Top ten: Mourinho’s Man United to-do list
10. Deliver instant results
According to the majority of fans and onlookers, Jose Mourinho will guarantee a number of certain conclusions upon his appointment as manager of Manchester United: He will create friction; he will not play ‘the United way’; he will stunt the development of the club’s younger players; he will guarantee results. It is the latter of the four which provides the biggest argument for installing the Portuguese as boss. Regardless of Mourinho’s means, they almost always justify the end. With 22 trophies won throughout his career, it is difficult to argue.
With United finishing fifth, and with the club in apparent disarray, Mourinho must instigate an immediate upturn in fortunes. He has no excuse not to. The Portuguese arrives at every role with considerable baggage, but this is offset by his proven track record in delivering results. Replacing an unpopular manager, being provided with considerable backing in the transfer market and having a personal point to prove combines to form one result: United must sustain a title challenge from Mourinho’s first season onwards.
9. Manage Luke Shaw’s game time
David de Gea, Anthony Martial, Nick Powell. Thus concludes the extensive list of current Manchester United players who can claim to be among the best players in their role, and Martial’s is based more on his immense promise than anything else. Had Luke Shaw not suffered a broken leg in September of last year, he could have counted himself among such an exclusive group.
It has been a long journey for Shaw. The England international has started training outdoors after the double leg-break inflicted upon him by PSV defender Hector Moreno in a Champions League group stage game in September. Since, Shaw has watched frustratedly from the sidelines as United exited the competition, stumbled out of the Europa League, failed to impress in the Premier League, won the FA Cup and lost their manager. In the five Premier League games he started before the injury, the 20-year-old was the club’s most consistent performer. The chubby, out-of-shape teenager had developed into a fine left-back – the best in England – and his absence changed United’s dynamic. Marcos Rojo, Matteo Darmian, Cameron Borthwick-Jackson, Daley Blind and Ashley Young have been utilised on the left-hand side of the defence since, but none have come close to replicating Shaw’s marauding runs and much-improved defending.
The biggest challenge for Shaw still remains. Mourinho must approach the issue with caution, testing the defender when necessary but ensuring he is not pushed too hard. The 20-year-old is good enough to be first-choice left-back for club and country over the next decade at least, but he will need initial patience from his manager if he is to scale those lofty heights.
8. Sort out the deadwood
Only one Premier League club used more players in the season just gone than Manchester United (33). It is no coincidence that Liverpool (34) also require extensive squad surgery heading into this summer. As aforementioned, only two or three United players can truly attest to being among the best in their position. For each of the club’s previous 13 Premier League titles, a perfect balance between premium talent and willing and able deputies has been struck. Since Alex Ferguson’s departure, the former has been in scarce supply, while the latter has become the norm. Wes Brown, Jesper Blomqvist and Park Ji-sung supplemented a squad perfectly, but were never first-team certainties.
This United side suffers from an outbreak of Marcos Rojo, an affliction of the Antonio Valencias, and a terminal case of Marouane Fellaini. Mourinho must be ruthless as he evaluates and improves upon a frankly average set of players.
7. The Rooney conundrum
Jose Mourinho loves Wayne Rooney. Wayne Rooney loves Jose Mourinho. The Portuguese made three separate bids for the United forward’s services in 2013; the 30-year-old was reportedly open to the idea of working under the manager at Chelsea. Mourinho spoke of his “faith” in Rooney to be the star of the 2014 World Cup; Rooney selected the manager as his 2015 Coach of the Year. One writes love poetry to his betrothed, and, well, so does the other. The two are a match made in heaven, both among the Premier League’s most important and polarising figures ever, and both sharing similar character traits.
In an ideal world, that would be enough. In reality, there is a question mark as to where Rooney fits under the new regime. While the captain will relish Mourinho‘s appointment, it remains to be seen what his playing future entails. This season under Van Gaal, the England international has played in three different positions. The excellence of Anthony Martial and emergence of Marcus Rashford – two players who display the very pace and power a young Rooney once did – has forced change upon the former Everton man. A move into a deeper-lying midfield role has heralded mixed results, but Mourinho will surely find a place for him. His experience and seniority might still be invaluable assets in a troubled squad.
6. Make a statement with summer signings
…but make the right statement. According to widespread reports, Mourinho’s first transfer mission will be to sign a 34-year-old free agent on ludicrous wages. Zlatan Ibrahimovic would command respect and adulation, but is he really what Manchester United need? It would service not only the player’s ego, but that of the club, too. Pursuing Ibrahimovic is little more than a short-term vanity project.
The club have been keen to sign a marquee player in recent windows, ranging from Gareth Bale to Neymar to Cristiano Ronaldo. Each are among the world’s elite players, and for that very reason United should not bother this summer. As long as the club cannot offer guaranteed Champions League football, their main bargaining chip in the market is lost.
It is here where Mourinho will begin from the most beneficial position possible. His war chest/kitty/transfer budget is reported to be around £200million, and the club have already been linked with a long list of talent. The Portuguese has had five months to consider his targets. Van Gaal was offered a similar amount of money, but can only count Martial, Shaw and Daley Blind among his true successes. More Willians and Kurt Zoumas, fewer Baba Rahmans and Juan Cuadrados.
5. Restore his reputation
There are many aspects of the character of Mourinho the manager. There is the good: the three-time Premier League winner, the two-time European champion, the victor of four separate domestic leagues. There is the bad: the abrasive, arrogant, controversial figure, the master of mind games, the advocate of negative, restrictive football. Then there is the ugly: the eye-poker, the accuser of voyeurism, the man who branded a club doctor “impulsive and naive” after she rushed onto the pitch to treat a befallen player during a match. Eva Carneiro was simply doing her job as a member of Chelsea’s medical team; Mourinho’s actions were responsible for her losing that job.
There is a fine line between bravado and bloody-mindedness, between character and contentiousness, between superiority and stupidity. At the end of his second spell at Chelsea, and at numerous other times throughout his career, it is a line Mourinho has crossed. The Portuguese’s managerial aura is built on foundations of respect, a respect Mourinho will have to earn back.
The 53-year-old is still to publicly apologise for his treatment of Carneiro from August last year onwards. Even his expected ascension to the Old Trafford throne was completed with an air of antagonism, with his (super)agent, Jorge Mendes, leaking details of the news to the media before Van Gaal had even had a chance to savour his FA Cup victory. The path of destruction Mourinho often leaves in his wake has long been reported as the premier bone of contention for Alex Ferguson, Bobby Charlton and a number of other senior members of the United boardroom. One does not expect Mourinho to completely alter his character, but he must learn from his mistakes and curb his acerbic behaviour.
4. Knock Manchester City off their f***ing perch
Since 2013, Manchester has been blue. Manuel Pellegrini will depart the Etihad Stadium this summer having never finished below United in the Premier League. For three consecutive seasons, City have asserted their dominance over their bitter local rivals. Not since their years in the old Second Division in 1975 had United endured a hat-trick of campaigns finishing behind the enemy.
City enjoyed a 22-point gap in 2013/14 before ending the 2014/15 season nine points ahead, and while only goal difference separated the two this season, it will not have made a bitter pill easier to swallow. The neighbours have moved from the bungalow across the road into the mansion next door, and United are sitting in their living room, curtains drawn, complaining about the noise.
Much will be made of the renewal of Mourinho’s rivalry with former counterpart Pep Guardiola in Manchester next season. It is an intriguing story, but one which United fans will care little for. Instead, they will simply expect the Portuguese to silence City and restore United to their familiar place as Manchester’s premier attraction.
3. Keep David de Gea
Oh, where Manchester United would be if that pesky fax machine had worked. Last summer, De Gea came within a matter of hours of completing his move to Real Madrid, only for an administrative ‘error’ to keep the Spaniard at Old Trafford. For an example of where a talented but limited Premier League squad finishes when their goalkeeper is patently not good enough, look at Liverpool. This past season without De Gea is a difficult one to contemplate for United.
That the 25-year-old has just been crowned the club’s Player of the Year for a third consecutive season speaks volumes. Van Gaal, Chris Smalling and numerous other individuals have been credited with the notable improvement in United’s defensive record, but such enhancement would never have been possible without De Gea. The keeper was reportedly willing to depart Old Trafford if Van Gaal stayed as manager.
Mourinho’s first task as his replacement will be to persuade the world’s best goalkeeper to remain at a club who cannot offer Champions League football.
2. Prioritise youth
Even in sacking their former manager, United acknowledged the main virtue of a troubled two-year reign under Van Gaal on Monday. “He leaves us with a legacy of having given several young players the confidence to show their ability on the highest stage,” said executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward. “It has been particularly rewarding to see so many young players take their chance to break into the first team and excel,” added Van Gaal. The Dutchman was never the most popular figure at Old Trafford, but his positive developmental work with the club’s younger players cannot be ignored. Marcus Rashford and Jesse Lingard are blazing the trail for the latest crop of talent to emerge from the conveyor belt.
Van Gaal wears his work with youth throughout his career as a badge of honour. From Patrick Kluivert, Edgar Davids and Clarence Seedorf at Ajax, to Xavi and Andres Iniesta at Barcelona, to Thomas Muller and Holger Badstuber at Bayern Munich, the Dutchman has proven himself trusting of players regardless of age. Rashford, Lingard, Timothy Fosu-Mensah, Cameron Borthwick-Jackson and Paddy McNair are among the raft of youth graduates to emerge in the first team under Van Gaal.
In direct contrast to the outgoing manager is Mourinho. Since the start of his second stint in charge at Chelsea in the 2013/14 season, up until his sacking last December, players aged 21 or under made 62 Premier League appearances for the club. This season alone, players aged 21 or under have made 105 appearances for United.
Mourinho has long held a reputation as one who does not place complete faith in youth. Since joining Chelsea in 2004, only Raphael Varane, Davide Santon and Kurt Zouma have truly been afforded opportunities across his spells at Real Madrid, Inter Milan and the Blues. He must build on the positive foundations left by his predecessor.
1. Change the style
More possession (55.9%) than any Premier League side except Arsenal; fewer goals than nine sides, and just one more than 17th-placed Sunderland.
More completed passes per game than every side except for Arsenal and Manchester City; fewer attempts on goal than all but Stoke, Norwich, Newcastle, West Brom and Aston Villa.
More corners taken by Phil Jones than any other side in footballing history.
The reign of Louis van Gaal has been a contradiction of sterile domination, reserved authority and controlled command. The negative style of football employed under the Dutchman represents the darkest mark against his name. Manchester United, as a club, demand a flowing, attacking and attractive style.
Many feel employing Mourinho is a step in the wrong direction. Or at least a step only sideways. The former Chelsea manager is a pragmatist in the same mould as Van Gaal, one who values substance over style. The Portuguese has won 22 trophies throughout his illustrious career, yet his two most memorable performances as a manager came in battling performances in which the opponent succumbed to superior defensive work. In 2010, Mourinho led his ten-man Inter Milan side to the Champions League final by overcoming the significant might of Barcelona. They had 24% of the possession, and did not make a single attempt on the Spaniards’ goal. In 2014, he guided Chelsea to a 2-0 victory over Premier League title-chasing Liverpool, ending their 11-game winning streak. The Blues enjoyed 27% possession, and registered 15 fewer shots than their opponents at Anfield.
Mourinho is the perfect manager when looking to thwart an opponent, but Old Trafford – rightly or wrongly – demand a boss who will take the initiative, promote attacking football and, first and foremost, will win. More often than not, Van Gaal failed in all three objectives, often all at once.
The Portuguese is not a defensive manager. In 514 league games in Portugal, England, Italy and Spain, his sides have scored a cumulative 1,064 goals. His La Liga-winning side of 2011/12 set a Spanish record of 121 goals in 38 games. He has managed Cristiano Ronaldo, Didier Drogba, Wesley Sneijder, Eden Hazard and a number of other attacking forces throughout Europe. It may not be the supposed swashbuckling style employed by Ferguson, but it is an effective method nonetheless.
Although United’s defensive record has improved, it has come at the detriment of their attacking output. Mourinho must balance the two in a more appropriate manner than Van Gaal did. He must attempt to marry his own pragmatic style with the attacking fervour United fans demand. Good luck, Jose.