“Blood drained from my face” were the words of David Moyes when asked about his reaction when Sir Alex Ferguson told him that he will be the next manager of Manchester United. As honest as the answer was, it clearly showed lack of confidence by the Scottish manager, and indeed Manchester United proved to be too big a job for David Moyes. When he left, his reputation as a top manager was tarnished.
After his departure, United’s top management realized that the club of this magnitude required a manager with a dominant personality. So, when United announced Louis van Gaal as it’s manager, it made a lot of sense. Van Gaal had previously managed the likes of Barcelona and Bayern Munich. He was fresh from the world cup where his Dutch team did more than what was expected of them.
But, that story also had a sad end to it. To Van Gaal’s credit, the team did improve under him. His signings were effective(and still are). United also won the FA cup under him, which prevented another trophy-less season. But one mistake that Van Gaal made was trying to convince the fans that Sir Alex Ferguson is gone, and it will take some seasons before the club dominates the English game like they used to. His constant reminders to the fans and shying away from the legacy of Sir Alex was the main reason why the fans were never completely behind him.
This is exactly where Jose Mourinho has been spot on. He has embraced the legacy that Sir Alex has left behind. He readily accepts what United stands for. He is the first one to admit that anything other that winning is a failure. His relationship with the former United manager also has a role to play. It’s no secret that Jose Mourinho has utmost respect for Sir Alex. He famously called him “boss of all coaches”. On the other hand, Sir Alex is also fond of the Portuguese. So Mourinho has not run away from the his legacy, he enjoys it. He knows he can’t match it, but he also knows he can’t ignore it too.
Another point where Mourinho has been unerring has been the relationship with fans. David Moyes and Van Gaal both were guilty of “boring” football. The fans were pretty vocal about it as well. But they believed in sticking to their philosophy. So, when Mourinho was appointed, the fans feared if he would deploy the same style of play that he did at Chelsea — parking the bus. But Mourinho provided the fans with the football they demand, the football they were used to seeing under Sir Alex Ferguson. Currently, United are on a 16 match unbeaten run. Even when there were a series of frustrating draws, their football was entertaining. A proof was their 0-0 draw against Burnley in October, where they had a record number of shots- 37.
“The special one” has, so far, a positive effect on the players as well. Almost every player has spoken positively of him. He has also eliminated any concerns of “ignoring” the United’s youth. He has given ample opportunities to Marcus Rashford and Jesse Lingard, encouraging the forwards from time to time. Mourinho also stood behind Marouane Fellaini when he was booed by his own fans after giving away a late penalty against Everton. The Belgian midfielder has responded well, by scoring against Hull and more importantly playing a vital part in the equalizer against Liverpool. Juan Mata, who’s future at the club was in doubt when Mourinho was appointed, has been one the go-to man for his manager. Given the history between these two, the professionalism with which both have handled the situation is commendable. Moreover, the way Paul Pogba has been managed by the United manager has been impressive. When you have the costliest players in the world in your team, limelight comes naturally with it. And when Pogba struggled initially, the jury was out on both Mourinho and Pogba. But since then, apart from the Liverpool game, Pogba has been fantastic.
One more thing that Mourinho has done successfully at United and in fact throughout his career is instating a winning mentality in the players. He signed Zlatan Ibrhamovic, who apart from being one of the best strikers in the world, also has a hunger to win. With leaders and natural winners like him in the squad, it’s no surprise that United have become a team who does not take losing for an answer. Their late shows against Liverpool and Middlesbrough are a proof of it. In fact players like Marcus Rojo, Ander Harera and Phil Jones, who looked surplus to United’s team are now thriving. Mourinho also bought the best out of Henrikh Mkhitaryan, by benching the Armenian, a move praised by the player himself. In addition, offloading surplus players also has been a positive for United. With Morgan Schneiderlin and Memphis Depay already departed, Jose has shown a no nonsense approach towards players who don’t suit his style of play. So in conclusion, it will not be wrong to say that the Portuguese manager has done a praise worthy job with the team as well.
With only half a season as in-charge of United, it’s safe to say that Mourinho has managed to get a lot of things right.
With United currently at 6th, their form and momentum gives them a fair chance to carry them into the top four. However, even if they don’t, United fans should be patient. Mourinho has an immaculate record in the second season as the manager(winning the league every time). With the team definitely moving in the right direction, fans should trust Mourinho to bring United back it’s glory days.
Pursuing Computer Science Engineering from Bangalore Institute of Technology. Avid sports fan, specially football. A lifelong United supporter.