Here’s Stefan with his feature article on Mourinho’s failure at Manchester United and a look forward.
Mourinho’s failure at Manchester United and a Look Forward
How Mourinho’s tenure unravelled
To really understand Manchester United’s current plight you have to go back to Alex Ferguson’s last title win and retirement. Arguably the greatest manager in the Premier League’s history he left with an overperforming, ageing squad which had to be completely remodelled. The subsequent managers in Moyes, Van Gaal and Mourinho were 3 managers, all with different playing styles and tactics. What followed was an incoherent set of transfers and management which didn’t take Manchester United forward at all.
After finishing 2nd to Manchester City in 2017/18 you would have thought, on the face of it, that the 2018/19 was one to look forward to and a season that would challenge Manchester City’s superiority and as well aim for the Premier League title. However, a closer look at the picture showed a team built on a defensive record in 2017/18 that was really down to the superhuman season had by goalkeeper David De Gea. Even with that superhuman performance, they were still 19 points behind Manchester City and only Chelsea in the top 6 scored fewer goals than Manchester United.
The underlying defensive problems weren’t lost on Mourinho and his summer was focused on getting in a new centre-back in the hope of fixing what he saw as the priority issue. However, despite having signed a new contract in January, Mourinho wasn’t backed with his transfers wishes by the United Board. They presumably pointed to the fact that Mourinho had already been given £358m for 11 signings, including 2 centre backs. They would have also argued that the only success was of that 11 was, ironically, the free transfer of Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
The season continued in this chaotic vein with Mourinho falling out with Martial and Pogba. Add to that the underperformance of Sanchez and Lukaku a humiliating defeat by their neighbours Manchester City. Then you had the final straw of the 36 shot 3-1 defeat to Liverpool at Anfield illustrated by Pogba as an unused substitute and you have a situation where even Mourinho’s history could not save him.
The off-field drama was merely a sideshow to the problems on the field. A leaky defence, a lack of goals and a reactive style that was contrary to the front foot pressing style of newer managers to the league in Klopp, Guardiola, Pochettinho and Sarri.
However there were moments which threatened a turn around by Mourino. The comeback win against Juventus followed the memorable comeback win over Manchester City in the previous season but these moments never changed the momentum as they threatened to.
However it was the damning loss to Liverpool followed by rumours that 4 players were going to ask for transfer requests in January should Mourinho not be sacked that saw the inevitable happen.
At the time of Mourinho’s sacking the league was 17 games old. The loss to Liverpool saw Manchester United 19 points behind Liverpool at the top of the table and 11 points behind Chelsea for a top 4 Champions League position. It was Manchester United’s worse start to the season since 1990-91. After Mourinho was sacked after those 17 underwhelming league games Manchester United had ranked 16th (worse than Huddersfield at the time) for goals conceded with 29 and only Fulham had less clean sheets. The foundation for Mourinho’s sides was broken. The goals for the column wasn’t as bad with 29 from 17 games but they were still comfortably behind the rest of the top 6.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer interim manager
After his sacking, there has been gossip in the media about people looking for new betting sites, in search of placing bets on where Mourinho will end up or who will replace him. As for now, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was appointed interim manager to the end of the season. A pleasant positive outlook to the players, the name dropping of discussions with Alex Ferguson and a free playing style has seen 4 wins and 13 goals in the process. The 5-1 win at Cardiff was the notable not only for the scoreline but also the fact that it was only the 2nd team this season that United had out ran in a match at that time.
Solskjaer is in a no lose situation in that there are no real expectations on him and although he says he would love the job permanently he must know that isn’t realistic. His only downside is tainting his idol status that he has with fans due to his winning goal in 1999.
Since his appointment, Pogba has particularly benefited with 4 goals and 3 assists in games since Solskjaer took over. It is a marked contrast to Pogba’s demeanour and form in the Mourinho era when he remained silent, showing intolerance and often playing poorly.
Who’s next for Manchester United?
So far the media’s new manager hunt seems focused on Mauricio Pochettino who not only has the progressive style of football and promotion of youth that are consistent with Manchester United’s values but is a much more positive outward face of the club.
Other options being discussed are Zinedene Zidane, Anotonio Conte, Carlo Ancelotti and Diego Simeone.
Personally I find it hard to believe that Conte or Ancelotti will be targets given how experienced managers in Van Gaal and Mourinho have worked out. I’m also not sure that Simeone’s playing style will suit Manchester United. Outside options of former Monaco boss Leonardo Jardim or the current Dortmund boss Lucien Favre are also in the mix.
However it’s hard to see past Pochettinho if the board have the appetite to negotiate with Daniel Levy. All this, though, is a fluid story and it is the summer where the next post Alex Ferguson chapter will be written.
Image credit: Commons wikipedia
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