Jose Mourinho was long-tipped to be the Manchester United manager. It was viewed as the job he wanted, above all, as he had his heart set on replacing Sir Alex Ferguson.
He has been guilty of forming bad relationships with a number of opposition coaches, including Pep Guardiola, Arsene Wenger and Rafa Benitez, yet Ferguson has always been someone Mourinho has spoken highly of.
“I call him the boss because he’s the boss of the coaches,” Mourinho said when at Real Madrid.
Ferguson revealed this admiration from Mourinho dates back to when he first joined Chelsea in 2004. When their clubs faced each other in the League Cup in 2005, Ferguson was less than impressed with the wine Mourinho provided, but noted that “big man” and “boss” were the terms Mourinho used to address him.
However, it wasn’t Mourinho who was appointed when Ferguson retired, but David Moyes. In complete contrast to the confidence Mourinho has in himself and his abilities, Moyes was a rabbit caught in the headlights.
In his first news conference as United manager back in 2013, Moyes revealed the “blood drained” from his face when Ferguson told him that he had been chosen as the club’s next boss. Hardly the words of a man who has faith in his ability to succeed and make it at the top.
Louis van Gaal, the next manager to have a go at filling Ferguson’s shoes after Moyes lasted less than a year, took a different approach. With a history of managing big clubs, it was no surprise he wasn’t overawed in the same way Moyes was.
The Scot was more willing to go to Ferguson to ask his advice, though, whereas it appears Van Gaal was determined to do things his way, and rip up the blueprints for the football that Ferguson had always employed.
The Dutchman would have done well to take note of Moyes’ wise words, though.
“Sir Alex will never go away,” he said.
“You can see his stand. You can see his statue. He’s always going to be here.”
It wasn’t just the statue outside the ground, the stand in his name facing the manager’s dugout or his role with the board, Ferguson added to United’s history books in a way no manager will likely do for any club ever again. Van Gaal’s decision to distance himself from Ferguson and the principles he put in place was certainly a mistake.
When Ferguson was appointed manager of United, he had no qualms with embracing the club’s DNA and the ways of Sir Matt Busby before him. He made his first priority revolutionising the youth team, with the hope of mirroring the glory Busby had enjoyed with his team of young players.
Busby was still on the board when Ferguson got the job and this was something he welcomed. “People like that are able to understand the dimensions of Manchester United,” Ferguson later explained.
“That is necessary to understand the role of manager. It was very helpful to me.”
Now that Mourinho has finally got his coveted position at Old Trafford, it should come as no surprise that he isn’t intimidated by Ferguson. It also shouldn’t come as a surprise that he’s welcoming Ferguson’s presence as keenly as Ferguson welcomed Busby’s.
In January’s edition of fanzine United We Stand, Mourinho gave an interview where he revealed he had been keen to get Ferguson back at the training ground. Ferguson hadn’t watched the players train since retiring.
“I’m the type of person who does not see ghosts,” Mourinho said when explaining his decision to invite Ferguson to Carrington.
“I respect the past and I know he loves the club. We have good relations and I know this is his house.”
Mourinho doesn’t feel as though he has anything to prove. He knows the impossibility of replacing Ferguson as the most successful manager at the club so instead of feeling the pressure to achieve something he can’t, he is happy to get on with it, unafraid of any comparisons with the former manager.
United’s football has been exciting to watch again and they’re on a nine-match winning run. Even during the frustrating period of draws before the turn of the year, nobody could argue that the football wasn’t entertaining. United weren’t scoring enough, clearly, but they had a record number of shots — 37, the most since records began — in the 0-0 home draw against Burnley in October, which illustrates how much they were attacking.
One of the huge reservations from United fans was that Mourinho would employ the same style of play he had done at Chelsea, but it’s clear the manager is keen to supply supporters with the football they demand; the football that Ferguson brought back to the club.
Reports this week claimed Ferguson recently asked to travel on the team coach to an away game. Mourinho’s response was to tell him he didn’t even need to ask and could sit in the seat reserved for the manager if he liked.
This self-assuredness, as well as showing so much respect for a man so well-loved by United supporters, only increases the happiness the fanbase have in their latest managerial appointment.
“You’re not special anymore!” opposition fans will sing to him on occasion. The United faithful would have to disagree.