When Sir Alex Ferguson said his farewell to football it was clear that it would be impossible to see his like again.
The Scottish manager, who won a total of 38 trophies and continuously managed to keep Manchester United a strong and competitive side, would have also been aware that whoever was about to follow him would have a lot of expectations to carry on his shoulders.
In his farewell speech Sir Alex stressed that after winning the clubs 20th league title it was the right time to take a break. He also said he has left behind a blend of young and experienced players well equipped to keep on challenging.
Fast forward to 2017 and Manchester United has not only been unable to win the league but hasn’t gotten nowhere near to challenge for the trophy. The Red Devils have finished 7th, 4th, 5th and 6th in the consecutive years following their league triumph in 2013. The manner in which a team that was continuously challenging for and winning trophies have fallen so far off the grid has been shocking.
David Moyes, Louis Van Gaal and Jose Mourinho had different expectations and out looks when they came to Old Trafford. Both Moyes and Van Gaal were dubbed as managers who can develop a squad that will go on to challenge for many years to come. Mourinho came as a proven winner who can return Mancheter United to the heights they were once upon.
But what makes all of those managers the same was the fact that at one point or another they mentioned that expectations at Man United were too high. David Moyes, in a comment that enraged so many United fans, suggested that the club should be more like their neighbors Man City, implying his sides inferiority.
Van Gaal described the expectations of the fans as too much following a 3-1 victory over Bournemouth back in 2016. And after drawing 2-2 against Burnley on Boxing Day, Mourinho said that Man United is a big club but they are not a big team.
These comments suggest either of two things. One, because of the successful years Man United enjoyed under Sir Alex, fans and the media have raised the bar out of proportion or the managers are simply using this as a deflecting mechanism to shadow their inability to deliver success.
Manchester United have been ruthless in the transfer market in recent years.
Despite Moyes missing out on players like Thiago Alcantara and Cesc Fabregas, he got Fellaini for £27.5 million and Mata for £37.1 million. Van Gaal managed to secure the services of several players including big-name stars like Di Maria and Falcao along with exciting youngsters like Luke Shaw, Memphis Depay and Anthony Martial for a total amount of around £ 250 million.
Mourinho broke the transfer record to secure Pogba in 2016 for £89.3 million. He got Lukaku for £ 75 million and snatched Nemanja Matic from Champions Chelsea for around £40 million. He spent nearly £ 260 million on 7 players.
Moyes and Van Gaal’s time at Manchester United were unsuccessful mainly because they were not able to get the best out of their squad. Even world-class players looked mediocre in their systems. In contrast, Man United have shown noticeable progress after Mourinho took over. The Portuguese managed to win the League Cup and Europa League in his first season despite an underwhelming 6th placed finish in the league.
In his second season, he further strengthened his squad and his side started the league campaign in a promising manner. That was until their game against Liverpool in which Mourinho implemented an ultra-defensive and reactive football to a come away with a 0-0 draw. Man United hasn’t gotten into stride after that.
Mourinho who starts every season promising a league trophy conveniently spins the headline when things don’t work out. The constant complaining has led to him being doubted. His suggestion after spending £260 million that it was not enough indicates desperation.
Mourinho’s attempt to play the underdog card at Manchester United is unacceptable.
Perhaps, he thrived on that in Madrid when Barcelona was the dominant force or at Inter when he knocked Pep’s side out of the Semi Final of the UCL and beat Bayern in the final to eventually lift the trophy or when he took Europe by storm with his Porto side. However, whichever side you look at it the record Premier League champions can never be labeled as underdogs.
It is true that Man City is doing the unthinkable with their record-breaking run of wins and dominant football. But, the question remains, is Mourinho’s side as good as it can/should be? Does there need to be another list of huge deals to get a result against the likes of Bristol City, Leicester or Burnley?
Assume Manchester United gave Mourinho more money than they already have, will he be able to deliver the type of entertaining and efficient football Man City are playing? Is the reason behind his extra cautious and negative football against top sides a matter of one or two players?
Mourinho will undoubtedly get credit for the progress his team has made until now. He will also be lauded for being ambitious in wanting to win the league going into every season. But no one will listen to his excuses and desperate attempts to divert attention from the problems in his management.
What sets top managers apart from the rest is their ability to review and reinvent their tactics and their capacity to make the best use of their available players. As long as you are managing Man United expectations will be high and the sooner Mourinho accepts that and take a long hard look at his approach the better.
Perhaps the Man United job is hard and maybe too big for Mourinho as Roy Keane suggested or maybe Mourinho does need a signing or two to finally deliver on his promises. But excuses don’t win you games nor does throwing money until it works. You either can manage your way out of a predicament or you will face the sack.
In his column for The Telegraph, Jamie Carragher wrote this about the Manchester United manager:
‘I’ve always loved hearing Jose’s press conferences – even as a player and rival I wanted to tune in – but I much prefer it when he is being mischievous rather than prickly. When he picks fights with his own players, supporters and board members it becomes a tired act and sounds like he is making excuses. Everyone becomes exhausted by the agitation. Usually, it ends one way.’
The ex-Liverpool defender further added: ‘Guardiola is breaking records. Mourinho is starting to sound like a broken one.’
Mourinho still has a chance to prove the doubters wrong. But in order to do that he should look more into managing and less into buying. Transfers may solve few problems and feel some gaps but they are not the big difference between Manchester United and Man City. The difference is management.
Written by Brook Genene
Follow Brook on Twitter @brookge
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