Mourinho camp confident of United deal

Manchester United are now widely expected to appoint Jose Mourinho as manager of the club by this summer at the latest, with an early appointment possible should Louis van Gaal oversee an even more dramatic loss of form.

In the last couple of days, reports have come from Italy and Spain claiming that United and Mourinho already have in place an agreement for him to take over from Van Gaal this summer. It is believed that these reports may be sourced from Mourinho’s camp in order to increase the pressure to conclude a potential deal. However, it now understood that a source close to Jorge Mendes, Mourinho’s agent, is confident that Mourinho will indeed take over at Manchester United.

This is a serious change at United compared to the Christmas period, when it appeared that the club were at loggerheads over any potential managerial change. There were a number of conflicting interests which prevented any quick change at Old Trafford as Van Gaal was in the middle of his worst run of results in England yet. It is believed that Van Gaal made an offer to resign at this time (and then again in January), as he acknowledged that he no longer had faith in his ability to turn the club around. He essentially admitted to the press that he had no idea how things could improve while he was manager, and carried himself with an corresponding fatalist air.

While it was expected that Van Gaal would not offer a straight resignation, and would require some kind of negotiated pay-off, Edward Woodward persuaded Van Gaal to stay on as manager. It is not because Woodward believed his appointed manager to be the ‘genius’ he described him as in the press in late 2015, but because he realised that any failure would see his role at the club under the spotlight. Woodward, as well as Alex Ferguson, had been keen to appoint David Moyes after Ferguson’s retirement, and a second successive managerial failure would have left Woodward exposed to the scrutiny of the Glazer family, Manchester United’s owners. At a time when the owners are asking for 15% cuts to be made across all non-first team departments, it would not be an opportune time for Woodward to have his value for money appraised.

Another reason for earlier inaction from Woodward is because of the continued influence of Ferguson at Old Trafford. It was reported that he was happy to have his pals in the media, and the Class of 92, to keep up the digs at Van Gaal as he floundered, only to call off the dogs when it appeared United would turn to Mourinho. Ferguson is keen that Ryan Giggs succeed the manager, not least because it would maintain his sphere of influence should his former charges take over the first team - note last month’s story that Ferguson was willing to come back in some capacity to help Giggs over a short period if he was called into emergency action.

With Woodward keen on Mourinho should any replacement be made, the desire of Ferguson to instead install Giggs made any replacement, in Woodward’s view, impossible. Recent stories about Van Gaal’s ability to deal with the stress of the job may have moved things on to a more suitable timetable for the appointment of Mourinho. The club do not want to make any mid-season change as it would only serve to confirm the incompetence with which the Glazers and Woodward have acted since Ferguson’s retirement, and so the idea of allowing Van Gaal to step down at the end of the season, is a more politic option. The idea that he is ready for retirement a year ahead of schedule is not quite the same as emergency surgery because the wheels have fallen off entirely. The appointment of Mourinho at this point would be far easier to defend, should United eventually qualify for the Champions League or not, because he would qualify as some kind of marquee signing, as the dreadful phrase has it.

There is one huge factor as to why United might now suddenly be prepared to appoint Mourinho having seemed reluctant to do just that a month ago. Pep Guardiola has been confirmed as manager of Manchester City for the next season, despite a late rush from United to see if they could tempt him into taking their job (interestingly, Arsenal may have fared better in this regard, had they wanted to). United’s only successful revenue stream at the moment, except for Wayne Rooney’s face, is their claim to be one of the biggest clubs in the world, if not the biggest.

Now that City have established themselves so quickly in England, and attracted the world’s best manager to make a success of Europe, United have to respond in kind so as not to lose any more lustre. The appointment of Mourinho, the one man to get the better of Guardiola, is probably their only option. The problem is that while the stress of management and having to deal with Mourinho saw Guardiola take a year off, Mourinho seems far more brittle for the experience, too. His time at Real Madrid has dented him, betraying a previously unseen vulnerability.

United no longer have the luxury of waiting to find out just how effective Mourinho will be elsewhere, or could be at Old Trafford. The Mourinho camp are confident of a deal being done, with there now being no other option for United than to appoint him, despite any misgivings.