The four ways Jose Mourinho will try to rebuild his and Manchester United’s reputation
By Muhammad Butt
So the worst kept secret in football is out: José Mourinho will become the new Manchester United manager.
This signing represents a huge coup for United. To land one of the world’s best coaches despite not being in the Champions League next season is no mean feat, and it gives them a huge chance to break out of the slump they have found themselves in since Sir Alex Ferguson retired.
For Mourinho, this is a wonderful chance to rehabilitate what is currently a shattered reputation. The long, hard road to not only returning said reputation to its previous stature, but also making United great again.
Restore the fear factor
After Sir Alex Ferguson’s departure, clubs found themselves confident of winning points at Old Trafford.
People used to fear Manchester United. Coming to Old Trafford was an exercise in ritual humiliation for the vast majority of teams, especially the rest of the Premier League. Former Captain Roy Keane has often spoken about beating teams before even taking the pitch. If you got a draw, that was a good result. A win was almost unthinkable. When Arsenal won the title at Old Trafford in 2002 their fans treated it like they had won the Champions League.
But now that is all gone. Van Gaal made United boring, which was at least better than Moyes who simply made them bad. Every club that had never won at Old Trafford in 15, 18, 20+ years suddenly found themselves breaking those streaks. Southampton have won two years running in the Theatre of Dreams.
Mourinho has previously helped Porto return to the summit of Portuguese and European football and turn Inter from Champions League laughing stock to competition winners. He is well-versed in taking a shattered reputation and putting it together again to produce something greater than that came before.
His Chelsea side, constructed from the disorganised chaos that Claudio Ranieri left, bulldozed their way to the Premier League title, conceding just 15 goals on the way. The side that he built developed such an aura that a part-timer like Avram Grant was able to come within a John Terry slip of being a Champions League-winning manager by simply letting that squad “get on with it” – “it” being what Mourinho taught them. After his disappointing second spell at Chelsea, returning the winning aura to United would further confirm that Mourinho still has what it takes.
But the big criticism of that Chelsea side was the lack of youth team talent in it. There was John Terry, and, well, that’s it. Other talented prospects fell by the wayside (in a mentality that still stands at Chelsea as many promising young players are ignored). This needs to be addressed.
Prove he’s not just a short-termist
Davide Santon is one of few youth players Jose Mourinho has placed faith in.
This has long been a criticism of Mourinho. During all his time at clubs the only youngsters he has shown significant trust in are Davide Santon (at Inter) and Raphael Varane (at Real Madrid), and Varane wasn’t a product of the Madrid youth system.
Mourinho’s obsession with success, with winning, often sees him dismiss young players who frequently do stupid things on account of being young players. He doesn’t like people who to make mistakes – who does? – but this is often held up as a criticism of him, especially when rival Pep Guardiola repeatedly shows so much trust in youngsters.
Were Mourinho to put his faith in the likes of Marcus Rashford, Tim Fosu-Mensah and Cameron Borthwick-Jackson, the Portuguese would show that he can show patience with youth, that he can play the long game and develop a side over time with players who cost nothing. This would entirely change the majority of negative perceptions of him, leaving only those that are based around attacking.
Show he’s more than a defensive coach
Joe Cole, Mesut Özil, Eden Hazard, even Cristiano Ronaldo. All these great attacking players have been criticised by Mourinho for focusing too much on attacking. Look, José, we get it. You like your teams to be defensively disciplined. But there comes a point when you have to just let your players do their thing.
Guardiola is famed for trusting in attackers, for giving them freedom to express themselves. It’s part of why people love him. Mourinho by contrast is seen as a negative, defence-obsessed oddball. In big games he demands a machine-like discipline from his players, not giving the opponent an inch.
However, if he were to let United’s attackers do their thing, if he were to come out in a big game against an elite opponent and attack then suddenly everyone’s thinking differently. It would be a huge contrast to former coach Louis van Gaal too, who refused to give Memphis Depay a real chance on the wing because the young Dutchman didn’t work hard enough defensively.
That sounds like something Mourinho would do, so he shouldn’t do that. It’ll go a long way to making people like him, like they do Pep Guardiola. And speaking of the Catalan coach…
He has to beat Pep Guardiola
Beating Guardiola’s City side will go a long way to restoring his own reputation as well as United’s.
Beat him to a trophy, beat him in a match – this is the big one. With Guardiola being appointed across the way at Manchester City, backed by their petrodollar-infused billions and fawning appreciation for Barcelona’s model, Mourinho isn’t even the best manager in Manchester.
Pep is likely to be supported wonderfully by the City hierarchy, and will surely have a clear blueprint to turn the Sky Blues into a better side – a side with more mental strength. He’ll do it, too.
But if Mourinho can beat him, can get the better of the one manager who consistently gets the better of him (Guardiola has won eight matches to Mourinho’s three, with their sides finishing level on five occasions), he will not only restore his reputation as one of the world’s finest managers but Manchester United’s reputation as one of the world’s finest clubs.