Once upon crisis, at the close of an underwhelming summer transfer window, the spotlight turned to Ed Woodward, the Manchester United executive vice chairman. Woodward decided, in all his wisdom, to announce that the club would recruit a Director of Football.
[dropcap]C[/dropcap]ast the memory back to moments after the transfer window closed in August. José Mourinho was already in a huff during Manchester United’s summer tour, holding little back in his critique of the summer’s business. The United manager also let slip that he had submitted a five-man wish-list to executive vice chairman Ed Woodward well before the end of the last campaign.
[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he recent events surrounding Manchester United – both on and off the pitch – have created an embarrassing air around the club. Gary Neville’s scathing, yet heartfelt, attack on the state of the club two weeks ago resonated with many supporters. Yet, in focusing his displeasure on Ed Woodward alone, Neville failed to address two other issues: United’s ownership and the manager’s failing performances.
[dropcap]F[/dropcap]ootball is a simple game, former England striker Gary Lineker once said in a quip about the Germans always winning. So why does José Mourinho find it so complicated? More than 18 months into the job he always wanted, Mourinho has created an expensively assembled collection of individuals. The team is perpetually over the horizon.
Friday night’s comfortable 4-0 win over Yeovil Town in the FA Cup completed a very good week for Manchester United. On Monday weeks of speculation ended when Chilean forward Alexis Sanchez was confirmed as a United player. Then came the news that manager José Mourinho had signed a contract extension keeping the Portuguese manager at the club until at least 2020, with an option for another year.
[dropcap]J[/dropcap]osé Mourinho should be the perfect manager for Ed Woodward and the Glazers, at least from a PR point of view. In recruiting the Portuguese tactician Manchester United, and Woodward in particular, hired a bona fide super-coach to bring success back to Old Trafford, as well as offering the marketing department a figure around which to build the club brand. Moreover, they appointed a human lightning rod, a character who demands the spotlight and sucks the oxygen of publicity away from everyone else. For owners as reclusive as the Glazers, Mourinho’s appointment ensures that attention is focused exclusively on the manager and not them. Or so they thought.
[dropcap]T[/dropcap]o bastardise a phrase, Mourinho was the future once. As a New Year dawns, it is natural to reflect on successes, failure and hopes of the year past and for the one ahead. It is an unfortunate time to analyse José Mourinho’s tenure at Old Trafford, as his lethargic side has stumbled through the festive fixture list with three successive, disappointing draws. This leaves Mourinho’s pre-season title hopefuls staring nervously at top four rivals and not up at the near flawless neighbours. After a season and a half as Manchester United manager, questions remain about Mourinho’s performance, and his future.
[dropcap]J[/dropcap]osé Mourinho’s assertion that the £300 million he has spent since taking the Manchester United job in 2016 is “not enough” to compete in the Premier League is easy to mock. After all, he has been afford more investment in less than two full seasons than David Moyes or Louis van Gaal before him. More, indeed, than Sir Alex Ferguson over the Scots final few seasons at United. Yet, in the context of Manchester City’s generation of heavy spending, the Portuguese may well be right, though it hardly explains all United’s ills. How the club spends its money is far more of a challenge to bridging the gap to the rampant Blues.
“It is as bad as a defeat,” admitted José Mourinho after Leicester City scored a last-minute equaliser at the King Power Stadium on Saturday night. Manchester United created the best chances and spent 20 minutes with a man advantage, yet left the East Midlands feeling despondent. Two disastrous results inside three days will do that. As for José: he threw his players under the bus. Twice.
There have been three occasions on which Manchester City has visited Old Trafford with the clubs occupying the top two spots in the Premier League. Yet, the latest instalment has an entirely different narrative to it than those that proceeded.
The rivalry between José Mourinho and Pep Guardiola is one of modern day football’s great dramas. The duo have crossed swords numerous times, with Mourinho cast as the master of the dark arts, while Guardiola is portrayed as the idealistic purist. It is a story riddled with feuds, tetchy conflicts, and no shortage of bad blood dating back to the time when the pair were in charge of Spanish giants, Barcelona and Real Madrid.
The director of football, or sporting director, may seem like a modern phenomenon, but the role has existed for decades. Fundamentally, the role is an intermediary between the board and the first team manager, with a task of creating continuity: in the long-term direction, playing style, transfers, hiring and firing, and bridging the gap between the academy and the first team. Given that managers and players often focus match-to-match, the former with the intention of keeping his job and the latter with hope of staying in the team, the sporting director is charged with executing a long-term vision.
José Mourinho’s side never recovered from October’s international break, or more specifically, autumn’s momentum was shattered as the Portuguese sent his high-flying team out to defend at Anfield on 14 October. In the interim Mourinho’s side has failed to convince in any of the six league and cup fixtures since the bore draw on Merseyside. Victory over Tottenham Hotspur was hard-won, but defeats to Huddersfield Town and Chelsea have left United well off the Premier League pace. As November’s break comes to a close, the Reds face 13 fixtures between now and the end of the year. It’s a period that won’t make United’s season, but it could certainly break it.
The tale of the tape for José Mourinho’s Premier League campaign this season reads played 11, won seven, drawn two, and lost two. In that run 23 points have been garnered and United sits joint second in the table alongside Tottenham Hotspur, having scored 23 and conceded just five goals. Mourinho has all but guided his troops to the knock-out stages of the Champions League, winning four out of four, and his side is in the quarter-final of the Carabao Cup.
We’ll always have Wembley and Stockholm. Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s late header, Paul Pogba’s long-range strike, Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s flicked finish. These are the feel-good moments that football fans savour – the stuff from which memories are made. They’ll be more of these moments under José Mourinho. After all, he has spent a career hoovering up trophies. Mourinho has also spent much of the past two decades combusting in the most spectacular fashion. It’s never a good look and the writing for José’s Manchester United future is already on the wall.
“The only thing I can say is that I’m still a coach with ambitions, and desire to do new things,” José Mourinho said on TF1’s Telefoot show. “And I don’t believe… no, I’m sure I won’t end my career here.” “Here” being Manchester United. There may be a whole number of reasons the United manager spoke about his career path. Perhaps he was trying to divert attention from the drab scoreless draw against Liverpool; maybe he was giving Ed Woodward a little nudge during contract negotiations, or it could simply be that “Mourinho is gonna Mourinho”.
When Manchester United run out at the Estádio da Luz on Wednesday travelling supporters may well witness a very different approach from the one that dominated the weekend’s game with Liverpool. On Saturday, with the world watching one of England’s great fixtures, José Mourinho’s side sunk into its shell, hamstrung by a manager who has made a career-long reputation as the “enemy of football.” It was to United’s loss: two points dropped, momentum halted, an opposition there for the taking, given a pass.
[dropcap]A[/dropcap]ddressing members of the press after Manchester United’s impressive 4-0 win against West Ham United, José Mourinho chose to be more Daedalus than Icarus when responding to questions about his side’s thumping win. If anyone knows about flying too close to the sun it is Mourinho after experiencing a rough departure at Real Madrid and, more painfully, a ruthless sacking during his second tenure at Chelsea.
[dropcap]T[/dropcap]here is some truth in a phrase attributed to Albert Einstein: that “we cannot solve problems by using the same kind of thinking that we used to create them.” It is a quote to adorn a thousand memes. And yet, José Mourinho faces the same test in his thinking ahead of the new season. The club has acquired three new faces, but a change of approach is needed if Manchester United is to challenge for the title this season. Will Mourinho revert to the type of last season, where caution won out over endeavour, or change-up in the search for a first Premier League title in five years?
Picture the scene. Thursday, 17 December, 2015. Chelsea’s annual Christmas lunch at the club’s Cobham training ground has just concluded. The mood is downbeat. The Blues had lost 2-1 at Leicester City the previous Monday to record a ninth Premier League defeat of the season. José Mourinho’s low-key pre-lunch training session does little to lighten the atmosphere. The manager is sporting a newly shaven head and the stubble of a man too distracted to shave. As the players drift home, chairman Bruce Buck and director Eugene Tenenbaum arrived to sack Mourinho as Chelsea manager for the second time. A brutal assasination.
[dropcap]S[/dropcap]ome of Manchester United’s more cynical fans let out a sigh of dismay when Cristiano Ronaldo announced that he was no longer happy at Real Madrid, after accusations of tax fraud unsettled the superstar. Few enjoy the tedium of a summer transfer saga, it creates uncertainly, and United fans have been offered false hope too often in recent years. Some fans cling to the bdlief that Ronaldo will once again grace Old Trafford; plenty felt an anxious twang of déjà vu this week.
“[dropcap]T[/dropcap]his guy’s done nothing, absolutely nothing”, raged Ray Wilkins, lambasting Manchester United’s decision to sign a Swedish international who, at 22 years old, has more honours to his name than “Butch” amassed in his entire career. According to Wilkins, José Mourinho would have been better served by courting the services of Michael Keane, a player sold by United in 2015. The 24-year-old enjoyed an impressive campaign for Burnley last season but – much to Wilkins’ chagrin – United plumped instead to acquire the highly-rated Lindelöf for a fee of more than £30 million.
Wilkins’ scepticism of foreign imports is not a new phenomenon among some pundits, although Ray Parlour and the two Sky presenters seemed to squirm uncomfortably as he bemoaned United’s apparent ignorance of home-grown talent. In truth, Lindelöf has an impressive pedigree both for club and country, arriving from SL Benfica – a club synonymous with success in Portugal. He comes to Old Trafford much in the same way as Eric Bailly – much admired on the continent, but with little to no profile in England. Reds’ fans will hope that Mourinho has managed to unearth another defensive gem, much like he did with the Ivorian.
[blockquote who=”” cite=””]Lindelöf has an impressive pedigree both for club and country. He comes to Old Trafford much admired on the continent, but with little to no profile in England.[/blockquote]
Born on 17 July 1994, Lindelöf joined his local side Vasteras SK in 2010, helping the team gain promotion in his first season. Attracting attention from continental Europe, Lindelöf made the switch to Benfica just over a year later where he initially plied his trade with the club’s U-19 squad, winning the league title in 2013. Lindelöf’s performances earned him a first team début later that same year, completing 90 minutes in a Portuguese Cup victory over CD Cinfaes. Despite a taste of top-flight football, the young Swede was made to wait before becoming a regular fixture in the senior side.
He made just under 100 appearances for both the Benfica youth and ‘B’ teams before becoming a fully fledged member of Jorgé Jesus’ side – making his league debut in a late season defeat to FC Porto in May 2014. Lindelöf took a place in the first-team squad at the beginning of the 2015/16 season, making 23 appearances and scoring once, however his campaign was hindered by injury problems that prevented him staking a regular claim.
It was at the beginning of last season that the imposing centre-back began to make his mark. Registering a joint second highest number of appearances with 47, Lindelöf was ever-present in an historic season for Aguias as the team swept to a record 36th league title, while also capturing the Portuguese Cup and Super Cup. He was named in the 2016 UEFA Champions League Breakthrough XI.
The young defender has also established himself at international level, representing Sweden from U-17 level through to being awarded a senior bow in 2016. In 2015, Lindelöf helped his U-21 teammates to a first-ever European Championship trophy, scoring the winning penalty as the Swedes overcame Portugal via a shoot-out in the final. The defender was also honoured with a place in UEFA’s team of the tournament.
Standing at 6’2″ and possessing an imposing frame, Lindelöf certainly looks every inch the traditional centre-back – not least when his now short dark hair was shaven. But on the pitch, he is very much the idealists image of a modern defender. Aggressive, quick across the ground and with a knack for reading the game at vital moments, Lindelöf combines these fundamental defensive traits with composure, tidy feet and an eye for a pass. His technical prowess and all-round mobility allows him to deputise at right-back, as he did for Sweden’s U-21 Euro winning side.
On a purely statistical level, Lindelöf falls short of United’s existing centre-back options on number of tackles made and clearances per game, but this must be balanced against the fact that Benfica is a much more dominant outfit in Portugal than United is in England. The Portuguese champions conceded only 18 goals in 34 league games, losing just twice.
Lindelöf’s most crucial quality for United could be his ability on the ball. In Eric Bailly, Mourinho has his defensive destroyer, but he does not have a foil in the shape of someone more adept with the ball at his feet. Lindelöf averaged more than 60 passes per game at 90 per cent accuracy last season, and has shown the ability to cut through the lines into attacking areas. Some defenders enjoy a high pass completion by virtue of playing the ball side to side or short into midfield. Lindelöf has the ability and confidence to be a real asset to United on the ball in a creative sense, which is more than can be said of Chris Smalling and Phil Jones.
[blockquote who=”” cite=””]Lindelöf has the ability and confidence to be a real asset to United on the ball in a creative sense, which is more than can be said of Chris Smalling and Phil Jones[/blockquote]
The real test for the young centre-back will be to step up to the kind of level expected at United. More experienced players have been unable to fill the jersey, and although the team is perhaps not the behemoth it once was, the pressure to succeed has not dissipated. Lindelöf’s time at Portugal’s most successful club should prepare him well for making the jump.
Making a strong first impression will also be key to his success. The nation’s media revel in piling pressure on foreign players who do not immediately excel in the much-hyped Premier League, and fans will hope that Lindelöf avoids falling into this trap. That is not to say that Ray Wilkins’ ramblings about Keane and his solitary year of Premier League experience holds any weight; pundits love to overstate the importance of “knowing the league”. There are plenty of players who know the league inside-out but it does not necessarily make them better footballers.
After all, Eric Bailly stepped into the United side from Villarreal last season and adapted with little fuss, and Lindelöf appears to possess a temperament and assuredness that will aid in his transition. Nicknamed “Iceman” by Benfica fans due to his immense composure, his goal must be to provide the kind of class at the back that has been missing since Rio Ferdinand’s departure. At 22, Lindelöf has time to grow into the role further and if he clicks with Bailly, the heart of United’s defence could be in good hands for years to come.
[dropcap]One[/dropcap] down, how many more to go? Victor Lindelöf’s impending arrival, for a fee reportedly in excess of £30 million, is the first of what manager José Mourinho hopes will be at least four summer signings. The quartet will address Manchester United’s most prominent challenges last season: goalscoring, creativity, consistency at the back, and bite in midfield. It is likely to be an expensive summer – and not necessarily one replete with household names if Lindelöf’s capture signals a sensibly pragmatic turn in United’s transfer strategy.
[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he dust has barely settled on Manchester United’s Europa League victory and already attention is turning towards next season. In some ways that is what the final against Ajax was all about – setting the tone for José Mourinho’s second campaign. United’s League Cup triumph, combined with the only trophy missing from the Old Trafford cabinet just about offset a mediocre sixth-place finish in the Premier League. It allows the manager to look ahead with a degree of security. So what now?
[dropcap]M[/dropcap]ake no mistake, Manchester United’s Premier League season will end in disappointment, no matter the scoreline against Crystal Palace at the weekend. At the start of the campaign this was a team touted to challenge for the Premier League title having acquired stellar names over the summer: Zlatan Ibrahimović, Paul Pogba and Henrikh Mkhitaryan. That’s not to mention Eric Bailly, who has turned out to be one of the consistent bright points in a frustrating season. Add José Mourinho, the man who should have succeeded Sir Alex Ferguson, and everybody assumed the club would challenge for top honours.
[dropcap]It[/dropcap] is a team is stumbling towards the season’s end, the Premier League is a long forgotten dream, and the campaign will conclude successfully only if the Reds emerge victorious in next week’s Europa League final. There is glory, Champions League qualification, and tens of millions in revenue at stake. Yet, whatever the outcome of the Stockholm final few can conclude that José Mourinho has delivered on the promise offered last summer. It’s going to be a C plus season, with yet another a rethink in store over the break.
Perhaps, in private, José Mourinho will admit that Manchester United’s performance at Arsenal last Sunday was one of relentless mediocrity. In public, of course, he said something very different, defending his players and bemoaning a heavy schedule. Yet, United remained competitive against Arsenal for no more than 15 minutes at the Emirates. Then the home side took charge, with two quick goals securing the points for a beleaguered Arsene Wenger. It was a performance that should stimulate plenty of scrutiny about the manager’s approach this season – not least in his management of a squad that contains a mix of players too shattered to be effective and those too rusty to impress.
From the dark days of three consecutive September defeats, to an unbeaten run few thought was possible, Manchester United’s big game manager is in full Mourinho Mode. Unforgiving, unrelenting and, now, unhindered by a rigid philosophy or game-plan, fighting on two fronts to reach next season’s Champions League.
It was archetypal José Mourinho. On Sunday, the Portuguese manager found the perfect tactical riposte to the champions elect at Old Trafford. His Manchester United side emerged victorious after nullifying Chelsea in impressive fashion. Not that Mourinho’s team was on the defensive in victory against Antonio Conte’s side on Sunday. Far from it. The Portuguese manager reimagined his natural and historical inclination towards destructive football in his finest performance as United manager to date.
José Mourinho’s arrival at Manchester United last summer was met with excitement and skepticism in equal measure. Supporters raised questions not just about Mourinho’s style of play and its relevance, but the manager’s tendency to court controversy. Yet, Mourinho has demonstrated another quality – flexibility. It may be key as the season draws to a close.
Has Manchester United manager José Mourinho regressed into his bad cop routine just a little too early? The pattern is familiar, the one in which Dirty Harry challenges his punk players to try their luck. Just one more time. It begins with key players being ostracised in an increasingly public fashion, as if to distract from on-the-pitch failings, and ends with Mourinho leaving his post ignominiously, player power having won. Chelsea, Real Madrid, and Chelsea again. Bad cop gone bad. The red flags are many at Old Trafford as well. In the course of a week Mourinho launched into an astonishing and public attack on his creative players, before throwing youthful defender Luke Shaw under a lengthy bus. Yet, for all the concerns raised by Mourinho the man manager this week it is another pattern that is troubling the Portuguese coach most – the inability of his team to win games at Old Trafford. It will probably cost the club a place in next season’s Champions League.
Antonio Conte’s decision to adopt the 3-4-3 formation at Chelsea has been influential in the narrative of the Premier League season. While Manchester United, Manchester City, Arsenal, Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur have stumbled over different formations and team selections, Conte has persisted with the shape that brought him so much success with Juventus and the Italian national team. Chelsea’s balance of defensive solidity, work ethic in midfield, and mercurial attacking talents have pushed the Londoners to within touching distance of the title.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic will miss three Manchester United games after taking pointed retribution against Tyrone Mings at the weekend. The Swede’s swinging elbow was missed by referee Kevin Friend, but an FA panel found inevitable guilt in the 35-year-old’s violence. Yet, while the striker’s 26 goals in all competitions have been vital to United’s cause this season, there may be greater benefit from an enforced leave of absence.
Manchester United wasn’t in any mood for a song and dance at the Stade Geoffroy-Guichard on Wednesday. The Old Trafford club eased to a 1-0 win against their French opponents, Saint-Etienne – a victory attained at some cost, with Eric Bailly seeing red, and both Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Michael Carrick collecting injuries.
It was bound to happen. Even the staunchest José Mourinho defendant understood that the Portuguese manager comes with a guarantee of friction in the dressing room. Some supporters were surprised that it happened so soon. Don’t be. It works.
“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.”
Sometimes it’s just not meant to be. Despite the best intentions the relationship just doesn’t work, the pieces just don’t fit, there’s a square peg in a round hole. It’s an apt description for Morgan Schneiderlin’s time at Manchester United, which is coming to a low-key end as he metaphorically slips out the back door – a transfer away from Old Trafford is likely this winter.
Juan Mata’s recent years in the Premier League have been an enigma. While successful, the Spaniard has often appeared to be a square peg in a round hole. Somehow, and with great credit, the Spaniard has made his time at Manchester United work. The player’s style is unrecognisable from his time at Chelsea and Valencia, with his defensive workrate significantly improved, making Mata both more useful, and more modern.
Manchester United’s season has been one of frustrating but gradual improvement under José Mourinho’s stewardship. Little by little the last vestiges of Louis van Gaal’s philosophy is being chipped away, to be replaced with a style of football that’s more in-keeping with the demands of United supporters.
Social media is an amazing tool for sports. Twitter allows for instant reactions, enabling fanbases of all clubs to unite, or clash, in one giant community. Increasingly, video is proving a critical part of the interaction: Twitter video and Vine, which was popular until its demise. But the impact of video clips has undoubtedly had an impact on the football bubble. Not always in a positive way.
It was telling that even after a morale-boosting victory over Swansea City last weekend, José Mourinho still felt compelled to address what he believes to be the biggest problem at Manchester United. The Portuguese alluded to what he believes are “some cultural issues, influenced by a situation that has been going on for a few years,” before controversially singling out some members of his squad. Simply put, Mourinho feels that some players aren’t giving him enough.
Chris Smalling, Luke Shaw, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Memphis Depay, Morgan Schneiderin, Henrikh Mkhitaryan: six players, almost £100 million in transfer fees, and one big falling out. For differing reasons each of the sextet could be headed out of the club, caught in José Mourinho’s demand for total commitment. Once again the Portuguese has demonstrated a single-minded drive to do things his way, one that will cost the club millions in depreciating player values. It had better be worth it.
These are strange times at Manchester United. Strange and unsettling times. The worst that could be said about United’s defeat at Fenerbahçe on Thursday is that the result wasn’t unexpected. Victory would have been met with relief such has been United’s form and poor away record in Europe. Instead, José Mourinho will have to pick through the wreckage of this latest set-back and try to steady the ship.
Management, for better or worse, is about making tough decisions. There is a line between loyalty to a player, friend, or employee and what is best for the club. Players, for all of their ephemeral worth, are never more important than the club itself. Whatever is best for the club must prevail. In this spirit, despite José Mourinho’s long-standing relationship with Zlatan Ibrahimović, it may be time for the Portuguese coach to make another big decision.
Three months, 14 matches and a quarter of the way into a new season. Isn’t it time that new manager Jose Mourinho found an identity for his Manchester United’s side, if not the songsheet for a successful future. It’s a question on the lips of many supporters after the Reds’ decidedly inconsistent start to the campaign.
Fans think of footballers as solely that, heroes with a ball, rarely considered beyond the pitch. Despite players’ outrageous wages, they all lead lives outside of their football. They have wives, girlfriends (boyfriends), mistresses, children, friends, pressures and stress: the same as everybody else. Much of it holds little interest for supporters. For players, including Anthony Martial, real life can get in the way.
As the saying goes you’re only as strong as your weakest link. It certainly applies in football. For all a team’s strengths, opponents will target and exploit any weakness. World’s best attack? There’s little point if the midfield can’t deliver the ball or the defence can’t keep opponents from scoring. This is the difficulty of team building, as José Mourinho is discovering.
Patience is a virtue, they say. Not simply waiting, but the ability to maintain a positive attitude throughout. This can be tough for footballers. Sitting on the bench watching your teammates play is no mean feat for men made of equal parts ego and talent. Top players believe in the very best of their abilities, and it is hard for them to take being told to “take a seat.”
Derby week is done, with round one taken by United’s noisy neighbours as the world’s gaze focused on Manchester for the season’s most anticipated match. Manchester City won a tough battle 2-1, with an electric opening period enough to secure Pep Guardiola victory at Old Trafford.
On the surface José Mourinho and Pep Guardiola appear to be polar opposites; the brash Portuguese man of war against the Catalan revolutionary, the pragmatist versus the visionary, the provocateur of “anti-football” dancing with the purveyor of “tiki-taka.”
Competition for places is a necessity for success. It keeps players at their sharpest, maintains motivation and, ultimately, is a factor driving the club forward. The introduction of a new manager can create a situation where competition is particularly important. Early performances create lasting impressions – a fact players under José Mourinho’s new regime already know.
When José Mourinho waltzed into Old Trafford eyes were quickly cast at the playing squad. Who would be retained; who would be shipped out? There were a few names that immediately stood out as destined for the chop, but after the Community Shield and first couple of Premier League fixtures a number of these unlikely lads have stepped up to prove their worth to the Portuguese manager. Some could become components in a potentially successful season.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic is a man used to the spotlight. The Swede eventually stole the headlines with two goals against Southampton on Friday night, but Paul Pogba was firmly the centre of everyone’s attention during Manchester United’s first game at Old Trafford this Premier League season. The Frenchman’s integration could encourage manager José Mourinho to change his approach this season.
“And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to depart into hell.”
Rant doesn’t often get biblical, but in a summer of tough decisions for Manchester United, it is true that success sometimes necessitates sacrifice. Trimming the fat can be the price of moving forward, making tough calls for the betterment and progression of a club. United might need to address the elephant in the room – Wayne Rooney is the hand that might need to be severed for the body to survive.
So here it is: after an 85 day break the new Premier League season begins this weekend. José Mourinho has added four high-class players to his squad and will now, presumably, concentrate on cutting some bloat before the window closes at the end of August. Indeed, Manchester United’s confidence and hopes are higher than at any time since Sir Alex Ferguson retired. It’s a fine squad, albeit with some holes, that should challenge on multiple fronts this season. But who’s the best and the who’s the worst at Old Trafford. Rant ranks them all, from 30 to 1.
For the first time in what feels like a generation there are plenty of options in Manchester United’s attack. Such was the depth of David Moyes and Louis Van Gaal’s mediocrity that each was an architect of some of the most boring football seen at Old Trafford in decades. It is now José Mourinho’s time and the impression is already strong that he will not stand for it. Fun is returning to the red side of Manchester.
It took little more than four minutes. The spin, the leap, the goal. Zlatan Ibrahimovic as only Zlatan could, scoring on his non-competitive début, with a bicycle kick of sorts against Galatasaray in Gothenburg. The moment of Manchester United’s pre-season; a flash of brilliance to underline that the coming season should be very different from the three that have preceded it. Hope, then, for millions of United supporters, although questions still surround a squad that remains incomplete and a tactical plan that is far from firm.
It’s a simple equation: Manchester United needs Paul Pogba more than Paul Pogba needs to be with the Reds. Sign o’ the times. It’s little wonder that Juventus has backed Ed Woodward into a corner over the mooted £100 million transfer fee, with agent Mino Raiola battering the executive vice chairman into submission over his commission. Despite reports of a ‘stalled bid’ and renewed Real Madrid interest the Reds will probably end up paying all of it. It’ll still be a bargain if it helps bring the Premier League trophy back to Old Trafford.
Evolution is a part of life. Adapt, change or become obsolete. It is the gradual development of everything, including the natural change in a football squad. Manchester United was always heading this way once José Mourinho took charge at Old Trafford. The Portuguese has already begun moulding the squad in his own image. More is to come this summer.
“Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” – Mike Tyson
So far, so splendidly José Mourinho. The Portuguese manager strolled into his first press conference at Old Trafford looking and sounding every inch a Manchester United boss. Gone was the wild-eyed stare of the perpetually out-of-his depth David Moyes. Banished too was Louis van Gaal’s now discredited talk of philosophy. It was always BS, you know. In its place, comes Mourinho’s bravado and clarity of thought – a trait already playing out in the transfer market. Yet, in the back of the mind is the sneaking suspicion that one day, it might go just a little pear-shaped.
Thomas Müller. Gareth Bale. Arturo Vidal. Sergio Ramos. Wesley Sneijder. Five very fine, world-class footballers. The common thread: each participated in transfer sagas that lasted an entire summer, or in some cases even longer. Long, played out dramas that resulted in little but reams of newspaper speculation, and wasted hopes and dreams. Despite the club’s power, money and global reach, Manchester United has become a laughing-stock in the transfer market in recent summers. No longer.
Twenty one – the number of minutes Marcus Rashford spent on the pitch during the 2016 European Championships in France. There’ll be no more this summer. England has failed in the round of 16 once again, humiliated by a country whose inhabitants number around 300,000 – only a little more populous than the City of Salford.
The discovery of Penicillin is popularly described as a happy accident, a serendipitous quirk of fate that led to the creation of one of history’s most important drugs. Indulge the parallel for a moment, and the same could be said for Marcus Rashford’s rise. Drafted in as a late starter against Midtjylland last season, the young striker made his mark immediately and has proved to be one of the few bright spots in a lackluster campaign.
It is often beneficial to look at the Premier League as a whole to see where Manchester United stands and to identify any general trends. Last season was an unmitigated disaster, even with the FA Cup victory, and lessons should be learned to avoid the further ‘Liverpoolization’ of the club. In earlier Data Rant columns, statistical theory was not strictly observed – emphasizing intuition and broad trends above technicalities. However, with more advanced techniques we can get a more precise picture.
The Euros, together with the Copa Centenario, have provided the football world with a welcome distraction from another summer of transfer speculation. Things in the club game keep on moving though – despite the highlights, lowlights and simply bizarre moments of international tournaments. How on earth does it hail in France in the middle of June?
Old Trafford will bounce to the chant of “José Mourinho” for the next three seasons, with the Portuguese finally taking control of the club he has always wanted to manage. Mourinho might not host his first press conference until July, but the 53-year-old’s work is underway within a week of his managerial announcement. And there is plenty of work to do.
Once the curtain came down on David Moyes’ reign as Manchester United manager, it was clear that the Reds required a major overhaul to bring stability back to the club. Following the inevitable reshaping of the squad and the backroom staff under Louis Van Gaal, it seems that the club is in need of major surgery once again. The Dutchman has failed to end the malaise surrounding United’s fortunes. The higher-ups have some key decisions to make this summer.
So there it is. Manchester United’s long search for a major trophy after Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement finally came to a positive end. The Reds’ 2-1 FA Cup final victory over Crystal Palace at Wembley brought glory and silverware to the club – and Louis van Gaal the sack. It was the Van Gaal’s first taste of success in England, but was swiftly followed by an end to a period in which the Dutchman has increasingly alienated supporters and, critically, failed to deliver on his promises. Retirement beckons, José Mourinho beckons. Louis goes, but it is with a modicum of dignity restored. The same cannot be said for Ed Woodward.
So it’s going to be José. If reports emanating from Spain this week are believed the deal for Mourinho to join Manchester United this summer is done bar the ink on the contract. Diego Torres of El País claims that the Portuguese is certain to join the club having already signed a “pre-contract.”
Winter is coming. José Mourinho’s cold stare and stone heart is set to be unleashed on a failing Manchester United squad. The Portuguese will find the basis of a moderate team, although one shorn of almost any world-class talent, despite more than £250 million spent over the past three years. In the place of true quality comes a misfit collection of wasters, shirkers and frauds – or at least Marouane Fellaini, Wayne Rooney and Phil Jones. On the precipice of permanent decline, the club must move on and that surely means another round of change this summer. Old Trafford’s revolving exit calls for these 10 players …
It was a moment of purest theatre. The sharp crack of a bulging net; the roar of an otherwise subdued crowd; the birth of a new star. Marcus Rashford’s neatly taken goal against Danish side Midtjylland in the Europa League last week was a moment that epitomised so much of Manchester United’s 138 years. The club of the Babes, Fledglings and Class of ’92, now perhaps on the cusp of a fresh, youthfully inspired regeneration. Amid increasing frustration, an early goal for the visiting team, and a missed penalty, Rashford’s side-footed finish meant more than most.
October 2013. David Moyes’ Manchester United side is struggling against Paolo Di Canio’s Sunderland at the Stadium of Light. After an agonizingly feeble first-half defensive display, the Red Devils , in the 53rd minute, find a way back to less-than-deserved parity. Nani, pausing on the edge of the 18-yard box, clips a curling, outside-of-the-foot cross toward the back post. Sunderland centre-half John O’Shea clears the ball, unchallenged, to United’s juvenescent number 44. Eighteen-year-old Adnan Januzaj, unperturbed by the pressures of his professional début, strokes an exquisite first-time, left-footed volley into the bottom corner to propel United into the lead. It was Januzaj’s second goal of the afternoon and proved to be the match-clinching strike.
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.
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?
Sir Alex Ferguson says that Manchester United must appoint an experienced manager as his successor, with the Scot likely to retire come summer 2012 at the latest. Little surprise then that Real Madrid boss José Mourinho has very publicly applied for the job this weekend. Mourinho’s contract at Madrid conveniently ends in 2012.
Such is Mourinho’s desire to manage Manchester United that only a boardroom impasse will halt the Portuguese coach’s appointment to the Old Trafford hotseat in 18 months time. Noises emanating from Mourinho’s camp in recent weeks have strongly suggested that even limited financial backing under the Glazer regime will not put the 47-year-old off.
While it is thought some Old Trafford insiders, such as Bobby Charlton, are not keen on appointing Mourinho, the weight of momentum seems firmly behind the former Inter Milan coach.
Indeed, Mourinho yesterday called the United job one fit only for a “special” manager. No heavy hint intended, of course. Although the coach, dubbed the “translator” in Barcelona after his spell in the city under Bobby Robson, does not expect the position to be vacated anytime soon. Not until 2012 that is.
“Football without Alex Ferguson? I’m not sure that will happen any day soon,” said the Real Madrid coach.
“The man lives and breathes football and Manchester United is his club. His hunger and desire to win the biggest trophies remains so I cannot see the day he considers walking away from football approaching.
“The Manchester United job is special and only a special manager is good enough to take the job on if and when it does become available.
“Of course, jobs like that don’t become available every day so the interest will be vast. It’s a job everyone will want.”
Mourinho will arrive at Old Trafford with plenty of baggage of course. The Portuguese’s monumental ego, often so extravagant that the line between coach and club is inseparable, too often crosses that unhealthy horizon between confidence and arrogance. It’s an accusation that can never be levelled at Ferguson, whatever his obvious fallibilities.
Ferguson, in his own mind at least, has become United and when he eventually retires this will come crashing down around his ears but for the moment it is often United’s source of unity and strength.
The former Porto coach also has limited track record of developing young players, although this is of little surprise given that Mourinho has failed to keep a job more than three years in a career that has already spanned six clubs at managerial level. In fairness to Mourinho his current side is packed with young talent, not that he played any part in their development of course.
Moreover, with the youth football market more globalised by the day, Ferguson hasn’t truly brought through a young Mancunian since Wes Brown in 1998. In the intervening years only John O’Shea, Jonny Evans and Darren Fletcher have made it out of United’s academy and into regular first team action. The rest – to many sadly – are ever younger imports from far afield.
This isn’t an explicit criticism of Ferguson though. It is harder than ever before to push local talent through an academy in the face of short-term pressures and the competitive global market for youth talent.
Another accusation levelled at Mou is that the coach needs huge funds to build a team. Certainly at Chelsea Roman Abramovich lavished Mourinho with unlimited funds. Who wouldn’t take them? Success came with Michael Essian, Didier Drogba and Petr Cech among others; many of the coach’s cheaper purchases failed though. Elsewhere, Mourinho’s success was built on more modest means.
Mixed success in the transfer market is true of most of the world’s leading coaches. Ferguson is certainly not immune to the criticism of failure in the transfer market – at either end of the scale.
Meanwhile, this summer’s purchases of Mesut Özil and Sami Khadeira by Mourinho for a combined £24 million arguably look better value than Ferguson’s similar sum spent on Chris Smalling, Javier Hernandez and Bébé. Angel di Maria cost significantly more but the Argentinian’s quality is such this season that it already looks like money well spent. The jury though is still out on €10 million Pedro Leon.
The point is not to compare as it is irrelevant but whatever the many drawbacks with Mourinho, United will probably be in safe, albeit short-term, hands.
Ferguson is a keen admirer and friend of Mourinho despite their long-standing rivalry in England. Implicitly the United manager endorsed Mourinho this week, subscribing to the view that the United job has specific requirements.
“I don’t think Manchester United could ever go down the road of having a young manager, to be honest with you,” said Ferguson after the Wayne Rooney contract saga concluded last week.
“It’s a job that needs a lot of experience at the top end of the game. We have the benefit of my 24 years at the club, so fortunately that’s the way we could deal with it.
“At Manchester United, you can never be surprised. There is always something happening in the club and there are always issues to deal with.
“To be manager of our club, you have to have someone strong who can deal with all these issues.”
Mourinho is certainly that but perhaps the criticism of the Setúbal-born coach that strikes most deeply at Old Trafford is of his teams’ style of play. Certainly Inter’s display at Camp Nou last season was one of the most negative witnessed in recent years. Chelsea rarely thrilled with attacking football under Mou.
But then comes the contradiction, with Real Madrid boasting a plus 20 goal difference after nine games this season. Arguably, Los Merengues is playing the best football on the planet.
Certainly better than anything United has come up with since Cristiano Ronaldo’s departure in summer 2008.
Mourinho is a figure many United fans love to hate. Reds may have just 18 months to get used to the idea.
When Jose Mourinho takes charge of Manchester United in summer 2012 he will have on his coaching staff three recently retired club legends. That’s the scenario posed by the week’s events, with the Portuguese signing on at Real Madrid, while Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs and Gary Neville were each offered coaching roles at Old Trafford.
With more than 2,000 club appearances between them, the trio has amassed a wealth of experience at the club that is only surpassed by the manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, himself.
Indeed, with the each now taking UEFA B and A coaching qualifications as the twilight of three magnificent careers approaches, the Scot believes that Scholes, Giggs and Neville will extend their stay at Old Trafford beyond two decades.
“They are living proof for young players that the United system allows players to succeed,” Ferguson told French sports newspaper L’Equipe.
“When they stop playing they will stay. All three are taking their coaching diplomas. I don’t think the club will pass up that much experience.”
Should the amigos remain at Old Trafford beyond their playing careers it is likely each will outlast their manager, who at 68 many pundits feel is unlikely to continue beyond a further two seasons. They will also offer an important element of continuity during what is likely to be a tumultuous period at the club post Ferguson’s retirement.
The risk of turmoil following Ferguson’s walk into the sunset is already noted, with United”s chief executive David Gill promising bond investors that the club will – no pun intended – “manage” the process. Still, there is little secret in the ceo’s preference for the Portuguese coach to take over at Old Trafford in Ferguson’s wake.
Indeed, while Gill this week claimed he will consult Ferguson on the Scot’s successor there will be few dissenting noises emanating from the manager’s Carrington office if his good friend Mourinho is offered the Old Trafford hot-seat.
“Alex is on a rolling contract. He is doing well, he is happy and he has a good staff who he works very closely with. When he decides he wants to retire he will have a word with me and say ‘The end of this season or next season’,” said Gill this week.
“We would work with him in terms of identifying a replacement. In terms of criteria we will sit down and say ‘What attributes must a manager have? Lots of things come into that. British or European? What experience they have, languages all that sort of thing as well as their track record.
“The final decision will be discussed with Alex, Bobby Charlton and the owners. I think Alex will be the key. He knows people. He will have a big role in advising and being a sounding board.”
Perhaps no surprise then that Mourinho – officially unveiled as Real Madrid manager today after the club concluded negotiations with European champions Inter Milan for the Portuguese’s services – has inserted a summer 2012 get-out clause into his new multi-million Euro contract. After all, Mourinho’s desire for a return to England is no secret.
Whomever takes over at United – even a manager with Mourinho’s force of personality – will face not only the challenge of leading a huge organisation but Ferguson’s imposing shadow, which pervades every element of the club. Ferguson’s influence, although somewhat diluted through greater delegation, famously extended to every granular detail of the club.
Mourinho is different of course, rarely taking an interest in club matters beyond the first team squad, with little reputation for developing youth or indeed staying at any club for more than a few seasons.
Important then that the club retains a link with the past, with Mourinho’s winning track-record likely to prove attractive to Gill and his paymasters in Tampa.
If – some say when – the former Porto, Chelsea and Inter coach succeeds Ferguson in Manchester then it is United’s triumvirate of playing legends that will offer that crucial role.
Reports today suggest that the Manchester United board is lining up Jose Mourinho as successor to Sir Alex Ferguson. The Scot, 69 this year, will retire at the end of next season according to the reports. Mourinho is one of the few managers with the personality and track record to succeed Ferguson but would you want him at Old Trafford?
With league titles in Portugal, England and Italy and the Champions League title in 2004, Mourinho comes with a copper-bottomed guarantee of success. But the Portuguese coach’s explosive personality also ensures controversy, while critics can also point to the dour style in which Mourniho’s Chelsea side often played.
José Mourinho confirmed today what many have long suspected – he would love to manage Manchester United when Sir Alex Ferguson retires. While the United board would be foolish to turn down a man who has won five league titles, a UEFA Cup and the Champions League since 2003, would the fans really want him?
“I would consider going to Manchester United. But United have to consider if they want me to succeed Sir Alex Ferguson,” Mourinho said today. “If they do, then of course. I like England, where the fans are very passionate and make the game a beautiful occasion with such an incredible atmosphere.”
Famed for his unrivalled ego, the self-title Special One would probably find the only job big enough for him at Old Trafford. After all, Internazionale has always felt like a temporary home, especially at a time when Italian clubs are not challenging for the biggest titles. Yet, for all Mourinho’s charisma, confidence and obvious ability there is something unsettling about the thought of the Portuguese coach arriving in Manchester any time soon.
Mourinho first came to most United fans’ attention after Porto’s 1-1 draw at Old Trafford in 2004. The result that knocked United out of the Champions League on Porto’s way to victory in the competition. Mourinho’s dance down the touchline and fist-pumping celebration was perhaps the first sign of the coach’s bravado.
The Old Trafford quickstep wasn’t the first or last time Mourinho has become involved in some unsavoury polemic. Mourinho has instigated controversial run-ins with Arsene Wenger, whom he unfairly called a voyeur, and latterly the managers of Milan, Juventus and Roma, whom he openly mocked. The coach was also fined £200,000 for his part in the Ashley Cole ‘tapping up’ affair.
More seriously, in 2005 Mourinho accused referee Anders Frisk and coach Frank Rijkaard of meeting at half–time during a Champions League tie between Chelsea and Barcelona. Mourinho inferred that the referee was biased, and the subsequent death threats from Chelsea supporters drove the Swedish official to an early retirement. It is still a serious blot on Mourinho’s copybook, which has been littered with many more entertaining and insightful comments.
Despite the doubts Ferguson has always held a cordial relationship with Mourinho, whom he famously shares an expensive bottle of wine with after matches.
“I got on very well with him at Chelsea and I think it was a loss to the game when he went. I actually enjoyed watching him on the television. I thought he was good. He was cocky and confident but it was good for the game,” said Ferguson prior to last season’s Champions League encounter with Inter.
“Right away he came in and said, ‘I’m the Special One’, and we all thought, ‘Who is this?’ and his team thought, ‘We’d better win here’. They got off to a start like nothing on earth and everybody was chasing their tail for the rest of the season and the next season.”
It’s an assessment on which many United fans can concur. Mourinho is entertaining, and after all that is what football is supposed to be about. He breathed life into the Premiership at just the right time, and took the focus away from the increasingly acrimonious Ferguson-Wenger relationship that had culminated in ‘Pizzagate’ in October 2004.
But Mourinho’s stylish way with words has rarely translated to the pitch. “Look, we’re not entertaining? I don’t care; we win,” he once said in response to criticism about Chelsea’s playing style. For all Mourinho’s obvious talents and huge character flaws, this is perhaps the single biggest reason why he should never take the helm at Manchester United.
Mourinho’s Titles and Awards