When Jose Mourinho left Chelsea and speculation started to grow that he might be under consideration to replace Louis van Gaal as United manager, opinion was very divided among match going United fans. There were those who couldn’t wait for Van Gaal to be replaced and those who had deep reservations about the appointment of such a controversial character and all the baggage he seems to bring. Through December and into the New Year speculation about Van Gaal reached such levels that to many it appeared that a change was inevitable at some point. We at www.manutdtactics.com always thought that a mid-season change was unlikely unless the incumbent himself resigned. There was speculation about that as well of course, so the debate seemed to crystalize, not about whether Van Gaal would leave but who would replace him. Like him or loathe him, Mourinho always seemed like the front-runner.
The logic seemed to be that he was available, was a high quality manager, a strong character and has a history of wanting the job. Consider the opening chapter of Diego Torres’ book “The Special One: The Secret World of Jose Mourinho” which is mostly about Mourinho’s time at Real Madrid but which also makes reference to other aspects and periods of his career. The opening chapter is entitled “Crying Games.”
“He was Crying! He was Crying!” – Gestifute Employee. (Gestfute is the football agency owned by Jorge Mendes, Mourinho’s agent”).
“On 8 May 2013, the employees of Gestao de Carreiras de Profissionais Deportivos S.A., Gestifute, the most important agency in the football industry, were to be found in a state of unusual excitement. Jose Mourinho kept calling employees. They had heard him sobbing down the line and word quickly spread. The man most feared by many in the company had been crushed.
The news that Sir Alex Ferguson had named David Moyes as his successor as manager of Manchester United had caused an earthquake.”
“Mourinho, encouraged by his trusted agent, believed that Ferguson was an ally, a friend a protector. He became convinced that they were united by a relationship of genuine trust. He thought his own fabulous collection of trophies…constituted a portfolio far outstripping those of the other suitors. When he learned that Ferguson had chosen David Moyes, the Everton manager, he was struck by an awful sense of disbelief. Moyes had never won anything!”
Of course Bobby Charlton had previously expressed his reservations about Mourinho in a December 2012 interview with The Guardian. Torres goes on to quote from this interview,
“ ‘A United manager would not do what he did to Tito Vilanova’, referring to the finger in the eye incident. ‘Mourinho is a really good coach, but that’s as far as I would go’.”
Mourinho was aware of this but had chosen to believe he still had a chance of succeeding Sir Alex, and was encouraged in this belief by his ongoing good relationship with Ferguson. On the other hand David Gill had reportedly told Mendes in the Autumn of 2012 that United weren’t interested in Mourinho, but his agent had either not shared this with Mourinho or at least played it down.
“In the morning……(after the news of Ferguson’s retirement and replacement by David Moyes had broken)…..he (Mourinho) called Mendes…It was an act of desperation”.
Of course no Chelsea fan is likely to accept this. As a football fan you quite rightly love your club and it is painful to think that anyone, especially someone who is such a hero to your club, would choose another over yours. But football people do, and Mourinho is a football man. He joined Chelsea for a second time that summer saying that he was “returning home” and that he was “the happy (rather than the Special) one”. The lady doth protest too much? Was this about saving face and masking his disappointment? Diego Torres thinks so.
We may never know the truth of what went on behind the scenes at that time. You can never be sure when it comes to transfers and the movement of managers. Briefings, counter briefings, people changing their minds, negotiations breaking down and people changing their position to save face; this is the common currency. Mourinho of course is often seen as Machiavellian, but so are Sir Alex, Gill and Woodward.
Many United fans felt that Mourinho was the man to follow Sir Alex; a man who would not be overawed by following the most successful manager in the history of English football; a proven winner who seemingly guaranteed trophies. He was seen as a manager who could ensure that United would move on without the sort of post-Sir Alex hangover that we have experienced over the last few years. But there were just as many United fans who, like Charlton, were put off by the baggage, the controversies and the Mourinho brand of football, a brand seen as defensive and overly cautious.
That is a little unfair and overly simplistic. A balanced review of Mourinho’s career will identify phases when his teams have employed any number of different strategies, both attacking, counter attacking and defensive. With Mourinho it’s horses for courses, whatever it takes at that particular moment to win. We should not forget that Mourinho’s Real Madrid team usually outscored Barcelona during his time in La Liga.
Michael Cox, writing in The Guardian recently, pointed this out in an article where he identified similarities between Mourinho’s approach and that of Sir Alex’s in his later years as United manager:
“Generally, Mourinho’s sides play perfectly exciting football throughout the majority of a season, but in big matches – particularly in Europe, and towards the end of a campaign – become more cautious. This does not differ significantly from Sir Alex Ferguson’s approach during the final decade of his tenure at Old Trafford, when United’s purposeful, high-intensity football would give way to reactive, counterattacking displays against elite opposition”.
You can read the rest of this excellent article here https://www.theguardian.com/football/blog/2016/may/22/jose-mourinho-manchester-united-old-trafford
So United have had a change of heart, perhaps chastened by the struggles of the last few years, or perhaps with a different set of people asserting their will within the club. We are where we are, or we are where we were, in the sense of still looking to move on from the retirement of Sir Alex. In truth we have moved on, we have a stronger squad (despite the fact that many refuse to believe this) but that squad still has significant weaknesses. Mourinho will need to address these and, as a manager who never lets the grass grow under his feet, he will no doubt challenge the club to do this quickly. That is no bad thing. In addition he faces a number of challenges himself, for despite his previous successes, at this point in his career he still has plenty to prove. Most obviously he needs to prove that his last few months at Chelsea were a blip and not the start of the decline of himself as a manager.
But the other big question is whether he can build more than a single team; in other words can he build something that will last more than 3 or 4 years? Sir Alex used to talk about 3 or 4 year cycles with the implication that over a longer period of time a team needs renewal. Sir Alex was the master of a gradual renewal and the replacements of small parts, which meant that during his time the transition from one team to another was often seamless. Of course the continental model of football management could lead one to believe that a coach needs to focus on the short term and build a side for a few years, with the longer term view being taken by a Director of Football. Mourinho has often clashed with club hierarchies, most usually over the provision of playing personnel for his team and he has little track record of working to provide youth players with opportunities to develop into first team players. That all speaks of a focus on the short term and on building a successful term for the here and now. For some United fans that will be what they perceive we need right now.
This second question is really about whether he can he build a dynasty at a club, although the related question is does he want to? When he returned to Chelsea there were plenty of noises about him doing exactly that. Were they disingenuous or did it all just go horribly wrong for a leopard who could not change his spots? To build a dynasty, perhaps Mourinho will need to adapt to United; Van Gaal’s inability to do so is seen by many as his most significant weakness. Then again, do United want Mourinho to build a long term dynasty in his image or that of the club? Or is this about crossing the Rubicon of a first Premiership win, post-Sir Alex to create the space for a restructuring and a more long term plan overseen by others (a Director of Football perhaps)?
So there are many questions here. Hiring Mourinho now, having looked elsewhere a few years ago appears to put the Portuguese in a strong position; at least that would be the perception of many if you consider this a desperate move. Then again, after the last few years when things clearly haven’t gone to plan, maybe United are desperate? We are reminded of one Gestifute employee when he talked about the possibility of Mourinho taking over from Sir Alex:
“The problem is, when things don’t go well for “Mou”, he does not follow the club’s line. He follows Jose’s line”.
But what is United’s current line, or should that be football line? Do they have a line, do they have a plan? Mr Woodward? Only time will tell. But for now we say, Jose Mourinho, welcome to Old Trafford.