LONDON. – “A Manchester United manager wouldn’t do that. He’s a really good coach but that’s as far as I would go really. He pontificates too much for my liking.” – Sir Bobby Charlton on Jose Mourinho, December 2012.
The United legend was referring to the disgraceful incident in which Mourinho, then boss of Real Madrid, gouged the eye of Barcelona assistant Tito Vilanova during an ill-tempered Super Cup clash between the two Spanish giants earlier that year.
It is by no means the only blot on Mourinho’s record, explaining why Charlton and other members of the Old Trafford hierarchy have always harboured reservations when considering him for the United job.
The man who introduced himself to English football by cavorting down the touchline when his Porto team snatched a late winner in the Champions League at Old Trafford in 2004, and then announced himself as The Special One on his arrival at Chelsea later that year, has always divided opinion.
United’s view on the matter has been quite clear and they have stuck to their guns. Until now.
The fact that the club appear ready to compromise those principles and sign a pact with the 53-year-old Portuguese coach is not only a sign of how desperate things have become at Old Trafford but also how much United as a club have changed in a short space of time.
For more than a quarter of a century, they had Sir Alex Ferguson at the helm. It brought continuity, stability and, of course, prosperity both on and off the pitch.
When Ferguson stepped down in 2013, United supporters knew that change was on the way. But few could have imagined quite what lay ahead as the success dried up and a blue tide continued to rise in the east of Manchester, swelled by the news of Pep Guardiola’s imminent arrival in the summer.
Suddenly United are seen to be marching to Manchester City’s beat, responding to Guardiola’s appointment by moving for Mourinho. It would never have happened like this in the past.
The decision to let chief executive David Gill depart at the same time as the Scot has been widely acknowledged as a root cause of the current problems. Allowing two such key positions to become vacant at the same time was a folly that haunts United to this day.
While neither of Ferguson’s successors have come close to filling his shoes, the same could be said of Gill’s replacement Ed Woodward.
The new United chief axed David Moyes just 10 months into a six-year contract. A club that prided itself on giving Ferguson more time at the start of his reign had suddenly turned trigger-happy.
If lessons were learned from that episode, it’s difficult to see how they are being put into practice now. Yes, United have stuck by Louis van Gaal so far. But while Woodward appears to have given the Dutchman his backing in private, a refusal to publicly support the manager at a time when speculation continues unchallenged over talks being held with Mourinho has undermined Van Gaal at a crucial point of the season.
The United boss is due to face the media again today and more distracting questions about his former Barcelona assistant are inevitable.
“I don’t believe that there is already a relationship between Jose Mourinho and Manchester United,” said Van Gaal last week. Moyes was equally adamant that he would be given time to prove himself as The Chosen One, right up until the day he was sacked.
The main criticism of Van Gaal is that he has spent £250 million on new players and yet turned United into a shadow of the teams built to thrill under Ferguson. It is another example of how quickly United have strayed from their traditions since the Scotsman left.
Ferguson may have broken the British transfer record five times but maintained in his final years at Old Trafford that there was no value in the transfer market. The anti-Glazer brigade always assumed that he was making excuses for the owners not wanting to part with their money. United’s transfer record since then would suggest otherwise.
The club record £37,1 million acquisition of Juan Mata while Moyes was still in charge was swiftly broken by the £59,7 million transfer of Angel Di Maria after Van Gaal took over six months later. The price for Anthony Martial’s move last summer could reach £58 million.
The three deals have met with varying success but all smacked of panic buying compared to the measured dealings of Ferguson and Gill over a number of years.
Ferguson signed his fair share of turkeys too, but at least it always felt as though there was method to the madness. And an end product, of course. Whoever wore the red shirt, United played with flair and enterprise. They won games, and trophies, without ever compromising the club’s attacking principles.
That too has been lost, especially under Van Gaal. There has been an improvement in recent weeks and the Dutchman may yet salvage the season and, who knows, maybe his own job. But if the noises coming out of the Mourinho camp are to be believed, it’s already too late. More change is on the way.
Is Mourinho the man to put United back where they belong, or simply guide them even further away from where they once were? Sir Bobby Charlton is not the only one to have his doubts. – Mailonline.