After Louis van Gaal’s exit, ManU need someone to steady a sinking ship. The Portuguese is a good pick
During his two-year stint at Manchester United, Louis van Gaal had developed an excellent rapport with the Old Trafford and Carrington backroom staff. So it wasn’t a surprise that almost everyone inside the club, from kit man Albert Morgan to head chef Mike Donnelly, mourned his departure. Football management, however, is a lot more than a PR exercise and the 64-year-old Dutchman failed miserably at his job.
Van Gaal had been living on borrowed time since Christmas. Ed Woodward’s munificence extended his stay.
Manchester United’s executive vice-chairman might be a novice in the transfer market, but he knows how football works. He gave the manager enough time to regroup and recover before opening the trapdoor the morning after the FA Cup triumph. Once upon a time, the FA Cup win was considered to be good enough to revive flagging managerial fortunes, but this is 2016 and the tournament has become second-string. Van Gaal had lost his job the day United squandered a 2-1 advantage at Upton Park and were all but relegated to the Europa League. Or maybe even before, for United had reportedly reached an agreement in principle with Mourinho in April, and even a top four Premier League finish wouldn’t have saved the older man. Save Daley Blind’s support, Van Gaal had lost the dressing room. He had to go.
Blind, the United defender, felt that Van Gaal “deserved more respect”. To be fair, though, the sacking couldn’t have been more dignified. Woodward went to Van Gaal’s Cheshire home on Sunday evening to break the news in person and delayed the announcement till 8.30 pm on Monday to allow the erstwhile manager and his wife to board a private jet for their journey to Algarve in Portugal. It was done on Van Gaal’s request. The latter came to England after winning 12 major trophies, including the European Cup, in Holland, Spain and Germany. But as far as Premier League was concerned, he never belonged. He was supposed to take United forward after David Moyes’ moronic regime. The team finished fourth under him in 2014-15, but regression followed. He spent in excess of £260 million on transfers, but failed to bring quality. Deadwoods like Bastian Schweinsteiger were simply a waste of time. Van Gaal’s sideways possession football contradicted United ethos. He turned the Theatre of Dreams into a ‘Temple of Tedium’. United finished the season with only 49 league goals to their credit, just one more than Sunderland, a club that had flirted with relegation for nine months. Van Gaal was done in by his philosophy. He tried to impose it at the expense of the club’s tradition. He did it at his own peril. He will now spend his retired life in the sunny shores, reflecting upon his achievements in four countries. Unfortunately, he was found out in English football.
As for United, they need someone to steady a sinking ship and Mourinho is the preferred one. A born winner, he became an automatic pick, especially with Manchester City securing Pep Guardiola’s services. The Portuguese comes with his confrontational style, siege mentality and his customary third season blues. But desperate situations call for desperate measures and the crisis at United at the moment is too serious to think about the future. Ideally, Ryan Giggs should have been Van Gaal’s natural successor, but after a couple of flop managerial appointments, there was no room for another gamble. United had to pick the tried and tested, a proven performer. Mourinho guarantees success, albeit short-term.
“I think the Premier League will be a different dynamic this year. It will be a war. I think if you are going to war, you need the biggest weapons and your best artillery, and that’s Jose. He is the best at creating a siege mentality of us against the world and, under Sir Alex Ferguson, that was what United were always good at,” Phil Neville said.
United are still football’s biggest brand, an elongated limp post-Sir Alex notwithstanding. At £2.2 billion, auditing firm KPMG has listed them on top, along with Real Madrid, as the game’s most valuable institution. They have also earned the most prize money (£870.3 million) since the Premier League’s inception in 1992. But they must get rid of their on-field struggles to maintain superiority. The club already stands to lose £14 million for their Champions League failure. The board had to act. Mourinho offered a ready-made solution.
His appointment throws up exciting commercial possibilities as well. Mourinho’s unveiling at United was delayed because of image rights issues. Chelsea owned his name as a trademark and reportedly demanded millions to part ways with their former boss. Mourinho is a cult who casts a spell over the global football audience, from Europe and the US down to China, India and Australia. But make no mistake, the decision to bring him at Old Trafford is not driven by commerce. Far from it. It is driven out of desperation.
There’s a school of thought that Mourinho’s ‘negative’ football—parking the bus—goes against what United stand for.
After all, this club is moulded in the image of Sir Alex, the greatest manager in the history of the game. Entertaining the fans is a pre-requisite here, as also nurturing the best young footballers. And here are some interesting facts: Mourinho’s Real Madrid had scored 102 goals in 2011-12 followed by 121 goals next term, which is still a Spanish record. His title-winning Chelsea side of 2014-15 had scored 73 goals. At Real Madrid, he handed 18 academy debuts, including Alvaro Morata. He will groom young players if they are good enough. To start with, though, he is expected to rope in a few galacticos like Zlatan Ibrahimovic. He will ensure United regain their swagger. He is the right one.