Alleged letters to Manchester United’s board, eye-watering pre-contract agreements, desperate phone calls to agents – for the already beleaguered Louis van Gaal, the unwanted spectre of Jose Mourinho just will not go away.
Everyone has an opinion on why Mourinho is the right, or wrong, man for the job. When Pep Guardiola was announced as the next Manchester City manager, there was a palpable ratcheting up of calls for the Portuguese to be brought in, leading to the suggestion that, should United do so, it would be in direct response to City’s latest move. This, however, ignores the fact that a great many people felt that Mourinho should have been the one to replace Sir Alex Ferguson in the first place.
As it was, David Moyes got the United gig and Mourinho returned to Chelsea. Moyes’ reputation was battered like a rowing boat on the high seas and Mourinho, too, left Chelsea with his stock at its lowest point since he entered into football management.
Yet there was something about Mourinho going back to Stamford Bridge that never felt quite right. At his first press-conference upon rejoining the London club, he described himself as the ‘Happy One,’ but he seemed to be forcing it. In truth, he seemed down, lacking the energy and enthusiasm of the past. To the casual observer, it appeared that Mourinho did not want to be there – that he had settled for second best and was, in reality, pining for pastures new.
The whole footballing world is well versed in United’s reasons for not hiring Mourinho almost three years ago and their reluctance to do so now – his constant courting of controversy, his poor record in promoting youth, the short-term nature of his managerial career so far, and his oft-criticised style of football – but the acute sense of destiny about Jose Mourinho riding into Old Trafford in his freshly polished armour, to save the club from imminent disaster and put them back on the map, is inescapable.
The feeling that Mourinho was made to one day manage this club is felt by many, not least the man himself. Who can forget his post-match interview following United’s Champions League defeat to his Real Madrid during Ferguson’s last campaign? Lavishing praise upon Ferguson and the club, and already heading towards the Bernabeu exit, it felt like the most blatant of auditions.
All of which could work in United’s favour. At Chelsea, he spoke of settling down and creating a dynasty – but it never felt like his heart was in it. At least, not at Chelsea. Were he to succeed Van Gaal, perhaps Mourinho, having finally landed his dream job, would finally lay down roots.
Only time will tell, of course, but there are plenty of reasons to believe that Mourinho would see United as his final managerial resting place. The desire to re-prove himself after his disastrous third season at Chelsea must be strong. But a man as ferociously ambitious as Mourinho would surely dream of emulating, if not surpassing, Ferguson’s incredible record at the club as well. He could only hope to do that if he embraced the kind of managerial longevity that has thus far been so alien to him.
The fears that are clearly still held at Old Trafford about gambling on Jose are, of course, not unfounded. Mourinho moves in his own self-made maelstrom and could come with his own weather warning. Then again, Ferguson was hardly a ray of sunshine during much of his time at the club, and many have the scars to prove it. Indeed, it could be argued that the howling wind that follows Mourinho is exactly what this ailing club needs to blow away some cobwebs. There has been a distinct lack of grit and fight about United since Ferguson retired and Mourinho would instil the kind of us-against-the-world siege mentality that the Scot made his own.
Even if Mourinho did fail to change his spots and leave the club after a couple of years, there’s a good chance that United would enjoy a degree of success in the meantime, allowing them to continue to attract top players and buying them time to carry out the kind of root-and-branch reform that they need, assuming they chose to do so. It would also give Ryan Giggs, the other main candidate, an opportunity to go and prove himself elsewhere.
United’s options appear thin on the ground and Mourinho is clearly the obvious choice to replace Van Gaal. He certainly has the gravitas and self-belief to waltz into Old Trafford and not just ruffle a few feathers but ruthlessly tear them out, and his very appointment would instantly replenish the fear-factor that Van Gaal himself has suggested has disappeared from the club, melting away like a snowman receiving one of Ferguson’s hairdryer treatments.
There are risks involved whoever United decide to appoint, and the constant speculation means an undignified end to Louis van Gaal’s own glittering managerial career. Nevertheless, there are plenty of reasons to believe that Manchester United and Jose Mourinho could be, at this moment in their histories, a match made in heaven.