For the first time in sixty nine years, Manchester United have played back-to-back top flight matches against promoted sides and lost on both counts. The pressure was on after the Bournemouth match but it has now reached dangerous heights and Louis Van Gaal has conceded that he now fears for his job.
As it happens, an enormously successful manager is suddenly available in Jose Mourinho and ESPN have reported that he wants United to be his next job. However, there is a growing mountain of evidence suggesting that Ed Woodward should proceed with extreme caution if this is a possibility he is considering.
The Times sportswriter Matthew Syed wrote back in October that “Mourinho sucks whatever vitality there is in a culture into the black hole of his ego.” While this may be hyperbole, it is vital to examine the grains of truth in that statement if you sit on the United board.
For Sir Bobby Charlton, who represents United’s values better than most, Mourinho’s behaviour isn’t befitting of the club. Referring to the poking of Tito Villanova in the eye, he stated that “a United manager wouldn’t do that.” He went to say that he “pontificates too much for my liking” and while Sir Alex Ferguson admires him, “he doesn’t like him too much, though."
Mourinho is certainly a manager with a self-destructive streak when it comes to vendettas and he doesn’t look to be mellowing with age. There was all the rhetoric of building a dynasty and thinking long-term for his second stint at Chelsea but his actions didn’t match his words.
It all began to dramatically unravel after the idiotic fiasco with the club doctor. Then there came the West Ham defeat where everything was to blame but him and his players. The deflecting tactics didn’t arrest the slump and he then started to see his own players as the enemy.
Notably, rather than dropping serial underperformers and giving youth a chance, for the most part he continued to play them. United tradition dictates that the club promotes young players from the academy and this isn’t something that Mourinho can attest to.
Chelsea academy product Ruben Loftus-Cheek is a case in point. The Chelsea board were reportedly concerned by Mourinho’s treatment of the young talent in November, as his contract is running down and fears exist they may lose the player. This would be justified given that they have seen Romelu Lukaku and Kevin de Bruyne excel elsewhere.
Furthermore, there is the view that Mourinho is a younger Van Gaal. The Dutchman was Jose’s mentor and there is an enduring mutual respect between the pair. Both are methodical result-driven managers that don’t consider flair to be a tenet of their footballing ideologies.
Given the frustration that has been caused by the sluggish football being played, it is surprising to see so many fans desperate for Mourinho to be the next United manager. Worryingly, a trait that Mourinho seems to have picked up from Van Gaal is a tendency to ostracise creative talent.
Oscar’s virtuoso man of the match performance yesterday was an expression of joy that was beautiful to watch from a player that has recently been anonymous. It was if a huge load had just been lifted – a man unshackled. It will be revealing to see how Eden Hazard performs as he is another creative player to have fallen foul of Mourinho’s demands for defensive contribution multiple times.
This was also a problem at Real Madrid where club legends were notably his relationship with Cristiano Ronaldo was fraught with problems. Ronaldo later revealed that “there was a bad atmosphere and it was a difficult period in personal terms. There were situations with other players and also with the fans.”
Man-management problems have been pivotal in his downfall at Chelsea too. The technical director spoke of “palpable discord” between the players and the manager and the fact that some players didn’t even show up for his farewell speech is indicative of a significant rift.
This brings us to the crux of the issue with appointing Mourinho: an emerging tendency to leave a club with an unhappy dressing room and in a position worse than when he arrived isn’t something United should countenance.
Mourinho may find the political and financial environment at Old Trafford perfectly conducive to his plans, permitting him to build in a way he couldn’t at previous clubs but the available evidence suggests that this may be a hopeful punt rather than a calculated risk.