As the curtain closes on the disastrous reign of Louis van Gaal, Manchester United are left in the unenviable position of finding the nonexistent – the perfect manager.
Carlo Ancelotti and Pep Guardiola were your best bets, but they chose the clubs of the future rather than one of the past. Perhaps because the Dutchman’s successor will have the rather inauspicious task of rebuilding a club in tatters.
It’s almost beyond any doubt that the heir to throne will be Jose Mourinho. He polarizes the football world like no other to the point that unlike Van Gaal, his appointment will be wildly unpopular with some sections of United supporters. Far from an unknown quantity, the positives of his potential hiring are obvious, as are his shortcomings.
Supporters of Mourinho immediately cite his proven record as a winner. His history with trophies speaks for itself. He has won a trophy in most of his seasons at the helm, two Champions Leagues being the highlights. Even his staunchest opponents accept that ‘The Special One’ is likely to bring success.
With him, it’s almost a given.
Other positives includes the fact that he is undoubtedly light years ahead of United’s current boss. Mourinho seems capable of acting rationally which Van Gaal doesn’t appear to be.
Marouane Fellaini would finally be shown the door under Mourinho (or any other manager), Ander Hererra feels like he could be a favorite of the Portuguese gaffer, as he is with the fans. He has always shown passion on the touchline, even it some of it is fairly irking. He’s adaptable and reactive unlike the paralytic Van Gaal. His tactical knowledge is rivalled by very few.
His steadfast opponents accept most of these points, as his success is accepted universally. Howver, they’re often quick to shoot back “But at what cost?” Jose’s supporters unlike their counterparts seem to be willing to ignore the managers obvious faults.
It is commonly thought that one of the few things Mourinho shares with his old boss is the rather dull style of play. But that notion in itself is something of a fallacy. Mourinho often sets out teams very defensively but it’s far from dull. He used a pacey counter attack to great effect at his tenure with Chelsea. They played scintillating football at times, particularly in the opening months of the season.
At Stamford Bridge, he always played Nemanja Matic but also used Oscar, Willian, Eden Hazard and Diego Costa, all with attack as their priority. At United, Morgan Schneiderlin will fill the Serb’s boots leaving room for the attacking prowess of Anthony Martial, Memphis Depay, and Ander Hererra. Defensive football set up to break quickly trumps the turgid attacking football Van Gaal has coined as his philosophy.
To the above list of Old Trafford’s attacking exploits, most would quickly add Juan Mata and Marcus Rashford. But therein lies the problem for so many of the ex-Porto man’s detractors, this writer included.
It speaks volume how the majority of United’s fans reacted to Mata’s recent dismissal at West Brom. His stupid decision has gone a long way to ending United’s hopes of getting Champions League football, and yet, besides a few on Twitter, supporters were quick to forgive the diminutive Spaniard.
In contrast to this was the outraged reaction to Chris Smalling’s mindless dismissal at the Etihad last season. Manchester Evening News ran a poll soon after and almost half the voters said the Englishman should never be allowed to play for United, fast forward 18 months and he’s a fan favourite.
But back to Mata. The rapid forgiveness of the number 10 illustrated the love the majority of fans have for him.
And that presents a problem for the heir apparent. His apathetic treatment of Mata at the Bridge is one of the few things Mourinho ever did wrong in some Chelsea fan’s eyes. Assuming he takes a similar approach if and when he inherits the Old Trafford hotseat, Mata might be sending his weekly blogs in Chinese.
His mate Ander Hererra will fare considerably better, his terrier-like qualities would appeal to a man who has long been an exponent of hard work. But if Mourinho jettisons the Spaniard as ruthlessly as he did in London, he’ll find himself in hot water with the fans quicker than he can say “There’s a campaign against United”.
But it’s the lack of Rashford in the above list that will concern fans the most. As I wrote recently, United are suffering an identity crisis like never before.
There is one element of the United’s famed identity that Louis van Gaal has some claim to upholding.
Youth is one of the first things associated with a club that never would have recovered from Munich if it not for an abundance of young talent. Or rose to the lofty heights it saw with The Busby Babes before that tragic day.
Now whether Marcus Rashford is the next Federico Macheda or the next Wayne Rooney remains to be seen, but it’s unimportant because he deserves the chance to find out. As does Guillermo Varela, Cameron Borthick-Jackson, Timothy Fosu-Mensah, Adnan Januzaj, Jesse Lingard and the list goes on and on. Jose, sees it differently.
He takes stability and experience over exciting potential every time. The likes of Matteo Darmian will always trump Varela in his mind despite the Uruguayan being the far superior player. His appointment will set Rashford and his talented friends back several seasons in their career.
And for that reason alone, Mourinho is not the man for the job in many fan’s reckoning, despite the near-guaranteed success. He is one of few very flawed candidates in line for the job but seems to be a dead cert for it. It may be one of football’s most mixed reaction to an appointment in recent history, following the Premier League’s most unpopular sacking when Jose left Chelsea.
Polarizing is an understatement.