By David de Winter – Sports Editor
Jose to Old Trafford – so the rumour goes at least. I can’t say I’m surprised, but the manner in which the story broke, hours after Louis Van Gaal had won Manchester United’s first trophy since 2013, was highly disrespectful to the veteran Dutch manager. The Red Devils and Mourinho have been courting each other for six months now – ever since the Portuguese was dumped unceremoniously by Chelsea. It seems that after some eyelid-fluttering and a bit of light foreplay, the two parties are ready to get down to business. Mourinho has never hidden his admiration for United and ex-manager Sir Alex Ferguson. For their part, United have never distanced themselves from the Mourinho rumours ever since they surfaced. So the question is: Will this be a happy marriage or will it end in an acrimonious and bitter divorce?
Despite his recent failure at Chelsea, Mourinho is still one of the most sought-after managers in the game and there are very few clubs who can match his ambition (and his pay packet). After three seasons of relative failure United have decided that however well the club may be doing commercially, they must get back to winning ways on the pitch and there a few better at guaranteeing success than Mourinho. The big plus for United (and it was the same with Sir Alex Ferguson too) is that he is an enormous egotist and demands success, whatever the price. In recent seasons the Reds have lost that steely mentality, that inner confidence and Mourinho will doubtless galvanise the squad, creating that us-against-the-world mind-set which he fostered so successfully at Porto and during his first stint at Chelsea.
So with Mourinho comes almost guaranteed success, but at what price? The Portuguese inherits a squad which requires plenty of investment. Will there be space for fans favourite Juan Mata, who was sold by Mourinho when at Chelsea? Jose has his own particular style of play – disciplined defending, men behind the ball, wingers constantly tracking back. With the squad United currently have, can they adapt to Mourinho’s tactics? And what about his attacking credentials? Reds fans were critical of Van Gaal’s dull and ponderous approach, but Mourinho is not exactly renowned for free-flowing attacking football. In fact, especially against superior opposition in Europe (even at home), he plays anti-football, employing the park-the-bus tactics he so despises when used against his own teams.
The biggest issue for me is youth development. Manchester United have and always have had a wonderful youth academy with players consistently reaching first-team level. Nonetheless, Mourinho is not known for giving opportunities to promising youngsters. He is a man for the here and now. I can’t think of one player who came through the ranks in either of his spells at Stamford Bridge. Credit to Van Gaal for giving young players a chance and the likes of Marcus Rashford, Cameron Borthwick-Jackson and Jesse Lingard have all impressed when presented with first-team opportunities. However, are they and potential future stars going to find their path to the first team blocked by a manager who refuses to take a chance on talented youngsters?
In my opinion, Mourinho’s imminent appointment reeks of short-termism. I can see why the United hierarchy want him – he can get the club back in the Champions League and challenging for the title quickly – but he rarely stays at a club beyond three seasons. What then? It’s not as if Mourinho is going to revolutionise the Old Trafford club’s footballing philosophy for years to come. He only cares about himself, his reputation, his “greatness.” What United really need is a manager who is not necessarily a big name but who can lay the foundations for sustainable success for years to come – someone like Mauricio Pochettino. Even Ryan Giggs, although he has precious little managerial experience, is a man who knows Manchester United inside out, someone who could implement a long term plan. He has been seemingly groomed by United for the top job, so why not give it to him?
Ultimately, if success at boardroom level is regarded as league position and Champions League qualification at any price, then Mourinho may well be the right man for the job. He’ll get United competitive in Europe again and he may even win some silverware. But will he leave the club’s long-term health in a better state than when he arrived? I severely doubt it.