The scarves may have to be put back into storage for a little longer. Manchester United’s victory against Swansea last week reduced the pressure on manager Louis van Gaal. The prospect of the Dutchman being replaced by his protege Jose Mourinho has receded a bit. The unofficial merchandise that was being sold outside Old Trafford for United’s 0-0 draw with Chelsea, commissioned on the basis the Portuguese was bound to succeed Van Gaal, appears to have been produced both prematurely and badly.
The image on the scarves did not look particularly like Mourinho. The creator forgot that, while there is no ‘I’ in team, there is one in United, with the result that anyone silly enough to buy seemed to be supporting at team called ‘Unted’.
And yet the prospect is intriguing. A Mourinho United team may not answer the crowd’s calls to “attack, attack, attack”, yet the probability is that it would be more successful. The Portuguese has won the domestic league title — and sometimes plenty more — in his second season in every job. Eighteen months into his time at Old Trafford, Van Gaal is unlikely to emulate his old assistant. And yet despite their shared past at Barcelona and the evidence that both are more cautious than adventurous, the likelihood is that Mourinho’s methods would require very different personnel to Van Gaal’s increasingly infamous philosophy.
Mourinho’s track record of bringing short-term success means he can be branded a quick fix, but it probably would not be a cheap one. United have spent around £350 million since Sir Alex Ferguson retired in 2013. Appointing Mourinho would surely bring another expensive, extensive overhaul.
The reasons are twofold: There are too many within the current squad who scarcely seem his sort of players. There are several areas in which quintessential Mourinho footballers would have to be imported. Whereas Porto, with a weaker domestic league, and Real Madrid, rendered more prolific by Cristiano Ronaldo, had some shared characteristics, Mourinho’s definitive teams were those he constructed in each of his spells at Stamford Bridge, plus his 2010 Champions League-winning Inter side. Each involved sales as well as signings. They were reshaped rapidly.
Juan Mata can vouch for that. When Mourinho returned to Chelsea in 2013, the Spaniard had won the club’s player of the year award in successive seasons. He was dropped, then sold in the subsequent January. He was not direct enough for Mourinho’s liking, nor a tackler in the mould of Oscar or Willian. Two years later, Mata is no quicker and no more renowned as ball-winner.
Mourinho has a capacity to marginalise those who either do not follow his tactical instructions, offer enough industry or make the most of their talent. None of that bodes well for Memphis Depay, if Mourinho is appointed. Mourinho’s capacity to go through wingers at Stamford Bridge — as Mata, Kevin De Bruyne, Andre Schurrle, Mohamed Salah and Juan Cuadrado can testify — is scarcely auspicious either. The likelihood is that he would want to recruit a hard-running, defensively-diligent Willian type.
A manager whose finest sides eliminate errors tends not to appreciate players with obvious shortcomings. Van Gaal appreciates Daley Blind’s distribution as a defender. The chances are that Mourinho would hone in on the Dutchman’s lack of height and speed, just as he deemed David Luiz’s adventurousness a problem. Mourinho has been willing to invest sizeable amounts of his transfer budget in centre-backs who combine assurance in possession, speed and reliability, whether Ricardo Carvalho, Lucio or last summer’s target, John Stones. The chances are that he would do the same at Old Trafford.
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