There seems to be a general consensus of opinion that Jose Mourinho is all but confirmed as the next man to try and fill the giant-sized boots of Sir Alex Ferguson, as manager of Manchester United. Louis Van Gaal, a dead man walking since Christmas, once more baffled players and supporters alike with some bizarre substitutions and tactics as United crumbled to a 3-0 loss at White Hart Lane; a defeat which in all likelihood means there will be no Champions League football at Old Trafford next season.
So the stage seems set at the Theatre of Dreams for the Portuguese to enter the spotlight in front of an adoring audience with a typical flourishand charm personified. His brief will be not only to rebuild United’s fortune’s, but also his own, following those disastrous few months at Chelsea at the beginning of this campaign. On the surface, it seems like a match made in heaven; Mourinho wants it to happen and so do the majority of fans. But press reports appear to indicate that United’s two knights of the realm are in the minority and are dead-set against the self-proclaimed ‘Special One’ from making Old Trafford the next stop of what has been an indisputably remarkable career.
While the clamour for Mourinho reaches fever-pitch across social media and in the press, Sir Alex Ferguson and Sir Bobby Charlton appear not to be quite so spellbound by the allure of the former Chelsea, Real Madrid, Inter Milan, and Porto boss and if they haven’t done so already, it would be remiss of the United board to not at least examine why this is. If he is to become United’s third manager in as many years, then Ed Woodward and the Glazer family have got to be certain that Mourinho is indeed the right man for the job.
Managing Chelsea doesn’t bring with it the same intensity of pressure as managing Manchester United. By comparison and despite unparalleled success during the Abramovich era, Chelsea remains the smaller club in terms of its worldwide support, financial turnover and its history. Any intense media attention aimed towards Stamford Bridge during his two spells in charge has tended to be about Mourinho himself rather than the club. On the other hand, everything about Manchester United, whether it be about potential signings, what the crowd is singing, or even Wayne Rooney’s big toe – it all generates headlines.
Despite saying in 2010 when he was unveiled as manager of Real Madrid, “the more pressure there is the stronger I am” there is much evidence to say otherwise. His propensity to self-destruct, at times within full view of the public, is as alarming as it is compelling. Real Madrid is perhaps one of only a handful of clubs who can compete with United in terms of size and history. His time there as manager, is mostly remembered for his touchline bust-ups every time they played Barcelona. Many believe his antics each time Spain’s two premier clubs squared-up was due, in part, to the intense frustration he felt at rarely being able to get the better of a club he was once so desperate to manage. One La Liga title in three years between 2010-2013, even accounting for the fact that Barcelona were as they are now, arguably the best side on the planet, was not enough for Real’s supporters, who demanded a more exciting style of football than Mourinho could deliver. Once more he left under a cloud, amid reports of bust-ups with his players, including Cristiano Ronaldo.
There are perhaps two moments though which define Mourinho’s vulnerabilities as a manager, perhaps even as a person. The first came in 2005 when Chelsea lost 2-1 to Barcelona (yes, them again) in a Champions League tie at the Camp Nou. Following the dismissal of Didier Drogba, Mourinho accused referee, Anders Frisk of colluding with then Barca manager, Frank Rijkaard. In the fallout, Frisk received death threats and retired from the game, leaving UEFA referee’s chief, Volker Roth to proclaim that Mourinho was “the enemy of football”.
But even that unsavoury incident was overshadowed by what happened at Stamford Bridge on the opening day of the current season. His very public fall-out with physio, Eva Carneiro, after she went on to the pitch to treat Eden Hazard, may well have been the result of a build-up of pressures since Chelsea claimed the Premier League title the previous May, (which in itself is worrying). But the club never recovered from such a spectacular break-down between the two and he was sacked just three months later having recorded just four Premier League wins. Since his dismissal, there have been more reports of disputes with his players including a serious falling-out with Cesc Fabregas on the eve of his departure. Can Manchester United really afford to appoint such a combustible character as Mourinho at a time when what they really need is stability and a calm head to plot the right path and lead the club out of its own turbulent storm?
All of this without even debating Mourinho’s style of football which seems more in tune with the Van Gaal philosophy of possession and defence, rather than the traditional United way of ‘attack attack attack’.
When he was sacked from Chelsea the first time around, one of the reasons which found its way into the public domain was that owner, Roman Abrimovic, was unhappy with the style of football that was being served up and that he wanted, oh irony of ironies, for Chelsea to be more like Manchester United. It was a similar story at Real Madrid, except for United, read Barcelona.
United fans have had precious little to smile about this season; the football has been languid and the results have been too inconsistent for them to be able to mount a serious challenge for the title. But the one shining light on the horizon has been the emergence of more precocious talent to emerge from their fabled youth system. Had Mourinho been appointed in December, would the Old Trafford faithful been afforded the opportunity to take a glimpse into what the future could look like in the shape of players such as Marcus Rashford, Cameron Borthwick-Jackson and Timothy Fosu-Mensah? I very much doubt it and so it seems does Sir Bobby Charlton. The United director remains the last direct link between the club and the Busby Babes who perished in the 1958 Munich air crash. Since then every home-grown player who has successfully broken into the first team has been seen as a nod to the ‘Busby Way’, a memorial to those young players who lost their lives. Mourinho’s track record suggests that would all be lost. It is no wonder that Sir Bobby sees himself as a guardian of tradition and that he, and Sir Alex Ferguson are said to be so set against his appointment.
It may well be that should he breeze into Old Trafford, Mourinho will have a couple of successful seasons; but at what cost? Certainly at Chelsea and to a degree at Real Madrid, his successes have been undermined by his self-destructive nature. There is more than enough evidence to suggest that at some point he will have a melt down and if that does happen, how many more managers will United need to appoint to put it right? How many more years will they have to endure being cast into the football wilderness?