Politics of Football

Three years of abrasion? – the prospect of United with Mourinho

The dugout at United hasn't always been comfortable...

The dugout at United hasn’t always been comfortable…

FOOTBALL has an image problem – conspicuous consumerism , behavior issues, ill-discipline, tantrums. You name it, you can apply it to the game and some of the characters within it.

Some clubs have spent a lot of time and money on cleaning-up their act. But others still put up with a lot of the baggage that comes with some players and managers if the perpetrators can deliver success . This is not a trait exclusive to football,  it is also prevalent in other results-driven industries.

If the end product is silverware, football clubs will tolerate [almost] anything. But when results dry-up, irrational personalities and negative publicity will not be indulged for too long – witness the dramatic decline of Jose Mourinho.

Now the once special one, who self-destructed to some extent, is sitting on the sidelines, putting virtual pressure on Manchester United’s Louis van Gaal. There are rumours of love letters being written to United and clandestine meetings suggesting that this extraordinary man  is bound for Old Trafford.

There was a time when the Salford politburo would not have given Mourinho the time of day. They had Sir Alex Ferguson and 20 years of unparalled success behind them. Mourinho was the upstart from Chelsea, the club challenging United’s crown. He had skidded along the Old Trafford turf in celebration of putting United out of the 2004 Champions League. Bastard. Arrogant.  Special? “No thanks, we’ve got Sir Alex.”

You couldn’t see Arsenal falling for Mourinho’s “on my terms” charm, either. Chelsea, Manchester City, even Liverpool – yes. But not United.

With Mourinho gone, leaving trophies and scorched earth in his wake, Chelsea have relaxed and under everyone’s favourite Dutch uncle, Guus Hiddink, they are looking like a team again. Mourinho’s life cycle at a club is three years – he shines like a bright star and explodes each time.

If Mourinho had played alongside Best and Law, his footballing philosophy might have evolved in a different way

United and Mourinho does not look like a good fit whichever way you look at it. United will not enjoy the negative PR that comes with hiring Mourinho, and with Pep Guardiola about to be installed at Manchester City, all the ingredients are there for a running battle in the media involving Mourinho. It will rekindle the psycho games between the two managers when they were at the helm of Barca and Real. The problem is, Guardiola will win because he does not go all-out to build a barrier around himself. Part of Louis van Gaal’s problem at United is his adopted stance with the media. Mourinho will be no different in that respect, and his downfall at Chelsea gathered momentum with the bad media noise around the dreadful handling of “Eva-gate”.

Mourinho will not bring calm to an increasingly troubled United. The word is that the club does not like LVG’s playing style, that it is not in keeping with United’s footballing heritage. Mourinho’s 21st century version of catenaccio will not please the Old Trafford regulars, either. It’s successful, true, and after falling away from the pinnacle of the game, United are desperate to regain their pre-eminent position, but it’s unlikely that the club’s establishment will be knocked-out by his style. Certainly you cannot imagine the likes of Sir Bobby Charlton appreciating the Mourinho way – well, if Mourinho had played with Denis Law and George Best, he’d have a different philosophy.

United, over the years, have represented stability, but this has really revolved around two men – Sir Matt Busby and Sir Alex Ferguson. When both regimes came to an end, the club was thrown into confusion. When Busby retired, United went through five and a bit managers (McGuinness, O’Farrell, Docherty, Sexton, Atkinson..and four years of Ferguson) before finding their mojo once more. Likewise, since Sir Alex stepped down, David Moyes and LVG have found that managing United comes with huge expectations that are difficult to meet. If, as expected, LVG is shown the door and they do opt for Mourinho, his reign will not become a return to calmer times. Mourinho’s tenure will be relatively short and he will be concerned with NOW: results, success and trophies. How he achieves it will not matter too much to him, and in all probability, it will not include young players that have graduated through United’s once successful system. Look at Chelsea’s lamentable record of bringing players on, despite have the best FA Youth Cup team of recent years – not all his fault, admittedly, but have you seen the club’s out-on-loan list?  You can talk all you like about dynasties, but Mourinho is not the man for building anything long-term.

But one of the reasons why United may hire Mourinho is clear. For the first time in decades, the club needs an instant answer to a problem. The club’s owners are not particularly patient and with City on their doorstep, they need to have a response to the Guardiola era that begins in the summer of 2016. And that response will not, in all reality, be the appointment of Ryan Giggs. Mourinho will have to hit the ground running if he does get appointed, because any amount of nonsense will not be accepted if the team shows no sign of returning United to glory in the short-term. Because, as we now all know (even at Chelsea), Mourinho is the man of the [remarkable] moment and that moment only lasts for three seasons. Is that such a bad thing?

The problem for United is the long shadow cast by Busby and Ferguson. The fact is, very few clubs have enjoyed such long periods of stability in the dugout. It is likely that United will have to come to terms with the type of short-term appointments that characterise most major clubs across European football. It may not be the United way, but it’s certainly the modern way.

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twitter: @gameofthepeople

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