Over two years after Sir Alex Ferguson’s departure, Manchester United remain in uncharted territory. Louis van Gaal has steadied the ship after nine disastrous months under David Moyes, but the Dutchman now appears to be lost at sea, unable to plan a route to success for his team.
Having got knocked out of the Champions League in calamitous fashion, United proceeded to lose back-to-back games against newly promoted sides, showing their mental solidity and attacking intent are directly proportional to each other.
Van Gaal has lost the fans, with even those who have strenuously defended him so far now admitting the former Holland manager might no longer be the right man for the club. Crucially, he also appears to be in the process of losing his dressing room, with players reportedly growing disillusioned with the Dutchman’s methods.
Ironically, a manager who lost his job because of a dressing room mutiny is now touted as the main favourite to replace Van Gaal, who looks increasingly like a man on borrowed time.
In the eyes of many, media and fans alike, Jose Mourinho is the perfect choice for the post-Van Gaal era and not just because he’s the only world class manager available at the moment after Carlo Ancelotti agreed to join Bayern Munich.
The former Chelsea manager knows the Premier League inside out, is a proven winner and it doesn’t take an expert in psychology to know Mourinho’s desire to prove his former employers wrong must burn strongly inside him.
Those clamouring for him to be appointed immediately do not go as far as suggesting that Mourinho could steer United to the title in this most unpredictable of seasons, although they remain convinced the Portuguese would at least drag his side back into the race.
However, Mourinho remains an incredibly divisive figure. Bar a six-game period in spring last season, United’s football under Van Gaal has been incredibly dull and sterile, although Mourinho is hardly a fan of attacking football himself.
During his spell at Real Madrid his side broke the record for most goals scored during a season, but the 52-year-old prefers substance to style. Earlier this season, Van Gaal was accused of veering away from United’s tradition of promoting youngsters into the first team, but the Dutchman has handed debuts to 10 young players since joining the club.
Mourinho, in contrast, has given Chelsea academy players a total of just under six hours of playing time in the league in his five years at the club.
A lot of United fans were relieved when Mourinho was overlooked as Fergie’s successor, while, allegedly, a number of board members did not think the former Chelsea man suited the United style.
Considering Mourinho has not changed in the three years that have passed, one wonders whether the club has redrawn the boundaries of its philosophy or whether expectations have changed. Are United allowed to win games efficiently rather than spectacularly?
Is short-term success – one of the main reasons many were reluctant to see Mourinho replace Fergie in 2013 – now preferable to long-term planning after two and half barren seasons?
If the answer to the last question is yes, then United could have saved themselves some time and appointed him three seasons ago, thus eradicating the risks of a transition, rather than exacerbating it by handing Moyes the job.
Following Fergie’s departure, some hoped United would employ a manager preaching attacking football and capable of rebuilding the squad, regardless of the risks involved. Others wanted a man capable of delivering trophies immediately, rather than a long-term planner.
Thanks to the club’s sheer ineptitude, they got neither. United have stood still for the last two and half years and might have to reach a compromise with a man they did not want, if they are to avoid troubles.