Hitting The Target: Manchester United had to show Jose Mourinho the way to go
THE first three messages I received after Manchester United got rid of Jose Mourinho were as follows:
One guess which came from a Man Utd fan (the others were from supporters of Liverpool and Arsenal).
Mourinho still had his acolytes on social media, but diehard Manchester United fans of my acquaintance have been calling for his head for a long time.
As with the awful Roy Hodgson at Liverpool, standing by a manager who clearly does not fit your club does not make you a great supporter, it makes you a fool.
Of course Mourinho is not solely to blame for the Red Devils’ recent failings, but he was the main man.
Supporters should have turned against him, rather than pretending to be (or perhaps even actually being) excited at stumbling their way to a Europa League 'triumph', a competition which they had sneered at for years.
Not a single supporter should have counted the Community Shield as a trophy, as Mourinho laughably did.
Even the League Cup – another trophy Red Devils had long disparaged – was only won in fortunate circumstances. Against Southampton. Who sacked their boss at the end of that season.
The only justification for sticking by Mourinho was to avoid a third sacking in the sixth season since the retirement of Alex Ferguson.
There are distinct echoes of the period after the departure of Matt Busby – indeed today it’s exactly 46 years since Man U sacked the great man’s ultimate successor Frank O’Farrell. Wilf McGuinness, the first man tasked with following Busby, had been booted out just less than a year earlier, with Matt returning for the second half of that campaign.
It (probably) won’t take as long for Manchester United to get back to the top of English football again, given the changed financial landscape of the game, but the club still needs a serious overhaul.
Getting rid of Mourinho had to be the first part of that process, perhaps with a new head coach working with a director of football or recruitment team.
There was no evidence that things were going to improve under Mourinho, indeed quite the contrary.
Manchester United were getting worse, not only failing to challenge for the title but looking unlikely even to make the top four.
Mourinho used to be a great leader, a top tactician, a motivator of men, but all those qualities seem to have deserted him.
How can you expect players to improve their performances, to take responsibility for their actions, when you completely refuse to do so yourself?
Why wouldn’t players literally point fingers at each other on the pitch after conceding and losing when that’s what the manager does at them after every poor result?
The quality of the current players is questionable, admittedly.
However, the formations and tactics have brought the worst out of them, not the best, which is what a manager is supposed to do.
Don’t tell me that the following team (and subs) playing in a timely ‘Christmas tree’ (4-3-2-1) formation couldn’t cause serious problems to most opposition, in England and Europe:
De Gea; Dalot, Smalling, Bailly, Shaw; Fred, Herrera, Pogba; Sanchez, Mata; Lukaku (subs from: Darmian, Young, Rojo, Lindelof, Jones, Valencia, Matic, Lingard, Rashford, Martial).
The players have been under-performing, due to lack of confidence and lack of direction, but they really aren’t the problem.
Sure, the ‘transfers in’ record since 2013 has been mixed at best – but the recruitment of managers has been even worse.
Not one of David Moyes, Louis van Gaal, or Mourinho came close to fitting how Manchester United feel they should play.
Notice one name missing from that squad above?
Yep, Marouane Fellaini.
The big Belgian is symptomatic of all that has gone wrong at Old Trafford since Fergie’s time was up.
Bought too late, for too much, then deployed as a target man for long ball football.
Fellaini is an honest workhorse, who can do a job for many teams – but he’s simply not good enough to be at Manchester United, never mind to be the team’s saviour.
The club continues to be a money-making machine, but all the money in the world won’t make you the best team even in your own country if it’s not spent well. Heck, not even in your own city.
Mourinho had a valid point about Manchester City’s spending, but at least Pep Guardiola & Co have created a fantastic team playing fabulous football.
Liverpool too have spent well and built a very good team and squad.
Manchester United have spent plenty too, but they’ve been throwing good money after bad, as shown by their wage bill being the biggest in the Premier League.
There was little jeopardy for Man U players. They’re not at risk of relegation, a fear factor which inspires incredible effort from those at clubs in the bottom third of the table.
Instead, the Old Trafford playing staff were handsomely rewarded despite their ugly football, even being handed extended and improved contracts.
The same applied to Mourinho, but his pay-off will be a wise investment – as long as the club gets the right successor.
Spurs boss Mauricio Pochettino looks a great fit, and it seems that Man U are prepared to wait until the end of this season to get him.
However, if they don’t, they shouldn’t have to go outside the Premier League.
There’ll be jokes about various available bosses, such as Fat Sam Allardyce, but perhaps, if they can’t lure ‘Poch’, Manchester United should go for an English manager – Eddie Howe.
The Bournemouth boss would bring back dignity, decency, and attractive football, all aspects which have been absent from the club under Mourinho.
This column concurs with many Manchester United fans in saying to him: Good riddance.
* Having said that, Merry Christmas, everyone – even Moaninho.