The idea of a football fan changing their opinion is almost as abhorrent as changing your team in the eyes of many. If you rate a player, you rate him for life, regardless of how his form dips, or his abilities erode. If you think a manager is up to the job, you always stick by him, even if he takes your club towards oblivion. And if you think a manager isn’t the right man for you club, under no circumstances whatsoever are you allowed to reconsider that opinion. Unless…
Forgive me, but I’m about to break with convention and no doubt upset many of the sanctimonious social media warlords who police the internet by declaring yet again I’ve reversed my position on a certain Special type of manager.
When David Moyes was announced as United boss, like any other passionate Red, I got behind the manager, chanted his name at matches and repeated Sir Alex’s appeal to “stand by the new manager” like a mantra: “must back Moyes, must back Moyes, ignore results and football, must back Moyes…”
Similar to most other Reds – or at least those willing to admit it both to themselves and others- the appointment of the ‘Chosen One’ left me severely underwhelmed and if we’re going down the candid route the trophyless manager of Everton wasn’t even my fourth preferred choice for the job.
Ideally I’d always seen Pep Guardiola, with his tic tac minty fresh style of play, his dignified swagger and designer stubble as the perfect replacement for Sir Alex. People point to the fact Guardiola had inherited a great side rather than built it but I always felt he was on a hiding to nothing and didn’t get the credit he deserved for his era of dominance, all the while seeing the likes of Ronaldinho, Deco, Lillian Thuram and eventually Yaya Toure depart or retire. When it was obvious Munich not Manchester was the Dapper One’s destination, then the next logical successor to Govan’s greatest was the man currently occupying the dugout down the M62. The poor sod. Klopp wasn’t available- at least that’s the party line and who are we to disagree or question just how much he was actively pursued by United so that left only one other truly viable option.
Jose Mourinho is the second most successful manager in the history of the modern- Premier League- era. Only Sir Alex Ferguson has won more trophies than the former Porto man in the past three decades, it simply beggars belief that Mourinho wasn’t considered the natural heir to the Old Trafford manager’s job.
It’s been claimed that it was too late for United to get Mourinho as he’d already agreed to re-join Chelsea, just as Guardiola had already signed a deal with Bayern Munich, but in the former Real Madrid man’s case those claims seem to be born of convenience rather than fact. Once Moyes was appointed it benefitted United to state that a manager who’d won twenty major trophies more than the new boss was simply unavailable, just as it was far better for Mourinho to note Chelsea was always his first choice/love.
Whether Mourinho was actually considered for the United job is open to conjecture but at the very least it does seem odd that the only man who could truly rival Ferguson for the title of ‘greatest living manager’ wasn’t thought of as his natural successor.
Like a spurned lover, United fans rallied to convince ourselves “we never fancied him anyway” once Moyes was the manager, indeed it was only when the Reds finished seventh and Giggs had been forced to take over and steer the ship away from the iceberg that many of us conceded we’d got the wrong man all along. Even after the Moyes era, Mourinho was looked upon not as an opportunity missed, but a problem avoided by many as Chelsea finished third behind Liverpool and City while United appointed Jose’s former mentor Louis Van Gaal.
This is where the true fallacies of logic kicked in with our desperation to deny Mourinho would’ve been a good fit at United. “Van Gaal was Mourinho’s boss, so Van Gaal is obviously a better manager.” In the same way Steve Round is a better coach than Ryan Giggs, or Frank Rijkaard was a better coach than Guardiola I suppose…
Since his second appointment at Stamford Bridge Mourinho has delivered two trophies- including a league title and a Champions League semi-final. United on the other hand have failed to crack the top three of the Premier League and had to recently listen to our manager waxing lyrical about ‘almost’ making the last eight of the league cup. It would be funny if it wasn’t so tragic.
People who genuinely didn’t want Mourinho near the United job are currently revelling in his implosion as Chelsea have taken the one record Moyes achieved of managing the worst reigning Champions in Premier League history. It’s easy to look at Jose arguing with refs as his side are picked apart and sit smugly thanking our lucky stars we don’t have his ego to deal with.
The argument for Mourinho at United isn’t as a long term manager and his current predicament shouldn’t detract too much from the case for his appointment. Mourinho is the best manager in the business at coming into a club and delivering success and that is what could be just the tonic at United. I’m not advocating a ten year contract and a slow rebuilding plan- that would be as barmy as Mourinho’s post-match rants. If – and it’s a big ‘if’ Mourinho’s available once Van Gaal’s contract ends, then the Reds could do far worse than appoint the double Champions League winner.
Many fans want Giggs to take over either next season or the one after and while that sentimentality is touching, that’s all it is, sentiment. There’s no evidence whatsoever Giggs woud be a success in any way, but if he is to take over, surely a further two or three seasons as assistant, this time under one of the most successful managers of all time wouldn’t hurt his apprenticeship.
The arguments against Mourinho – of which there are many- range from the credible- his attitude can be embarrassing – to the almost irrelevant- his football isn’t the greatest. Let’s address the first one, yes his attitude can be very unbecoming and I said myself when as manager of Real Madrid he poked Barcelona’s then-assistant Tito Villanova in the eye, I had no wish to see him near the Old Trafford job. Being at Madrid is different to United though and should the board make it clear any nonsense that brings the club into disrepute and his contract will be terminated without a payout then perhaps Mourinho will get the message. Since he returned to England, he’s tested the limits of what he can get away with both with the FA and the Chelsea board, but if United make it clear he’s not got the same amount of rope to hang himself with then again, it’s not too far a stretch to suggest he could temper his nonsense somewhat.
In terms of ‘attractive football’ this is the one argument I struggle with when United fans claim Mourinho wouldn’t play the way we demand. It seems rose tinted glasses must’ve been given out with abandon at Sir Alex’s leaving party as not since 2007-08 have the Reds truly played in an entertaining cavalier manner. The 2008-09 season, was a Cristiano Ronaldo-reliant one, that saw many sub-par performances including a drubbing at the hands of Liverpool at Old Trafford. The fact United had to rely on a last minute winner from Kiko Macheda- not to mention Andrei Arshavin having the best game of his career – to save the title speaks volumes. Similarly the last title-winning season from the Reds may have seen goals a plenty courtesy of Robin Van Persie, but far too many of those wins were functional rather than fabulous to claim the league was won in a stylish manner.
There have been exceptions of course, the 3-2 at the Etihad and the 3-0 at home to Villa spring to mind, but it was more often than not a case of getting the job done over mesmerising, thrilling football.
Mourinho’s current demise has his detractors – like United post Sir Alex – queueing up to finally rub his arrogant nose in it, but perhaps they’re being a tad hasty. There’s zero chance of Chelsea winning the league, but they could still make the top four- although it’s going to be difficult – and maybe save some face in the FA Cup. If Mourinho leaves at the end of the season having delivered one title in three years- plus a league cup –then that’s likely to be far better than United have managed during the same period.
People have short memories when it comes to manager’s leaving clubs, did Sir Alex leave Moyes with a strong squad? Or one that’s final swansong had been the league and desperately needed rebuilding? Did flavour of the month Jurgen Klopp leave Dortmund in a strong position? Yes he worked miracles there but last season was a disaster – at one stage they took one point out of a possible 21 – and they barely managed to finish 7th.
Mourinho isn’t one for rebuilding his own sides and nor would I want him to at United, but given a three year deal and Giggs as his assistant, there’s no reason why he couldn’t at least bring some silverware back to Old Trafford during that period. People will say “he’ll leave us in a mess like he does everywhere.” That’s not always the case- Chelsea were a John Terry slip away from the Champions League the season Mourinho left them, while Real Madrid managed to go one better the season after he left.
The Special One may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but given the football we’re enduring, sorry watching, the uncertainty of how Giggs will fare and the problems that still need addressing at United, why not let the most successful manager on the planet have a go after Van Gaal?
I’ve dismissed the idea of Mourinho in the past but times have changed and the football and lack of likely success has taken its toll. It may not always be pretty and everyone may hate us, but we could earn some silverware and that’s not too far off what we’re all used to…