Jamie Carragher’s column in The Telegraph this week rips Jose Mourinho apart and more or less hails Pep Guardiola as football’s messiah.
Mourinho is by no means perfect. Maybe arguments about his methods being outdated have some truth to them. United fans aren’t enamoured by him. But the narrative being peddled by the media and rival fans is getting pretty tiresome.
There’s definite truth to some of the criticism that Carragher levels at Mourinho, a manager who became a figure of hate for Liverpool fans when the defender was still at the club, but then there’s also wildly unfounded claims too.
Rewind to the start of this season and assess the head-to-head qualities of the United and City squads. Player-for-player, which would you argue was superior?
Was Ederson considered better than David De Gea? Were City’s centre-backs Nicolas Otamendi and John Stones preferable to Eric Bailly and Phil Jones? Did United fans want Fernandinho or Nemanja Matic?
Firstly, it’s interesting here how Carragher conveniently totally misses out Kevin De Bruyne, David Silva and Sergio Aguero in this head to head comparison. And if Bailly had been fit all season, then that would have been brilliant for United, but he’s played in eight out of 21 games and won’t be available for a few months yet after undergoing surgery last week. Stones has also been injured but I don’t remember fans of any club starting the season believing Jones and Chris Smalling should be the envy of other teams, any more than Otamendi should.
United broke the world transfer record to sign Paul Pogba, and then made Romelu Lukaku the most expensive Premier League player of last summer. Which English clubs made bigger statements of intent?
Zlatan Ibrahimovic was United’s top goalscorer last season but suffered an injury that could, and maybe still will, stop him from playing at the top level. Of course we had to sign another striker. If we already had an Aguero in our squad, we wouldn’t have needed to buy Lukaku.
The same goes for Paul Pogba. We didn’t have any world-class midfielders. When we signed him, his competition was Ander Herrera, Marouane Fellaini and Michael Carrick. It’s generous to claim that adding two quality players in positions where there was limited quality was making a statement of intent. It was playing catch up with a team that already has top quality players in these positions.
We should probably forget that the reason that Pogba left United is because Ferguson, the man Carragher idolises, didn’t play him. This was a huge mistake. Pogba likely would have left the club during the David Moyes/Louis van Gaal years anyway, but if he had stayed, maybe United wouldn’t have sunk to the depths they did.
How many United or England fans would have swapped Marcus Rashford for Raheem Sterling a year ago? And when Anthony Martial first arrived from Monaco, was his reputation greater than that of Leroy Sane when he joined City?
Although he was signed before Mourinho’s appointment, Luke Shaw was a £30 million full-back – more expensive than City striker Gabriel Jesus. The United manager’s complaints about the value of the squads do not add up.
Raheem Sterling cost £49m and has 150 more professional games of football under his belt than Marcus Rashford, who cost nothing.
When Martial signed for United, the headlines on the back pages read “What a waste of money“, which is referred to in the player’s chant. City spent £37m plus add ons for Sane while United’s initial outlay for Martial was £35m plus add ons. To suggest that Martial, who scored nine league goals in 35 appearances for Monaco the season before he joined United, came with a greater reputation than Sane, who had scored eight goals in 33 appearances for Schalke the season before he signed for City, is just plain odd. Both were relatively unknown players and both have done well for their new respective clubs.
Luke Shaw was an expensive player and has spent huge chunks of his United career injured. When fit, throughout his career, his attitude has been questioned by every manager he’s played for. Mauricio Pochettino, Roy Hodgson, Louis van Gaal and now Mourinho have all been less than impressed with his work ethic. Maybe he will still come good and, being fair to him, his recent performances have been decent, but we shouldn’t hail our fortunes for having him at the club. He’s hardly been an asset.
If Mourinho was coaching the Manchester City side they would not be playing the style of football we are seeing today. If there is a symbol of that look no further than Kevin De Bruyne, a player Mourinho coached at Chelsea but then sold.
I don’t think there’s any debate over whether Mourinho would have City playing the same style as they are doing under Guardiola. He has never played the style of football that Guardiola has. But in the Spaniard’s final season as Barcelona manager, it was Mourinho’s Real Madrid who broke the La Liga goals scored and points achieved record. If Mourinho was the City manager, they wouldn’t be playing like they are, but they would still be top of the table. The Chelsea squad he won the league with two years ago isn’t as good as City’s current team, yet they were still crowned champions with Mourinho in charge.
Mourinho sold De Bruyne when he was 21-years-old and was hungry for more regular playing time. Mourinho won’t be the first or last manager who isn’t afforded the time to allow players to develop in the first team when the pressure is on them to deliver results now.
De Bruyne wasn’t the player in 2013-14 that he is today. It’s very rare for players to be at the top of their game at that age. Cristiano Ronaldo scored 12 goals in 47 games the season he turned 21, and 23 in 53 the season after. He scored 42 in 49 the year after though. Sir Alex Ferguson had the time to let him develop and knew he wouldn’t be sacked if the results weren’t as good as they could be with someone more experienced than him in the team as they waited for him to develop. It wasn’t until Ronaldo’s fourth season at United that they won the league.
Mourinho knew all too well that Roman Abramovich wasn’t going to wait around for years for him to bring through young players and wait for them to fulfil their potential. He’d already been sacked once by the Russian and that was after winning two consecutive titles and finishing second in his third season. He was a month in to his fourth season when he was dismissed.
Would Fabian Delph or Otamendi be the players they are under Mourinho?
Quite possibly. Would Ashley Young and Antonio Valencia be the players they are under Guardiola? Who knows. Valencia was voted player of the year by his teammates in the right-back position last season after enjoying a great year under Mourinho’s management and wears the captain’s armband now whenever he plays. A few seasons earlier United supporters were calling for him to be sold.
Young has two goals and four assists from his appearances in the league and Champions League this season and has put in great shifts from the left-back position. His best ever season for United previously, in terms of productivity, was his first at the club, as a left winger, where he scored seven and assisted seven in the same competitions. That was six years ago and he may well go on to achieve similar stats this season, despite now playing in a defensive role.
To suggest that Mourinho couldn’t get out of Delph what Guardiola has, after the success he’s had from Young and Valencia in their new positions, is unfounded.
That is what separated Sir Alex Ferguson from the rest. For all his success at United when he could bully rivals in the transfer market, it was Ferguson’s latter years when Chelsea and City were capable of outspending him that impressed me most. He not only kept United competitive, but ensured they were title winners because of their brand of football.
I’m happy to conclude from this that Mourinho isn’t as good as Ferguson. I’d argue nobody is. But when Guardiola has spent £859m in eight years of football management, spending money can hardly be a criticism levelled solely at Mourinho. Guardiola inherited the best squad in the league who would have won the title if not for the announcement of the Spaniard’s appointment in January. At this same stage of the season, they were just three points behind annual bottlers Arsenal and favourites to win the league. Their form bombed after it was revealed Guardiola would take charge at the end of the season and Leicester reaped the benefits.
Mourinho has spent £1.1bn in 17 years as a manager, which works out as just over half as much as Guardiola has spent per season. You can call them both chequebook managers, if you wish, but the notion that Mourinho throws a load of money at players while Guardiola relies on developing players is totally false. If Guardiola doesn’t need to spend vast sums of money to be a success, then why has he spent so much?
I’m not Mourinho’s biggest fan. He’s behaved in ways I’ve found utterly deplorable in the past. At United, he’s been the victim of weird decisions that have seen him banned and fined for ‘crimes’ rival managers have regularly committed and gone unpunished for. Yet he’s still done and said things I don’t agree with too. He’s a mard at the best of times and I’ll likely never fully warm to him.
But the media are forgetting the disrespect Guardiola showed journalists following his trophyless campaign last season. He was rude in his post-match interviews and belittled those who asked him questions in the press conferences. Just a couple of months ago he blamed City’s inability to beat Championship opposition Wolves in the EFL Cup over 120 minutes on the quality of the ball that every other team also played with. You can only imagine the furore if Mourinho did the same.
Both managers are far from perfect. Just as Ferguson was. But both managers would win the league this season with City’s squad, just as both managers would finish second with United’s squad, and to claim different is ridiculous.