A couple of months back I spoke about the potential impact and subsequent chain reaction the announcement of Pep Guardiola to Manchester City may have on the English Premier League. Guardiola’s announcement that he would be joining their rivals must have played a massive role in the final decision to appoint him as the successor to Louis van Gaal at Manchester United.One of footballs’ longest running sagas finally came to an end on Wednesday, 25 May when Skysports News broke the story that Jose Mourinho had been appointed as the next Manchester United manager. By then it had become inevitable as the previous 48 hours had confirmed that negotiations were on-going between the much maligned club Chief Executive Ed Woodward and super-agent Jorge Mendes. It was around 6:15pm, I know because I had been following the story for months. From the moment Jose Mourinho was shown the door at Chelsea for the second time the rumours started to surface in credible news sources that Louis van Gaal’s job was unsafe.
It became the narrative in every single press conference the Dutchman had to attend – “Will you be staying on for the final year of your 3 year contract?”. For months Mourinho kept quiet, for months we heard rumours from people who are close to the Portuguese that he was destined for Manchester. For months Van Gaal denied that there had been contact between Mourinho and Manchester United, but in my opinion the straw that broke the camel’s back was the announcement across the road at City, Pep Guardiola was coming. Manchester United were left with no option. European Football and FA Cup or not, van Gaal simply had to go for failing to capture the imagination of the clubs loyal fans with his style of football.
So Mourinho has finally arrived and straight away asked the fans to forget about the past 3 years. One can look at this in a number of ways, was he saying the fans should forget the results over the past 3 years or was it a thinly veiled snipe at his predecessors David Moyes and Louis van Gaal, in other words forget about those two things will be different now I’m here. Jose was very quickly on the charm offensive with the Manchester United supporters, speaking of a ‘special honour’ to manage on of the great European clubs as well as a prestige, mystique and romance that can’t be matched by another club (Chelsea, Real Madrid are you taking note?). He also went on to speak about a special rapport he had built up with the fans of the club on his many visits to the opposition dugout at Old Trafford. At face value it all sounds very positive if you’re a Manchester United supporter but we’ve seen this pattern before. Charm everyone at the club, win trophies and then self-destruct over a 3 year trend. We saw it at Chelsea in his first spell, we saw it at Real Madrid and we saw it again in his second spell at Chelsea. So which Jose Mourinho have Manchester United appointed and can he change the trend of falling out with his employers when the going gets tough. That’s the question on everyone’s lips – is this a marriage of convenience or is there love real?
It’s very hard to argue against facts, but let’s start with busting some other myths about Jose Mourinho. The first is that he is a “park the bus” manager who doesn’t trust youth players. This is the rhetoric that has followed him around for a very long time but there is so much evidence to suggest the contrary. Chelsea in 2004/5 broke not only the defensive record for a season in the English Premier League but also scored more goals than “free-scoring” Manchester United and also won more games in a 38 game season than any other side in the history of the league. Mourinho’s Chelsea side also had the longest unbeaten home run in the history of the league. 86 games without losing a home game. Mourinho’s Chelsea side have also scored more points in a 38 game season than any other club side with 95 points. That was in 2004/5 and 12 years later this record still stands. In his two full seasons at Porto no other side score more goals than Jose Mourinho’s side. In his two full seasons at Inter no Italian side scored more goals than them.
His best work however from an attacking point of view was at Real Madrid where his side outscored Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona in both seasons they were rivals in La Liga. In both those seasons Real Madrid racked up over 100 goals in the league and still hold the record with 121 goals in a single season – yes even MSN can’t get to that total. That season is symbolic as it is the 1 league title the club holds in the past 9 years and this against arguably the greatest club side of the past 25 years. So where does this “park the bus” accusation come from? The few times he was forced to adapt his tactics to counter Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona or the odd occasion he picked a team to neutralize Sir Alex Fergusons Manchester United or that one 90 minute tie in 2009/10 when Inter held on with 10 men at Camp Nou to win the semi-final tie against Barcelona? Jose Mourinho at worst is an adaptive manager but his first 2 seasons at Real are evidence he is definitely not a defensive manager. How different is this to Ferguson playing Ji-Sung Park and Darren Fletcher in the biggest of matches for Manchester United? It’s not is it but conversely it’s used as a stick with which to beat Mourinho over the head with.
He doesn’t give youth a chance? Another myth really, John Terry was the same age as Jese Lingard is today when he arrived at Chelsea and has been captain of the club throughout. Carlos Alberto became the 3rd youngest scorer in the Champions League final in 2003/4. Eden Hazard was 22 when Jose returned to Chelsea, same age as Memphis Depay at Manchester United and lastly, Raphael Varane at Real Madrid was 18 when he signed for the club and got the chances to show what he can do under Mourinho. The examples I’ve made are all players that were signed for substantial fees, however they got the chance nonetheless. Outside of the class of 92 (this was a once in a generation situation), how many players did Sir Alex Ferguson promote from the academy especially towards his last days. John O’Shea and Darren Fletcher? In fact it was his unwillingness to promote Paul Pogba that forced the Frenchman to find greener pastures at Juventus. So is Jose any different to the current crop of managers when it comes to youth development? Personally I don’t think so, Pep is possibly in his own league when it comes to promotion of academy players but the rest are all much of a muchness. Martial, Rashford, Fosu-Mensah, Borthwick Jackson, Luke Shaw will keep the doubters quiet about a lack of youth involvement at the club. In reality Mourinho won’t have to do much more than include 5 “young” players to again prove that this is just rhetoric and they are at the club already.
The final and most consistent myth is that Jose Mourinho is short termist while Manchester United are a visionary club who prefer to build long term success and dominance through consistency and patience. In 1992 maybe! It’s not 1992, Liverpool have not just won the league for a record 18th time, football at the highest level, is a brutal, profit-driven business. Managers have become CEOs of global brands, rewarded fantastically for short-term success and discarded callously for perceived failure (remember Carlo Ancelotti at both Chelsea and Real Madrid). Mourinho was the only choice for a Wall Street-registered company that was slipping into the shadows and needed catapulting back into the limelight.
Only time will tell which version of Mourinho Manchester United are getting. He left Porto as a winner, he left Inter as a winner but conversely he was shown the door at Chelsea twice and at Real Madrid. The only thing that should bother United fans right now is whether Mourinho is still guaranteed to win titles wherever he goes or if that is another myth waiting to be demolished.