It is not immediately clear why United had been actively dodging the recruitment of Jose Mourinho as manager. Maybe the Ferguson-Charlton axis held too much sway in the boardroom, at the apogee of their powers, right at the unexpected if not surprising exit of the supremely successful Scotsman. There seemed to be a strident campaign to keep the Portuguese from occupying the Carrington office. It could have been fueled by legitimate philosophical differences, or maybe something more sinister was at play. We cannot downplay the role of professional jealousy, it is a real and thriving part of acutely competitive sports.
Any independent observer would have thought after 26 years of pure magic at the Theater of Dreams that Alex Ferguson would want his legacy followed by more success, making the bewildering coronation of the ex- Preston and Everton boss David Moyes such a bizarre decision, and more pointedly because as Mourinho reportedly declared – Moyes had not won anything, he was not a proven winner. Mourinho publicly, and unashamedly coveted the United job, even while he was gainfully employed by other clubs. It was the worst kept secret in British football.
So why Mr. Woodward and his board decided to make Jose wait through failed appointments of Moyes and the philosopher king, Louis Van Gaal is another one of those modern day sporting head scratchers. Van Gaal was backed massively by the board, and had an envious war chest at his disposal. In the history of Manchester United, no manager been given so much and done so little in return. For all the ad nauseam yapping about philosophies and processes, the self-declared trainer-coach was only able to deliver a FA Cup with the $300M which he was bankrolled with over 2 seasons.
Jose Mourinho is bent on making Paul Pogba the most expensive player on the planet to sweeten United's odds of success
Now Mourinho has the job he had relentlessly pursued, the biggest British club and one of the global super powers in Manchester United. Will he be able to lead the club out of the wilderness and back into serious contention? He has asked his players publicly to forget the last 3 seasons, and as a psychological exercise this might just be the thing to do. Okay so let’s do that then, let’s forget about the Moyes Sunday league death by crosses, let us forget Moyes cowering to Brenden Rodgers Liverpool, Van Gaal ordering Phil Jones to take corners, and playing Di Maria, one of the best wingers in the world, as a target man – it is best and probably healthy to forget these things.
Here are 3 things the new United gaffer must do to ensure he at least gets the chance to stir the ship in the right direction this season.
The presence of Zlatan Ibrahimović and Henrikh Mkhitaryan should light a fire under Rooney's performances this season
Hold Rooney Accountable
The United boss has already casted doubts to Rooney’s suitability as a deep lying midfield marshal, and that should come as a relief to most of the red devil faithful. Moyes and LVG did not have any problem dislodging other natural midfielders to shoehorn the United skipper into the side. Rooney should play in a position where he can be measured on goal creation, as a goal provider or an assist maker.
United don’t need a 300k/week player distributing short passes so far away from the opponent’s goal. They have plenty players that can do that job well and for cheaper. Mourinho has always admired Rooney, tried to seduce him to join his Chelsea side. He must now put personal feelings aside and do what makes sense for the team. For United to succeed they need their key players to step it up, and if Rooney is still considered a marquee contributor then he needs to make more meaningful contributions on the field other than wearing the armband.
Eric Bailly was an early Mourinho acquisition from Villarreal
Strengthen The Backline
Contrary to popular belief, United had a stalwart defensive record. One of the check marks on LVG’s regime, was the marked improvement in team-defense. Now we have to be cautious here because one main thing that made this possible was the baseline style of play, or philosophy LVG implemented. The Dutchman’s ultra-possessive football meant United mostly had the ball and starved opponents of attacking opportunities. United clearly have issues with the individual defenders in their backline. Chris Smalling who has come leaps and bounds is still a bit error prone and his distribution can be unreliable at times.
Matteo Darmian cannot be fielded against all comers, he struggles with teams with speedy wide players and he is more comfortable with the defensive duties more so than his attacking duties which is needed to break well organized teams down. Daley Blind should not be the starting center back, his talents are better utilized as a defensive midfielder or left back. Mourinho has already brought in a strong center back who is comfortable with the ball at his feet, in Eric Bailly who transferred from Villarreal and he is, by all reports, still looking for another center and that is good news. Because regardless of what you feel about Phil Jones, there is a perception that sometimes his football brain in not in sync with the obvious steel and brawn he brings to the pitch.
Flexible Match Day Tactics
The Premier League is one of the most highly competitive leagues in the world. Leicester’s odd defying triumph last season was the exclamation mark on a league that has the reputation of upheaval, volatility, and rage against the status quo. Any team can get a result on any day, so the days of tactically setting up the your team the same way all the time, regardless of the opposition should be a thing of the past. Teams that do this are sitting ducks, and become easy to prepare for. This was one of Van Gaal’s most disappointing failures. He would stick to a certain formation or style of play even when it was clearly not working on the day.
LVG consistently played two holding midfielders, and thus handicapping attacking options, against relatively mediocre teams that came to Old Trafford to bunker down and spring counter attacks. It was intensely suffering to watch United at times last season. Mourinho like any other coach has his pet formations and style of play. Usually favoring a trident of attackers, a traditional No. 10, and a strong destroyer at the base. Hopefully he shows the same type of flexibility we saw during his time at Real Madrid, another mega club steeped with attacking tradition.