Jose Mourinho and Manchester United: a match made in heaven or hell?
The Portuguese star has a big job on his hands if, as expected, he is confirmed as Red Devils’ new boss
Jose Mourinho and Manchester United should be a match made in heaven as one of football’s most charismatic and trophied coaches bids to return England’s most prolific title winners back to former glory, but the relationship might be a bumpy one.
His record of achievement speaks for itself and odds on United winning the Premier League for the first time since 2013 will tumble when he is confirmed as manager this week.
However, United fans who demand attacking flair and take pride in seeing exciting young players promoted through the system into the first team might have to grit their teeth because that is not Mourinho’s usual way.
Twelve years ago the “upstart” Portuguese coach introduced himself to Old Trafford by charging down the touchline to celebrate Porto’s late knockout winner in a Champions League tie.
Now, after running out of patience with Louis van Gaal, United have turned to Mourinho, who spent the second half of the season kicking his heels for almost the first time in a career spent plundering silverware in Portugal, England, Italy and Spain.
The Portuguese’s second spell at Chelsea, which brought him a third Premier League title with the London club last year, came to a bitter end when he was sacked in December after the champions lost nine of their first 16 league matches.
Since then, the 53-year-old has remained in London and waited for a call, no doubt watching Van Gaal’s dour struggles at Old Trafford with more than passing interest.
Van Gaal, hired by United in May 2014 after a season of upheaval following the retirement of Alex Ferguson, will leave after two years of his three-year contract.
An FA Cup triumph was deemed not good enough when measured against a failure to qualify for the Champions League on the back of as season where the 20-times English champions were transformed from the great entertainers into “Boring, Boring Man United.”
Bringing back the good times, will be a challenge for the self-styled Special One“but with the board’s backing and a hefty budget, it is one he should relish.
There is plenty of work to do, though, as United’s squad, despite heavy spending on the likes of Memphis Depay and Anthony Martial, looks limited in the creative and goals departments.
While Van Gaal’s possession-based tactics have contributed to a meagre league goal return of 49 in 38 games – compared with their previous Premier League average of 76 – the problems appear more deep-rooted.
One aspect of Van Gaal’s legacy that the fans appreciate is the number of young players he introduced to the first team but Mourinho has shown repeatedly that he has no faith in “potential”.
However, without Champions League football, the marquee names Mourinho is used to working with will take a bit more persuading to move to Old Trafford.
There are many too who think Mourinho’s star is fading.
After all, on his watch, and with a virtually identical squad to the one which eased to the title, Chelsea went from champions to unlikely relegation candidates as the players seemed to lose the will to perform for him.
Unhappy as United fans have been with Van Gaal, he out-performed Mourinho this season.
When Mourinho was sacked on December 17 United were fourth, Chelsea were 16th. United had won eight to Chelsea’s four, had scored more goals and let in less than half of Chelsea’s total.
If it is free-flowing football United fans crave, Mourinho’s pragmatic approach might not satisfy them either.
In his first spell at Chelsea and at Inter Milan he perfected the art of sitting on a 1-0 lead while last season, after a bright start, Chelsea ground their way to the title.
For a man who once criticised an opponent for “parking the bus” he is more than happy to block the road when it suits and if chants of “attack, attack, attack” rolling down from the Stretford End failed to influence Van Gaal they are certainly not going to get Mourinho to unleash his inner Kevin Keegan.
What is more, like his tactics or not, Van Gaal, apart from the odd petulant media conference, was a statesmanlike figure who would not drag the club’s all-important brand through the mud.
Controversy, on the other hand, follows Mourinho around and the club’s board might also have to grin and bear it as he makes it clear that he is the number one man.
This season he was twice fined for his behaviour and received a one-match stadium ban. He was also named a respondent in the legal action being brought against Chelsea by former team doctor Eva Carneiro for constructive dismissal.
His antics at Real Madrid, where he won the La Liga title, included getting a two-match ban for poking former Barcelona assistant coach Tito Vilanova in the eye.
Mourinho’s CV suggests United will return to winning ways, but the club’s traditionalists might have to grit their teeth for the journey.