardiola should the Glazers and Woodward decide to pursue him in lieu of securing Mourinho now. Risk must always be in proportion to reward. While an argument can be made that Guardiola will bring more to the club than Mourinho, it is hard to argue that the Guardiola effect will be enough to offset the insane risk United would be taking by passing on Mourinho.
December football is a highlight of the British football calendar, with a seemingly infinite stream of games on which to feast over the festive period. In addition to being an excuse to binge on the beautiful game, and copious amounts of food and drink, it is often a pivotal juncture in Manchester United’s season.
Sir Alex Ferguson often reiterated the need to capture form during the final month of the year. Those were simpler times, and the cloud of uncertainty that looms heavy over Old Trafford ensures that much of the excitement present in previous years is decidedly absent.
There is little to stir any festive optimism in a side whose insipid displays continue – an early Champions League exit in Wolfsburg, followed by an embarrassing defeat at Bournemouth, and then at home to Norwich City, are unwelcome variations on the mundane goalless draws that have become the norm.
There is a growing anxiety among United’s support, especially with little certainty about the future. The evidence suggests there is justification in supporters’ fears.
“Boring, boring United”
At the top of fans’ Christmas list of woes is the dismal nature of football on display from Louis Van Gaal’s side. The pragmatic Dutchman has been cast as Scrooge in recent weeks, and his overtly regimented approach to the game has almost completely nullified the entertainment traditionally associated with United.
One of the most concerning factors is that despite weeks of criticism Van Gaal appears completely unshaken in his belief in the “philosophy” – a concept that seems to have less meaning with every passing week. His ethos is centred on defensive solidity and ball retention, but the important passages detailing the action in the final has been torn from Van Gaal’s coaching manual.
In addition to a indistinguishable team identity, Van Gaal’s choice of formation and substitutions have also raised eyebrows. United’s travelling support was horrified when injury to Ander Herrera at Watford prompted Van Gaal to revert to the much maligned 3-5-2 system. It removed much of United’s attacking impetus in the process.
Even with a wealth of options at his disposal the Dutch manager’s selections have continued to provoke ire. Deploying two holding midfielders against less decorated opposition, who rarely bring much ambition at Old Trafford, is simultaneously mystifying and typical of Van Gaal’s tenure.
Not only does the tactic often result in the aforementioned Herrera being left out, but it is an exasperatingly cautious approach. Bastian Schweinsteiger, Morgan Schneiderlin and Michael Carrick are excellent footballers, but there is no need for two-thirds of this trio to start in home games against lesser sides.
Almost as frustrating as Plan A is Van Gaal’s persistence in using the lumbering Marouane Fellaini as a route one alternative. Despite his apparent “genius” there is little ingenuity in a contingency plan that involves diagonal balls launched in the Belgian’s general direction – incredulous, even, that an expensively assembled squad should resort to low percentage tactics.
Regardless of the squad’s many deficiencies Van Gaal has once again suffered for a side decimated by injury. Luke Shaw’s horrific leg break in Eindhoven is still fresh in the memory. While the left-back should make a full recovery Shaw’s injury has set the tone for another season of ill luck. Wayne Rooney, Ander Herrera and the indispensable Chris Smalling have all been ruled out in recent weeks, along with the perpetually afflicted Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo.
Once again some question Van Gaal’s rigorous training regimen and its propensity to increase United’s injury list. Pending a thorough scientific analysis the truth will remain unclear, but the skeleton squad that took to the field at Wolfsburg and Bournemouth raises questions about how wisely United invested last summer.
The doomed pursuit of Sergio Ramos was exciting, but amid the frenzy there remained a sense of deja-vu about the episode. Ed Woodward has spent the past two summers flaunting the club’s wealth in a manner akin to Floyd Mayweather – the result is a rash of big name players using United as leverage in contract discussions.
And it is this blind pursuit of marquee names that has left United threadbare in defence, forcing Van Gaal to use his most inexperienced players in significant games. United’s sense of faith in youth is positive, but a monumentally important Champions League tie against a top German outfit is not the optimal time to break in new blood.
In this the board and Van Gaal share blame for the squad’s shortages – and for failing to learn from the painful lessons of last season.
United’s recent spate of injuries, coupled with the impending January window, has raised speculation that the club may once again delve into the market. Acquiring top talent is no easy task, as is often made clear by managers nationwide – and Van Gaal has already moved to temper expectations.
“Goals are the most important thing, we have to always look for solutions to make goals”, the manager opined. “We have to look for the solutions in our selection, that’s important. Maybe we have solutions elsewhere but that’s more difficult, because in January clubs shall not let go of players who score”.
Hardly encouraging words for supporters who long for an extra striker to ease United’s goal famine. Indeed, the squad would benefit from at least two additions, in attack and defence. Yet, the chances of luring élite talent to M16 in January are small.
In truth an internal solution will have to be found – and United must also factor in a rest for Anthony Martial, who cannot be relied upon for an entire season. The challenge becomes greater still if Rooney returns from an injury lay-off the same player who has defiled pitches up and down the country this season.
Commendably, Van Gaal has largely arrested his side’s defensive troubles this season, albeit a record that came to a halt against Bournemouth and Norwich with injuries taking hold. Defensive solidity is dependent on retaining key personnel such as Chris Smalling. The Londoner has developed wonderfully in the past year, but his record suggests doubts about his ability to stay fit for extended periods.
Then there is the question of United’s manager who has indisputably suffered a bad month. The Reds’ mundane football is grudgingly tolerated while results remain acceptable. Ignominious exit from the Champions League, coupled with humiliation against Bournemouth and Norwich, has turned opinion against the Dutchman.
Indeed, United’s slump in form could not have come at a worse time for Van Gaal, with a plethora of world-class coaches suddenly in the shop window. United’s board has lavished praise on the manager, but with José Mourinho out of a job and Pep Guardiola planning a change of scenery, Old Trafford’s suits will surely have noticed a persistent itch in their collective trigger finger.
Should Guardiola decant from Bavaria the clamour for his services will be at its most fervent in Manchester’s blue half. Yet, when Guardiola officially announces his future, United’s board will be left in a precarious situation. Aside from the increasingly unlikely chances of capturing a trophy this season, there is little Van Gaal can do to dissuade fans that the club should ditch him for the enigmatic Spaniard should the opportunity arise.
It is, of course, conjecture at the moment, but losing Guardiola to City would be a watershed moment in Manchester football history, remembered fondly only by those of a blue persuasion. In fact, there is growing consensus that United must mount a pursuit of the former Barcelona boss, lest the club miss out on yet another an élite manager since Ferguson’s retirement.
In that there is recognition the club is in a period of worrying uncertainty – one with an end that may shape the club for the foreseeable future. For the moment Van Gaal is under considerable scrutiny. The only thing the Dutchman can do is to start winning matches.
To bastardise the late, great, Brian Clough, all managers end in failure. The two-times European Cup winner with Nottingham Forrest eventually took the Midlands club to relegation, before retiring in comparative ignominy. Those who do not fall into that trap rank among the very best in the history of the game. No manager, it seems, is too big, too celebrated, or too laden with silverware to fall. Louis van Gaal take note.
José Mourinho’s brutal dismissal, on Thursday, by long-time sponsor Roman Abramovich should send a resounding signal the Dutchman’s way. Seven months on from claiming the Premier League title, Mourinho’s first managerial failure is complete, with Chelsea left a single point above the relegation zone. Despite three Premier League titles, Mourinho’s bank of credit at Chelsea was not significant enough for the London club to wait on the 52-year-old to fix a litany of problems that were mostly of his own making.
Van Gaal, having made only modest progress in 18 months at Old Trafford, should be under no illusions as to the security of his own position. After all, United risks another season without silverware – the club is out of the Capital One Cup, dumped into the second tier of European football, and falling behind Manchester City in the Premier League. The Dutchman’s reputation is hanging by a thread.
While the veteran’s impact on United’s dressing room is not yet as divisive as Mourinho’s broken relationship with his now former players, the signs are growing. The rumours sweeping Manchester are of players frustrated, a squad not universally bought into the Dutchman’s philosophy, and the toll of results heading south now felt. Van Gaal, it seems, is not master of all at Old Trafford.
And as much as Ed Woodward is inclined to brief that his manager is a “genius,” the former Ajax coach’s failure to drive home significant progression at United is a strong counter. Not least because supporters can throw a season and a half of prosaic football into the argument. Fans do not ‘get’ the manager, nor the Dutchman the terrace angst. It is rarely a winning combination.
Van Gaal’s job is not under immediate threat, but in a campaign where United is far from guaranteed Champions League football next season, nor is his future secure. Increasingly supporters appear to be on the side of the Dutchman’s exit, albeit with no scientific rigour in the analysis.
At Chelsea, Mourinho’s downfall comes amid a series of increasingly controversial incidents this season. In August, Mourinho publicly ostracised Eva Carneiro after the club doctor ran on the field to treat Eden Hazard, much to the manager’s chagrin. In October, Mourinho embarked on a seven-minute-long televised rant following Chelsea’s 3-1 home defeat to Southampton. His players are said to believe Mourinho had cracked under the pressure.
More recently Mourinho conducted a bizarre post match press conference and interview in the wake of defeat at home to Liverpool. The dénouement came after the manager claimed to feel “betrayed” by his players in defeat at Leicester City. The bond of manager and players was fatally broken.
“There obviously seemed to be a palpable discord between manager and players,” said Chelsea’s technical director Michael Emenalo. “It was a decision taken to protect the interests of the club. The results have not been good. The owner is forced to make what was a very tough decision for the good of the club. We are one point above relegation.”
Back in Manchester Van Gaal’s standing with his board remains comparatively strong; not yet is Woodward or the Glazer family prepared to swing the same axe that did for David Moyes. Not, at least, until United’s participation in next season’s Champions league is confirmed, or otherwise. That, of course, is no longer guaranteed with a team that, although shorn of too many players through injury, has spent a season struggling to assert itself.
But nor is Van Gaal on course to earn the same level of affection at Old Trafford with which Mourinho is still held by Chelsea’s supporters. The narrative that wraps the Portuguese manager’s time in London over the past decade is complex, but his legacy as one of the world’s great coaches remains safe. Van Gaal’s is not.
Yet, they were once partners. The master and his apprentice; translator and the great Dutchman.
“I have to say that van Gaal is a beautiful person,” Mourinho once said. “He’s somebody who is a little bit like me in the sense only the people who know him well know who he is. Louis loves to analyse and gives you complete control of training sessions. With him you become a coach on the pitch. I got something that is very important in my methodology: communication. I created with Louis a very, very strong relationship.”
In the years that followed the pair’s stint in Barcelona Van Gaal tasted more failure than silverware, where Mourinho generated almost universal success – at Porto, Chelsea, Internazionale, Real Madrid and then back in London. The Dutchman was twice sacked at Barcelona, alienated his players and management at Bayern Munich, and was forced into a period of redemption at lowly AZ Alkmaar.
Mourinho too will be redeemed for his Chelsea sacking. There will be no shortage of potential suitors both in England and on the continent. Had it not been for City’s long-standing pursuit of Pep Guardiola, the Etihad might have been a natural step in Mourinho’s career come summer 2016.
So too will some point towards a potential future at Old Trafford, despite United’s board having once rejected the Portuguese in favour of a disastrous 10 month spell with Moyes at the helm. Sir Alex Ferguson, betraying a friendship that Mourinho believed he had built, instead chose Moyes. The rest is a blight on United’s history.
They were different circumstances then, of course, although little in Mourinho’s increasingly deconstructed behaviour points to the safe pair of hands United’s board seemingly favours. Nor, save for a campaign at Real Madrid, is Mourinho’s football of the ilk that United’s supporters seemingly crave.
Yet, for all Van Gaal’s brusque personality, the odds marginally favour United qualifying for European competition and the riches it brings. It is the only standard to which he is held by the Board. Supporters may view the world differently of course. Van Gaal’s time at United, all things being equal, is more failure than success. With it the shadow, or promise, of Mourinho and Pep looms.
After all, all managers end in failure. José knows it. Unless results change Van Gaal may come to know it too.
It was the worst kept secret in football. No, not José Mourinho’s return to Chelsea six years after being unceremoniously sacked by Roman Abramovich, but the revelation that Portuguese coach was desperate to take the vacant Manchester United job this summer. Those following Mourinho’s flirtation with United over the past two years, whether in the pages of the broadsheets, or the more private spaces of Red Issue, could do little but chuckle at Mourinho’s rediscovered love of the Blues.
Mourinho didn’t end up at Old Trafford of course; the coach’s penchant for controversy apparently counting against the 50-year-old in the United boardroom. Still, with Manchester City and Chelsea also having appointed new managers this summer, the Premier League’s top three will each break new ground come the new season’s start in August.
United, of course, will suffer the greatest culture shock as David Moyes takes the helm following Sir Alex Ferguson’s 26 years in charge. With four coaches and a plethora of executive changes, stability is far from the watchword at Old Trafford this summer – a curious observation given that Moyes – trophyless as a manager – proffers the quality as his leading asset.
Yet, with Stamford Bridge Mourinho’s destination United fans will watch, one suspects in part horror, part delight, at the Portuguese maestro’s whirlwind of chaos, conspiracy and ample trophy collection.
But whatever silverware Mourinho secures in his second spell at Chelsea his presence comes at a cost – and an increasing one at that if three years in Madrid is any evidence. The acrimony generated at Santiago Bernabéu under Mourinho degenerated into something approaching parody. Farce of the kind that lacks any self-awareness.
Mourinho’s propensity to court argument with players, directors and the club President seemingly knew neither strategy nor understanding of the consequences.
Sergio Ramos was publicly embarrassed, Iker Casillas ignominiously dropped, and even Cristiano Ronaldo criticised. The coach blamed Braziliam Marcelo for an injury, ridiculed Pepe for a similar distress, and likened Karim Benezema to the family cat when, said Mourinho, he really wanted a dog.
It was little wonder that Mourinho so spectacularly lost the Merengues dressing room – the famed man-management skills deserting the 50-year-old to be replaced a destructive narcissism.
It is a trait that drove Johan Cruyff to declare that “Mourinho will never win a prize again.”
“I think that because of the way he acted in Madrid,” said the former Barcelona coach. “He blamed everyone and everybody when something went wrong in Madrid. And he is playing games with people who are working there.
“Mourinho played an unbelievably negative part in his Madrid years. He moved out general manager Jorge Valdano and later he did the same with director of football Zinedine Zidane. And in the end he dropped Iker Casillas.
“All these actions were the result of Mourinho’s private wars with a few of the biggest club icons. This behaviour does not work in football. It only works in paralysing the dressing room.”
Although none of this truly precludes Chelsea from winning big under the new manager. Given the significant level of investment the Blues have made in recent years – and will surely make this summer – it will be a major shock if Chelsea do not challenge more prominently for the Premier League next season.
Over at Eastlands the Abu Dhabi Emirati look set to appoint a far more conservative, if highly respected, choice in Manuel Pellegrini. While Robert Mancini eventually descended into childish carping at his new-found rivals across town, few expect Pellegrini to stay anything other than classy.
The 59-year-old may have failed in one season at Real Madrid, but few remember his Villareal side with anything but affection. Organised at the back, the Yellow Submarine then weaved a mesmeric attacking pattern in a 4-2-2-2 formation that took the Castellón side to within a penalty kick of the Champions League final in 2006.
Widely considered one of the continent’s finest tacticians, El Ingeniero should also develop a good rapport with media and City supporters given a well-earned reputation for eloquent communication, albeit with limited English. And while Pellegrini’s charge is to win trophies – lots of them – his is an appointment that should suit City’s ‘continental’ system involving a plethora of management layers, from the owners down to the head coach.
Although Pellegrini’s dismissal after a single season in Madrid is a stain, trophies are not lacking from the résumé, with major silverware secured in Chile, Ecuador, and Argentina. Should the Chilean bring success to Eastlands, United supporters, cognitive dissonance at the forefront, might find much to respect in the greatest foe.
Which leaves United’s new man the odd one in three, with trophies conspicuously absent from the 50-year-old Scot’s record in more than 11 years at Goodison Park. It is seemingly an appointment that owes much to prudence and youth development, if not continuity many had first expected.
Moyes is also the safest public relations choice, although good press wins few trophies. After all, the jury is firmly out on whether Mourinho’s conceit, Pellegrini’s poise or Moyes’ determination will prove the safest bet.
And whatever choice proves the winner, next season’s Premier League should lack not for intrigue.
- Porto: Primeira Liga 2003, 2004, Taça de Portugal 2003, Supertaça Cândido de Oliveira 2003, Champions League 2004, UEFA Cup 2003
- Chelsea: Premier League 2005, 2006, FA Cup 2007, League Cup 2005, 2007, Community Shield 2005
- Internazionale: Serie A 2009, 2010, Coppa Italia 2010, Supercoppa 2008, Champions League 2010
- Real Madrid: La Liga 20112, Copa del Rey 2011, Supercopa 2012#
- Universidad Católica (Chile): Copa Interamericana 1994, Copa Chile 1995
- LDU Quito (Ecuador): Serie A 1999
- San Lorenzo (Argentina): Primera División 2001, Copa Mercosur 2001
- River Plate (Argentina): Primera División 2003
- Villarreal: Intertoto Cup 2004
- Preston North End: Football League Second Division 2000
There is little news in Sir Alex Ferguson’s admission on Monday that he intends to stay “two or three more years” as Manchester United manager. Ferguson, on a rolling contract, has long since given up setting a deadline for retirement, with manager and Old Trafford hierarchy content with the current arrangement. But Ferguson’s assertion – in a BBC radio interview with Liverpool-supporting DJ Spoony – that a role will be waiting for him at Old Trafford, once the 70-year-old steps down, recalls memories of the disastrous transition from Sir Matt Busby to Wilf McGuinness and then Frank O’Farrell in the early 1970s.
The smart money is now on Ferguson stepping down in 2013, even if the heavy smoke signals point towards a year thence. After all, nobody in the Old Trafford boardroom wants a repeat of 2002, when Ferguson’s squad took its collective foot off the gas after the United manager had announced his impending retirement that January. This time Ferguson’s departure will come as far ‘out of the blue’ as the Scot and chief executive David Gill can manage in a world of 24 hour rolling news.
While, a move upstairs into an ambassadorial role, or something further up the executive food-chain, is not contradictory to previous Ferguson assertions, the precise role requires close definition. After all, while Ferguson’s wealth of knowledge is unsurpassed, his shadow will loom large for whomever becomes the Scot’s replacement in the Old Trafford dugout. Yet, in Monday’s BBC interview Ferguson promises to remain “active” in a role reserve for him by United post retirement. Quite how active may determine his successor’s success – or failure.
“I will remain active,” Ferguson told Spoony.
“I think there will be a role at United after I finish, obviously. I don’t know how long it’s going to last now, but if my health holds up I don’t see another two or three years would harm me. I think you need stamina in my job and I think I’ve been blessed with good stamina. I’ll know when it’s time when I’m not enjoying it. I think if I got to a point where I’m not enjoying it, I would definitely get out. I think you always want to go out on a winning note and hopefully we can do that.
“Players ask how long I’ll be around. They all do that or their agent asks the chief executive, David Gill. That becomes more difficult the longer it goes on, of course. I answer it the way David answers it and he says I have no intention of retiring at the moment, therefore it’s not a question we can answer because we don’t know.”
But transition will come and there is, of course, a clear lesson in United’s failure to manage the transition away from Sir Matt. McGuinness’ short tenure as United Head Coach was doomed from the start, with Busby retaining an Old Trafford office as General Manager, and the players looking to the long-time United boss for leadership, rather than the inexperienced 31-year-old. Busby’s return for 21 games in the second half of 1970-71 simply underlined that ‘Old Man’ had not fully stepped down.
Worse was to come, with new recruit O’Farrell seemingly undermined from the start of his appointment as manager in 1971. Busby had led negotiations with the then Leicester City manager, setting the tone for a relationship not bourne of equality. While O’Farrell removed Busby from the Old Trafford manager’s office, he would later complain that his predecessor repeatedly interfered in team matters.
“He was always about somewhere where the players could find him,” O’Farrell complained in a recent Daily Mail interview.
“After one game, he told me I shouldn’t have dropped Bobby Charlton. Obviously he said the same to Charlton, because the player was moping round the place. Another time he told me Martin Buchan was responsible for letting in all these goals, when it clearly wasn’t his fault. He was interfering.
“Alex will leave the club in a much better place than Busby did. All the basics for continued success will be in place. He’ll make sure of that. If [the new man] wins, everything will be fine. But I can tell him this: the moment he starts losing, then the comparison with Alex will start.”
Few expect Ferguson to actively undermine his successor, but a public facing United role will do that anyway. Any move into the Old Trafford boardroom will ensure that Ferguson’s successor is permanently looking over his shoulder, with a squad of Ferguson’s players questioning the new man’s capacity to lead.
Meanwhile, an ambassadorial position is unlikely to satiate Ferguson’s thirst for a daily football fix. One wonders how a media facing role will suit the 70-year-old Scot, who has spent the best part of 25 years at war with the fourth estate, although cynics might suggest Fergie has spent the past six as an ambassador the Glazer family anyway. Rant couldn’t possibly comment.
Then there is the question of whether Ferguson and his board define the post-Fergie era in the same way. Sir Alex has previously offered mixed messages on his post managerial role, promising in 2007 that he would not “take up a director of football type role” or “have any input on the football side,” and only last year promising to cut himself off from football altogether and “head for the hills and the sunset.”
But if he is to remain with United, Ferguson’s post retirement role will also be largely defined by whomever Gill and the Glazers appoint. José Mourinho, for example, is not universally supported in the Old Trafford boardroom, but is unlikely to be dissuaded from engaging in Machiavellian tactics if he is not proffered full control. One need only witness the Portuguese’s victorious power struggle with now former Real Madrid Director General Jorge Valdano for evidence.
At the other end of the spectrum, should United appoint a far younger man – Ole Gunnar Solskjaer or Ryan Giggs, for example – it is hard to envisage Ferguson’s name being far from the players’ minds. Or speed-dial.
In the meantime Mourinho will flutter his eyes towards Old Trafford, while the Scot ponders the future. Friendly as the pair remain, Mourinho is unlikely to accept anything other than Ferguson working in a ceremonial role. The question remains, with the Portuguese odds-on favourite to take over, whether that will be enough for Fergie?
After Manchester United departed the Veltins Arena on Tuesday night with two away goals it left supporters declaring the Red Devils all but in the final. With United expected to fly the flag for England on home turf at Wembley on 28 May, the only question was: who will join Sir Alex Ferguson’s side? Only one of the Spanish giants could make it. Enter José Mourinho.
Real Madrid welcomed Barcelona to the Bernabeu for the other semi-final, with Mourinho looking to outwit Pep Guardiola for the second time in a week. Mourinho’s desire to succeed Ferguson at United has not gone unnoticed in the press. The Portuguese professes his love for English football and Sir Alex has even made reference to the idea of Mourinho taking his position when it becomes available.
But if Mourinho is playing the waiting game, and using Madrid as a stepping stone, then he could be in for a long wait if the semi-final is used in evidence. With three red cards, only one actually handed to a player, and plenty of controversy, Barcelona midfielder Xavi was moved to describe the result as a “win for football”. It has promised so much, with some of the greatest players in the world present, but delivered so little in terms of actual football.
The game ended with Barcelona taking the same advantage back to Camp Nou for the second leg that United achieved the night before. Yet, in the Spanish capital Mourinho’s side was instructed to stop Barcelona playing, with defender Pepe pushed into midfield. After all, it had worked in the Copa Del Rey final a week previously, which Madrid won 1-0 thanks to Cristiano Ronaldo’s header deep into extra time.
However, in the European game Pepe was harshly sent off for a late tackle on Dani Alves, who along with Sergio Busquests and Pedro, was one of the great’ play actors’ on the night. The dismissal proved to be a massive turning point in the game but in the end beautiful football prevailed as Lionel Messi went on to score a fantastic brace.
The tense and aggressive atmosphere at the Bernabeu spilt over into half time as Barcelona’s substitute goalkeeper was sent off after sharing his thoughts with Alvaro Arbeloa and Madrid’s staff on the bullish tactics employed.
However, the real pantomime villain of the night was Mourinho, who was sent to the stands for sarcastically applauding the referee over Pepe’s red card. But the self-proclaimed ‘Special One’ also angered many Madrid supporters with what can only be described as anti-football tactics. The sole purpose of Mourinho’s set-up was to stop Barcelona from deploying the possession game to its fullest effect, and therefore negating the risk of Los Cules repeating the 5-0 hammering at Camp Nou earlier this season.
The tactical approach taken by Mourinho was a direct reaction to that loss, with the negative attitude displayed even after Madrid rested many stars the previous weekend. Madrid knocked six past third placed Valencia at the Mestalla despite the understrength team, with Gonzalo Higuain bagging a hat-trick. Remarkably, he was still denied an opportunity against Barcelona.
Even Cristiano Ronaldo’s frustration with the negative approach was apparent. The former United player’s team-mates failed to put any pressure on Barça defence, as the visitors passed freely their own half, with Real dropping back to its territory. The sole purpose was to protect Los Merengues’ goal and then give the ball to Ronaldo on the counter. The negative approach in a fixture of such magnitude tarnished the reputation of the Spanish game to such an extent that it hardly resembled a football match.
It was always going to be a feisty affair though with Mourinho kicking off the mind games in his pre-match press conference on Tuesday afternoon. After all, for Mourinho, the fixture begins in the press room, not on the pitch. Indeed, the use of off-the- field antics to inspire his players replicates Ferguson at United; both share an immense gift to manipulate the media and motivate their players while unsettling the opposition.
Meanwhile, Mourinho’s persona makes him as a great candidate to handle the pressure that comes with managing a club of United’s standing; a club with a similar global presence to Madrid.
However, more than the controversy it is Mourinho’s anti-football tactics that have raised questions about his ability to keep the Old Trafford faithful entertained. The Portuguese manager has a proven track record of winning trophies but it is his penchant to ‘park the bus’ in certain fixtures that raises suspicions over his capacity to replace Ferguson.
United’s foundations were beautifully outlined in the recent film ‘United’ and its accompanying documentary, ‘Sir Bobby Charlton: Football Icon’. Charlton spoke of a conversation held with Jimmy Murphy in the 1950s where the Welsh coach described United’s support, drawn as it was from the industrial community of Trafford Park. ‘They come to Old Trafford on a Saturday expecting to be entertained,’ said Murphy. 50 years on and the club still retains these values; the belief that United is there for the supporters and it is the responsibility of the staff and players to make sure the faithful is entertained.
These ideals ensure many ask the question: is Mourinho really suitable for Old Trafford?