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Mourinho's greatest strength should not be his downfall at Manchester United

David Purcell
CONTRIBUTOR
Feature
636   //    31 Aug 2018, 13:08 IST

Manchester United v Tottenham Hotspur - Premier League
An emotional Jose Mourinho, during Manchester United's 3-0 home loss to Tottenham Hotspur

There is a saga going on at Manchester United at the moment, and it's been brewing right through pre-season.

The media have been having a field day with what can only be described as a snowballing of issues at Old Trafford.

First of all, problems started to flare up about Jose Mourinho's style of play. Then, it was his treatment of supposed 'star players' like Paul Pogba and man-management being called into question. And now, his relationship with the club's CEO Ed Woodward seems to be at breaking point.

But, the club would be making a catastrophic mistake if they chose to sack somebody of his stature for the very thing that makes him the best.

Whether you want to describe it as stubbornness or not, Jose Mourinho - just like another manager the Old Trafford faithful know all too well - has the self-belief, play style, and guile in order to succeed.

In 1986, the great Sir Alex Ferguson was challenged to revive what was once one of the biggest clubs in England. He - rather impulsively - rounded up all of his United players, young and old, into the gymnasium, before telling them: "I have to tell you, I won't change. You're all going to have to change. That's a fact."

Manchester United has, for the last 50 years, been showered with adulation and awed upon by the rest of the country. That started, and arguably ended, with their famous Glaswegian. He was a manager that shaped the club around his vision, and despite not achieving the success expected at a club like United initially, they gave him the opportunity to put his stamp on the team. He went on to win a record 13 league titles.

West Bromwich Albion v Manchester United - Premier League
Sir Alex Ferguson, during his last match in charge for the club

The same needs to happen with Jose.

Managers nowadays usually experience a three-year arc in each job - an arc Mourinho knows all too well. But generally, at least you would think, clubs sack one person in search of a better one.

However, in this case, there's little evidence to suggest that the Red Devils can bring in anybody better. They already have a great manager and it could be argued that they should be building around his philosophy, like other clubs in the league are doing. At the end of the day, they employed him on his ideas and even went a step further.

Cast your memory back to January of this year. Manchester United rewarded Mourinho with a bumper new contract, which runs until 2020. It seemingly represented one of the biggest clubs in the world strengthening their alliance with a guy that has won just about everything there is to win.

Or, so you would think.

After he had put pen to paper on a new deal, he believed he was on the same page as the club's hierarchy. Mourinho said: "I am used to signing new contracts with clubs after big achievements.

"It feels like the trust, the empathy, the belief in my work is a consequence of that big achievement. We believe in each other, we are happy with each-other. I think I am doing the things that the owners and the board feel are the right things to do for the future of the football club.

"The tradition of Manchester United is to give confidence to the managers they believe can take the team to the places where the history of the club deserves. But honestly, clubs nowadays change their managers too many times and that's not good for the evolution of the players."

Eight months on, the same man doesn't even describe himself as a manager anymore - but a 'head coach'. He chooses transfer targets that are openly available like Toby Alderweireld, who many people would consider the best centre-back in the country. Conversely, though, the club decided to reject his 'short-term' solutions and opted not to make any marquee defensive reinforcements at all.


Bayern Muenchen v Inter Milan - UEFA Champions League Final
Bayern Muenchen v Inter Milan - UEFA Champions League Final

Jose has delivered major honours for big clubs in England, Spain, Portugal and Italy, by identifying weaknesses in teams and filling gaps with experienced or established stars - building teams that can play his trademark counter-attacking football.

His role at Manchester United was always seen as a different challenge to others that the Portuguese manager had previously undertaken.

The 55-year-old didn't arrive immediately following a hugely successful Sir Alex Ferguson reign like David Moyes did. In fact, he said he wanted to "forget about the last three years" in his very first interview with MUTV. During those three years, Moyes delivered the FA Community Shield and his successor, Louis Van Gaal, triumphed to an FA Cup victory in the last game he managed for the club - beating Crystal Palace 2-1 in 2016.

By contrast, in the two years Mourinho has spent in Manchester, he has helped solidify Manchester United as the most decorated club in English football - winning the League Cup, Europa League and FA Community Shield.

The manager meticulously identified and recruited established players such as Paul Pogba, Nemanja Matic, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Romelu Lukaku to allow him to achieve such successes. This is what Mourinho is famous for. Putting together teams to deliver trophies in a short period of time, based on experienced and ready-made stars.

However, there has since been a shift in the club's recruitment strategy with an eye on younger talent. The reason? Some very, very noisy (and successful) neighbours.


Manchester City v Huddersfield Town - Premier League
Manchester City v Huddersfield Town - Premier League

The club's local rival Manchester City have a very successful and attack-minded coach of their own, Pep Guardiola. The team he has built at the Etihad enjoyed an astonishing Premier League title victory last time out, achieving a grand total of 100 points.

Manchester United knew what they were getting when they appointed Jose Mourinho. This isn't a manager that has a track record of developing promising upcoming stars like Guardiola has, such as Leroy Sane, Raheem Sterling, Kevin De Bruyne and John Stones. They are completely different.

Nevertheless, he does have huge success in winning titles with his own identity and strategy - which had to be backed after tying him down to a longer deal. Instead, the club's CEO - from the outside looking in - seems to be unhappy with the approach of his 'coach'.

Ed Woodward has made clear that the targets his manager had identified, i.e. the likes of Toby Alderweireld and Diego Godin, were not the type of player Manchester United should be looking at, as they are both at the peak of their careers and don't offer long-term solutions. The Manchester City, and even Liverpool or Tottenham Hotspur model, of developing young talent is clearly the direction the club now want to take.

Following trends is all well and good, but when you have a manager of the highest quality that is committed to make Manchester United a serious title contender again, it seems naive to suggest he should copy what the rest of the pack are doing.

When a team employs somebody like this it has to be because they are buying into their ideas and philosophy, especially somebody of Mourinho's ilk. He's a fantastic trainer. He's proven to be a fantastic manager.

The anger and frustration that we are seeing in his press conferences are because of the chaotic state of affairs around him; players' agents publicly making criticisms, the CEO talking publicly about disagreements between himself and the manager, and not backing a successful coach's ideas after he has delivered the objectives of years one and two. It's undermining him, in some respects.

Yes, managers have to adapt in their roles sometimes. Yes, he might not have gotten the best out of some players that he has brought in. But, transfer business in football is a huge gamble, whatever way you want to look at it, and to suggest that Jose Mourinho should go against the methods that have landed him three league titles in England and two European Cups is naive on the club's behalf.

The very things that brought Mourinho to the dance are now being highlighted as issues instead of qualities - among some supporters, sections of the media and even the club - and the environment at Manchester United is toxic.


Manchester United v Tottenham Hotspur - Premier League
Manchester United v Tottenham Hotspur - Premier League

Jose Mourinho is not the type that is going to back down. He is fearless in his approach and he has got the right mentality to succeed. Manchester United needs to go back to what has made the club great for such a long period of time whereby success was routine, and start putting confidence in their managers.

If the club wanted to develop youth players and play a different style of football, they should have stuck with Louis Van Gaal. But, they wanted more than that. The fans wanted more than that.

Now, it's down to the club to get the best out of Mourinho. They are going to have to change, because he won't change. That is a fact.

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David Purcell
CONTRIBUTOR
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