Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United appointment was terribly overdue.
What possibly should have been the ideal hire following Sir Alex Ferguson’s sudden retirement, and Mourinho’s departure from Real Madrid, will officially take effect when United face Leicester City in Sunday’s Community Shield clash.
In that time United have terminated David Moyes and Louis van Gaal, as their attempts to maintain Ferguson’s winning mantra failed miserably. Several foreign signings and millions of dollars in transfer fees have been invested at Old Trafford, but apart from last year’s fourth place finish, United have missed out on the top four twice, and have never been apart of the title race.
While it was believed Mourinho was disappointed that United were reluctant to name him as Ferguson’s successor, the Portuguese manager’s return to Chelsea guided amongst England’s elite. A Premier League and Capital One Cup double was recorded in Mourinho’s second season, but failure to maintain such levels resulted in his immediate sacking midway through last season.
Ultimately both parties were at a crossroads – Mourinho’s options were limited considering previously managed clubs and current vacancies, whereas Van Gaal’s reign at Old Trafford turned United into a wretched watch and the club were slowly transitioning into perennial underachievers. Both United and Mourinho have been natural winners over the past decade, and with their current reputation severely battered, an opportunity at redemption couldn’t be ignored.
Where multiple United supporters displayed displeasure with Mourinho’s eventual hiring, oddly, he’s quite similar to the legendary Ferguson.
“He’s won the European Cup twice with different clubs and won titles with all the clubs he’s been at,” said Ferguson.
“You can’t ignore his record and I think Manchester United is the right kind of club for him.”
For one, they’re both pragmatists capable of utilizing players in the most efficient manner. While the general misconception surrounding Manchester United involves the club playing an attractive brand of football built on width and free-flowing possession, it’s key to remember that even the best Ferguson sides were reactive when required.
United comfortably dispatched of Premier League minnows by constantly pushing men forward at every opportunity, but the likes of Darren Fletcher, Park Ji Sung, Anderson and Owen Hargreaves all played key roles in United’s deep Champions League runs over the past decade. Often reverting to a 4-5-1, Ferguson knew how to grind out victories in a slightly more appealing way then Mourinho, but was rarely criticized for doing so.
More so, solely hailing Mourinho as a defensive-minded coach would discredit some of the most exciting sides of this era. Following his first stint at Chelsea, Mourinho’s Inter Milan sides were leading goal-scorers in the two seasons the Portuguese manager spent in Italy. Elsewhere, during his fierce rivalry with Pep Guardiola, Mourinho’s Real Madrid out-scored and beat arguably the best club side ever to claim a La Liga title in 2012.
Similarly, Mourinho’s 2013-2014 title winning Chelsea side played some of the best football in Europe over the first half of that season – combining Cesc Fabregas’ vision, intricate passing in tight spaces, and Diego Costa’s power upfront – before reverting to a defensive minded approach to combat fatigue during the run-in. Additionally, Mourinho’s equally incorporated players such as Deco, Wesley Sneijder, Mesut Ozil and Cristiano Ronaldo – players renowned for their minimal work rate out of possession – into defensive juggernauts further highlighting his ability to identify a proper balance.
Tactically, there shouldn’t be any drastic modifications to Mourinho’s set-up, which therefore should benefit a United side that hoisted the best defensive record in the division last season. Mourinho’s attention to detail should improve a sturdy defensive shape, as they transition between two deep banks of four, possible energetic high pressing, or a standard 4-5-1 in high-profile matches.
Likewise, while Mourinho is lambasted for not offering youth a chance, apart from the early stages of Ferguson’s career at Old Trafford, the former United manager has rarely turned academy prospects into regular first-team players. Players such as Gerard Pique and Paul Pogba have turned into world stars after being overlooked by Ferguson, whereas only Wes Brown, Darren Fletcher and Danny Welbeck maintained a consistent role in the first team.
Mourinho, however won’t encounter that issue considering several youngsters are currently in the first team, so frankly the one possible downfall in this newfound relationship is the Portuguese manager himself. Although Ferguson was a notorious media bully, Mourinho’s siege-mentality has been nauseating in the past, thus leading to players and his medical staff turn against him. The Portuguese manager lost the dressing room at Real Madrid and most recently at Chelsea, and it’ll be interesting to see how the United players handle Mourinho’s antics.
Then there’s longevity. Mourinho has never stayed at a club for more than three full seasons, thus resulting in many insinuating he’s unable to build a dynasty. Mourinho embraced bigger challenges following treble triumphs with Inter and Porto, yet ironically, those moves witnessed the manager subsequently sacked at Chelsea and Real Madrid.
A second spell at Chelsea presented Mourinho with a chance to build a dynasty in a familiar environment with young promising talent, but failure to build on a title-winning squad – Chelsea’s new (one in-one out) transfer policy exploited a fatigued Blues squad still possessing weaknesses in key areas – was decisive considering it was a key factor in his return. Chelsea’s poor title defence – the worst of any champions in the Premier League area – was a low point for both club and manager, but it’s unlikely Mourinho will encounter such issues at Old Trafford.
At United he will inherit a side that can be classified as a genuine title contender. Mourinho has already added Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Eric Bailly and Henrikh Mkhitaryan to the United roster, and with Pogba reportedly set to make a return to Old Trafford, he arguably has more options at his disposal than his 2013-2014 Chelsea side in a league were several top sides are still enduring a transitional period.
A youthful attack containing the devious Anthony Martial, Marcus Rashford’s ability to run the channels, and Jesse Lingard’s tactical discipline compliments the experience of Wayne Rooney and Ibrahimovic. Pogba’s anticipated return to Old Trafford would bolster a midfield alongside the dynamic Ander Herrera and Morgan Schneiderlin or genuine passers in Michael Carrick and Daley Blind.
Then in defence, Mourinho has attack-minded full-backs and is expected to prefer a powerful centre-back partnership of Chris Smalling and Phil Jones. With most sides aiming to press from the front, he can also slot Blind to centre-back to help United play out the back, whilst pushing full-backs Matteo Darmian and Luke Shaw forward.
When you assess the current state of the Premier League, the Portuguese manager’s familiarity with the league and the options at Mourinho’s disposal presents both parties a chance to return amongst the higher echelon of English football.
“I came to Manchester United because I wanted to work under Alex Ferguson and then in the latter years [with] what Mourinho has done in football, in Spain and Italy and England, he is a manager who you want to play under,” said Rooney.
“He is one of the best around and to learn from what he brings it’s going to be exciting for me to try and learn under a manager such as himself.”
Unlike Real Madrid and Chelsea, where Mourinho was deemed a failure, a spell at Old Trafford will provide the Portuguese manager with adequate funds to build his preferred team, and the required patience to gain results. Modern day football will never see a tenure comparable to Ferguson’s, but at United, Mourinho’s ensured ample time to attempt to build a dynasty, assuming he doesn’t replicate the disaster that transpired at Stamford Bridge last season.
At the time of Ferguson’s departure, United required a proven winner to maintain the club’s success, whereas now, Mourinho is tasked with guiding his troops back to glory. With a great balance of creativity, experience, youth, technical ability and power, there’s no reason why United shouldn’t be challenging for domestic honours and participating in the latter stages of the Champions League in the next few years.
Regardless if Mourinho fails to display longevity at Old Trafford, his main job is to regain the winning mantra and fear factor once displayed at the club so it can be further evolved in the near future. Nevertheless, the club and manager’s obsession with silverware should be the catalyst in rediscovering the winning aura that’s disappeared.
“I want to be champion,” Mourinho told The Sun. “To say before the season starts that the top four is the target? The top four is not the target. We want to play to be champions.”