Did José Mourinho have a role to play in Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s United revolution?
It would be hard to find a Manchester United fan who did not feel relieved when the news of Jose Mourinho’s sacking broke out. What really went against ‘The Special One’ was the unprecedented sadness he had amassed at a club which has ‘Theatre of Dreams’ as its home ground.
The deafening rants, the constant shrugging off blame and the frequent criticism of his players’ abilities - his last few days were characterized by nothing but melodrama.
Mourinho was always considered to be a maverick in the footballing world. His brand of football was not infrequently labelled ‘anti-football’, and some of us even went ahead to call him the ‘Donald Trump of the footballing world’.
But despite all the criticism, Mourinho remains one of the most successful contemporary managers. Winning 25 trophies at the highest level really takes 'a special one'. And even though he could not completely justify this tag at United, it would be difficult to argue that he took United backwards.
As much as we would like to think that Mourinho has got nothing to do with the entertaining way United are playing right now, he was very much instrumental in recruiting the players that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has so fantastically used.
One of the most challenging tasks faced by a new manager is to get the players that have the potential to win trophies. In his two and a half seasons in charge, Mourinho assembled a squad that can arguably compete in all the competitions.
That explains how Solskjaer was able to directly take off with this, squad using his astute man-management skills. Even though centre-back remains a shaky position for United, I still find merit in the views of those who still see Bailly and Lindelof (both of them recruited by Mourinho) as United’s centre backs for the next few years.
While Mourinho’s public castigation of his players did not work out in most cases, it can be said to have transformed Luke Shaw’s career. He made the most out of the trust put in him by Mourinho, and has now cemented his place as United’s first choice left back besides also being recalled to the England squad.
As counter-intuitive as it might seem, the player with whom Mourinho did not get along well played better with him this season as compared to Solskjær. Anthony Martial netted 7 times in 13 appearances for Mourinho in Premier League this season, while under Solskjær he has done so only twice in 8 appearances.
This can be explained to some extent by pointing towards Martial’s frequent injuries in Solskjær regime. But it can't be denied that Martial did thrive under Mourinho.
Not enough has been said about Mourinho’s handling of Jesse Lingard. Lingard’s last season with Mourinho was unarguably his breakthrough. Earlier considered as a flimsy player who had missed his chance to shine, he is now known for his fluidity in attack and commendable work-rate. Lingard's ability to exploit defensive spaces and kick-start counters is now unparalleled.
Scott McTominay is another player in whom Mourinho trusted from the United Academy. Mourinho’s decision to handpick McTominay in his first team over the likes of Angel Gomes, Mason Greenwood, Tahith Chong and James Garner was questioned by many. However, now it won’t be unsurprising if he is chosen as the heir to Nemanja Matić.
Mourinho also deserves credit for bringing Michael Carrick and Kieran McKenna into his management team. Besides being ardent United supporters (conspicuous in their goal celebrations), their past experience with the game has been instrumental in United’s revitalization.
Perhaps the most defining legacy of Mourinho will be the resilience he developed in this Manchester United squad, the flashes of which were shown against City (3-2), Juventus (2-1) and Newcastle (3-2), among others. These kinds of victories were not seen in the post-Ferguson era, and such spirit has been seen in many of the teams Mourinho has managed in the past.
The Portuguese can obviously be blamed for failing to conjure such spirit consistently. But it would be difficult to argue that the spirit died the moment Mourinho was sacked.