By Haziq Zargar @OnlyHaziqZargar
Manchester United are set to appoint Jose Mourinho as their new manager to replace the ousted Louis van Gaal who was sacked two days after winning the FA Cup.
The imminent arrival of the Portuguese has given new hope to fans who have seen the club drop from its perch at the top of English football since Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement three years ago. With this appointment, the authorities at Manchester United have put things in motion to get the club back on track after what can only be called underwhelming dealings both on and off the pitch over the last three seasons.
The move could finally be announced this week after months of flirtation between Ed Woodward and Jose Mourinho’s team. Once the former Real Madrid boss takes over, he will reignite his old rivalry with one time colleague Pep Guardiola, who has taken charge across town at rivals Manchester City.
The Portuguese manager comes into his new job with one of the best CVs in world football. Mourinho has won the league eight times in four countries and this includes winning the Barclays Premier League three times in his two spells with Chelsea. He also boasts of having won Europe’s elite competition, the UEFA Champions League twice, first with Porto and then with Inter Milan. Since taking charge of Porto in 2002, Mourinho’s teams have never finished outside the top three in the league (full seasons).
For Manchester United, his appointment comes at a point when they have just won the FA Cup, a trophy that had eluded the club for twelve years. But it just is considered to be just papering over the cracks with problems being on show for the last three seasons. The team’s performances have only gone downhill since Sir Alex stepped down three years ago and now after appointing two failed successors, the club is nowhere close to where it wants to be.
David Moyes’ was handed a six-year contract but it was cut short only after ten months and Ryan Giggs was put in charge for the end of the season. Then came Louis van Gaal. The Dutch manager was appointed to steady the ship and was handed a three-year contract to do so. Performances were disappointing in the first season but they scraped to fourth place and made it to the Champions League where they were knocked out of an easy group at the first hurdle. The results were damning, and the performances even more so. After spending more a quarter of a billion pounds, the results just weren’t what the fans and the board expected. Louis van Gaal was relieved of his duties two days after winning the FA Cup and this lead the board to JOSE MOURINHO. News broke of his imminent appointment and many people claimed it to be the decision that should’ve been made three years ago.
This could be the job that defines the Special One’s career. He is taking charge of a team that has struggled in the league for three years now and has mounted no challenge on the European front. Louis van Gaal did a commendable job of stabilizing the ship after Moyes’ tumultuous time in charge but now the onus is on Mourinho to take the club back to the heights it needs to be at. But he will need to make sure that the club’s ethos and traditions do not fall down along the way.
Transfers, both incoming and outgoing are expected in the summer but once the squad takes shape, it is expected to have the defensive solidity that we’ve come to see from almost every Mourinho sides over the past decade. There will most likely be an expensive addition to partner Chris Smalling in defence while Daley Blind should not expect to play there again. Mourinho likes having one marauding full back while the other is more cautious while going forward. At Chelsea he had Ivanovic and Azpilicueta; and their roles are most likely to be taken over by Luke Shaw and Matteo Darmian (if he can be made a tad more disciplined positioning-wise.).
In midfield, there is one solid defensive player (Matic at Chelsea) and one more creative one (Fabregas at Chelsea). This can come as good news for Ander Herrera, Morgan Schneiderlin, Michael Carrick and Wayne Rooney. Schneiderlin and Carrick can provide the strong defensive base while Rooney and Fabregas can be the more adventurous midfielders who go on the offensive while still controlling the game from midfield.
The Portuguese also likes having two pacey wingers or wide midfielders. This is where Anthony Martial, Memphis and Jesse Lingard could have a part to play while Ibrahimovic seems to be on the verge of signing for United and he will take over the striker’s role from Marcus Rashford. So you shouldn’t expect Ashley Young playing up top again. Juan Mata’s case is a rather curious one as he doesn’t provide the defensive energy that Mourinho asks for from almost all his players. He doesn’t have the knack to change games like Ozil, but still remains a valuable asset to this side. Whether Jose keeps is at Old Trafford after the Spaniard lasted only six months with him last time out, remains to be seen. The front five is where we can expect to see additions to the side (and a center-back) with goals being a priority as well. Manchester United had their worst goal-scoring season in the Premier League under LVG, so a striker is expected to join the ranks and it appears that Zlatan Ibrahimovic is on his way to reunite with his former Inter manager. We may also see additions on the right wing and a creative playmaker may also join.
Coming to the stories of ‘park-the-bus football’; these tactics are only employed by Mourinho when he knows that the opposition is much stronger and defence is extremely important. Sir Alex Ferguson used to do it and it can be considered a necessity to do so when the need arises. Once enough additions are made to the squad, we can expect it to look a lot more settled, both defensively and offensively.
His style of football has often been criticised but people seem to forget the swagger with which his Real Madrid side, and the Chelsea team of 2004 used to play. Nobody scored more goals than his Porto side during his two full seasons in charge there, while his Inter side were top scorers in the Serie A for two seasons in a row. While in Spain, his Madrid team managed to outscore Barcelona two of his three seasons there; and scoring a record breaking 121 goals in the 2011/12 season.
One way in which Mourinho’s style differs from van Gaal is that he doesn’t necessarily stick to just one system when it comes to getting results. He used Sneijder and Ozil at Inter and Real, but also utilized Fabregas in a deeper lying creative role on a regular basis in his title winning Chelsea side of 2014/15. He also knows what games require a more cautious approach on his part, specially in the bigger European games where the opposition poses a much greater threat.
Another big issue that people have with Mourinho is his so called lack of trust in younger players. Granted Mourinho prefers having more experienced and proven players in his squads, but this doesn’t necessarily mean that he shuns young talent to the side. The development of Varane at Madrid and then Zouma at Chelsea showcases his ability to trust young defenders. But Manchester United hold dear their record of having a youth team graduate in every matchday squad since 1937, and Mourinho will have to ensure that this streak goes on.
But at the end of the day, it will be the results and performances of his team that will draw the most attention. If the Special One is able to pull off the desired results, other questions are likely to fall by the wayside.