With rumours abound for months, one of football’s worst kept secrets was finally confirmed today with the news that Jose Mourinho has been appointed manager at Manchester United.
The appointment comes as no surprise, with numerous outlets hinting at the announcement being imminent ever since Mourinho was sacked from his previous post in charge at Chelsea in December 2015, months after winning the title with the London club. A run of 9 defeats in his last 16 matches in charge left the Blues languishing in 16th place and facing a potential relegation battle heading in to 2016. This was a shocking nose-dive for a club who should have been defending their title and left owner Roman Abramovich little choice but to let the Portuguese mastermind go after two trophy-laden spells at Stamford Bridge.
If reports are to be believed, United have taken an unorthodox (and expensive) approach to securing their man. Spanish newspaper El Pais reported, as early as March of this year, details of an apparent pre-contract agreement between Mourinho and the top brass at Old Trafford that guaranteed the former Porto, Real Madrid and Inter Milan gaffer a staggering €20 million if his appointment was not confirmed by 1st June 2016. With today’s confirmation coming in the month of May, the payment was cut to a mere €6.5 million, with the Special One likely to earn around €15 million annually while actually in charge at the club.
It’s perhaps a sign of current times that a club with the stature and reputation of Manchester United felt the need to go to such lengths to secure Mourinho’s signature. The fact remains, however, that Mourinho is still one of the most sought after names in world football when it comes to management. Despite his last spell in charge in the Premier League ending as poorly as it did, Jose’s stock remains high and there’s no doubt that Ed Woodward and co will still see his appointment as a huge coup for a club who has struggled to find a leader in the aftermath of the retirement of the greatest manager in their history in 2013.
There’s no doubt the capturing of Mourinho will be met with excitement on the banks of the Stretford End. He has brought success and trophies to every club he has managed, often breaking new ground while doing so, as he did when securing back to back UEFA Cup and Champions League trophies at Porto in 2003 and 2004. Such an outstanding achievement so early in his managerial career sent shockwaves across Europe, earning Mourinho a string of top jobs in which he didn’t fail to deliver. At the time of writing, his trophy haul as a manager is almost too long to list but includes a combined 8 top-flight titles in Portugal, Italy, Spain and England respectively, a further 11 domestic Cups and, of course, 2 Champions League titles – his second coming in charge of a combative Inter Milan side in 2010.
It’s pretty clear then, that Mourinho has a trophy cabinet and CV worthy of his appointment in the North West. There is, however, a potential sticking point that could see him struggle to curry favour with the United faithful if it comes to fruition.
Known for favouring an extremely defensive style, built on a solid defence behind a midfield triangle, Mourinho’s football has often been labelled boring and lacking in entertainment. The man himself, responsible more than any other single person for the emergence of the phrase ‘parking the bus’ in recent British football history, has made no secret of his acceptance that defence is simply sometimes what’s required to win. Speaking at a media launch in 2012, he said, “Football is about moments. It is very difficult to have one game from the first to the last minute to have only one game. Sometimes you dominate, sometimes you are dominated. Sometimes the opponents are on top of the game and you have to play different games within a game. This is not easy to do it… The same way, the bus driver needs a lot of experience and a lot of training to park the bus. In football, it takes times and work to understand this. Sometimes I feel that my guys work really hard and while all footballers would like to go to the pitch and have fun, sometimes it is not always like that.”
Such tactics may not go down well with fans in Manchester, however, with followers of United known to favour a more exciting brand of football. Sir Alex Ferguson built numerous sides during his 26 year stay at Old Trafford, all of which played with a swashbuckling approach, always intent on attacking and scoring goals. While always built on solid defences in the likes of Gary Pallister, Jaap Stam and others, the dynamic and thrilling attacking tactics employed by the Scot are ones many followers of the Red Devils will be keen to see return under Mourinho.
Fans and media alike have often lambasted the style of play under previous manager Louis Van Gaal, with Paul Scholes famously decrying the team’s apparent lack of style and identity, even hitting out at the Dutchman for claiming people were expecting too much of his side. With two seasons in charge, Van Gaal has done little to build on the abysmal mess left by Scot David Moyes following his sacking, managing only to add to the list of ever-growing and ever-expensive flops on the books, improving the team’s league standing by only two places in the process.
Whether Mourinho can bring back the exciting brand of football United fans crave remains to be seen. Perhaps the man with whom he enjoyed a glass of wine or two over the years has had a greater impact on him than we’re yet aware of. What’s not in doubt, however, is that, in Mourinho, United have found a man who has a simple aim – to win. He’ll do it by whatever means he feels necessary and, if previous events are anything to go by, isn’t necessarily looking for approval of his methods by anyone on the outside.
He has always had a difficult relationship with the press, most notably while in charge at Inter, where he stopped talking to Italian journalists after receiving a £35,000 fine for criticising referees. This is something that is not new for Mourinho, with there being numerous examples of similar indiscretions being committed throughout his career. He was even labelled an ‘enemy of football’ by then-Chief of Referees at UEFA, Volker Roth, after accusing Swedish referee Anders Frisk of illegally meeting with coach Frank Rijkaard in March of 2005.
Such issues will be ones Man Utd will be keen to avoid going forward.
Jose Mourinho comes to Manchester United boasting an impressive list of achievements but also a considerable number of short-comings. He’s a hot potato in footballing terms that the club may one day find too hot to handle. You can criticise his approach to football, his defensive and sometimes joyless tactical style, or the way in which he uses his famed ‘Mourinho Mind Games’ to try to get one up on his opponents but one thing is for sure – Jose does not care. He is interested only in winning and has proved in the past that’s exactly what he does. His outlook on the matter was confirmed when once compared to coach Frank Rijkaard earlier in his career;
“My history as a manager cannot be compared with Frank Rijkaard’s history. He has zero trophies and I have a lot of them.”
A pretty simple premise, really. And something the red half of Manchester will hope he sticks to.