After Sir Alex Ferguson left manchester United, everyone including myself knew that the world of football would never see anyone like the great man again. Successful would be an understatement. Sir Alex rebuilt a club from scratch and turned Manchester United into a dominant force in world football.
Like all great things, they must come to an end. Sir Alex retired and it was David Moyes that was chosen to take over the reins at Old Trafford; you just hoped he was a big enough man for the job. Unfortunately for David Moyes, this wasn’t the case, for whatever reason, it didn’t work out and he lasted less than a season. Manchester United finished 7th, their worst league finish since the Premier League’s conception.
Next up was Louis Van Gaal and this was seen as a crucial appointment after Moyes’ failure to step up during his time at Manchester United. A CV as impressive as any and fresh from a third place finish at the World Cup with the Netherlands, Van Gaal got to work. Straight into the market for some big names likes Radamel Falcao and Angel Di María. Manchester United were flexing their financial muscles again.
Van Gaal’s first season had ups and downs and United lacked consistency. There would be run of 8 games unbeaten and then no wins in two or three games. Frequent reports of fall outs with players surfaced in the media which ultimately proved as to why Di María was sold. However minimum targets were met, Manchester United finished 4th and qualified for the Champions League once again. The second season under Van Gaal’s stewardship was going well, with United 3rd and one point off the top of the league by the end of November. However, the standard of football was awful and something Manchester United fans had not witnessed in a long time.
The turgid, possession based, risk-free football would ultimately be Manchester United’s downfall that season and a torrid, winless December had seen United slip to 6th in the league. Manchester United finished 5th and a good FA cup run would see them lift the trophy at Wembley but it wasn’t enough to save Van Gaal’s job and he left, somewhat, on a high note.
As soon as it was revealed that Van Gaal would no longer be in charge, there was only one name being linked with the position. José Mourinho. It was the job he had always wanted and at the end of May 2016, it was his new home.
Everywhere he has been, he has been successful. At FC Porto he conquered Europe twice in two seasons, knocking out Manchester United along the way in the Champions League, and after that day the world knew his name. With two spells at Chelsea, he won the three league titles, one FA cup and three League cups making him the most successful manager in their history. At Inter Milan he was loved, swept all before him in Serie A and once again conquered Europe, most impressively, with a team that were no world beaters.
His move to Real Madrid saw him lock horns with Pep Guardiola, another fabled manager from the Barcelona school of Cruyff-taught football and the encounters were explosive, to say the least. Barcelona would be the dominant force in La Liga but Mourinho would still have successes: one league title and one Copa Del Rey win to add to his collection, and to this day, the only manager to beat Pep to a league title.
In his first season at Manchester United, it has been box office, to say the least. Two touchline bans, fines from the FA and fighting on four fronts with Manchester United. Not to mention breaking the world record transfer fee, there is never a dull moment with José.
In the summer Manchester United loosened the purse strings and allowed Mourinho to improve the squad. Zlatan Ibrahimović was brought in on a free transfer, Eric Baily came in from Villarreal who was being scouted by half of Europe at the time. The silky Henrikh Mkhitaryan from Dortmund came, and of course he brought Paul Pogba home from Juventus breaking that world record fee.
José is a tactical thinker. Meticulous in his preparation. He demands 100% commitment from his players, he expects you to buy into his way. If you are not pulling your weight he will let you know and he will call you out, publicly if necessary, as we have seen on occasion this season with Chris Smalling and Luke Shaw. He is a fighter; he will back any of his players in order to protect them from criticism from the press, and again this has been seen this week with Paul Pogba. What José also does is create a siege mentality, everyone is against us and were not going to take it: something that Moyes or Van Gaal were unable to achieve at their time with the club.
José Mourinho is also a top man manager, has always got the best out of his squad and he has not finished reshaping this current squad of players. The pull of playing for Manchester United is big enough, but also knowing you’re going to be playing for and learning from Mourinho seals the deal.
Ander Herrera is a prime example. The Spaniard possesses non-stop running, tackles, intercepts, and he also looks after the ball when in possession: blood, sweat and tears. He epitomises Manchester United and he is not the only one. Antonio Valencia has now become one of the best right backs in the league thanks to Mourinho’s stewardship and is now an important member of the first team. José finally unleashed Henrikh Mkhitaryan after what was a frustrating first few months and what a player he looks. A deft turn of pace sees him glide away from defenders and his passing is sublime.
There is also cases for this to be made for the likes of Phil Jones who was never fit and now is almost a regular, Marcos Rojo was terribly inconsistent and now looks to have a fantastic partnership that has blossomed with Jones. He has also seen the error of his ways with Michael Carrick, who even at 35 is so important in the centre of the pitch. His calmness in possession is key for the way José plays.
There was an eagerness from the watching world as the traditional curtain raiser at Wembley saw Manchester United play Leicester City who themselves surprised everyone last season. Manchester United ran out 2-1 winners and José Mourinho had his first piece of silverware as United boss.
It has has been an indifferent campaign so far and United sit 6th in the league and six points off 4th, although they have a game in hand. Seven league draws at home, in games that Manchester United have dominated has seen frustrations boil over. José has already received two touchline bans and refused to speak to certain media outlets including the club’s own.
Manchester United did return to Wembley at the end of February and beat Southampton 3-2 in EFL Cup final and a solid Europa league campaign has seen Manchester United qualify for the quarter-finals and play Anderlecht next. The FA run is now over after a defeat at Stamford Bridge last Monday. This should free up some of the fixture congestion that Manchester United have faced.
The transition period from Van Gaal to Mourinho was never going to be a smooth one and it certainly wasn’t going to happen overnight. The squad last season have been drilled into playing a certain way, Jose is slowly knocking that out of them and getting them playing the right way again, the United way.
While there are still some issues that remain – the futures of Wayne Rooney and Luke Shaw certainly continue to come into question – José Mourinho has steered the ship back into the right direction and is making progress. The return of flowing attacking football, win at all costs attitude has certainly shown the progress so far this season. Not necessarily giant leaps, but baby steps for this season will suffice and if he wins a trophy or two along the way then it’s a successful season, but only for this season. Come next season everyone will be expecting Manchester United to be back challenging both domestically and in Europe.
José Mourinho himself has said the club is not where it should be; he needs at least one more transfer window before you start to see “his” Manchester United. This summer with some big name arrivals and the greatest youth policy in world football we should start to see José’s United.
José Mourinho is the man for the job, no question about it, I guarantee he will get it right, but he will do it his way, no one else’s. It’s not going to be easy so dig in. It’s Us versus Them like the good old days for Manchester United.