Ferdinand: Mourinho has rid Man United of Van Gaal's negative vibes and brought back fear factor
Rio Ferdinand vividly recalls a time when the mere sight of that famous Manchester United red livery, coupled with a heaving Old Trafford din, would render opposition all but defeated before a ball was kicked.
Over 12 seasons, all but one of which was under the stewardship of Alex Ferguson, Ferdinand was a key component in a gilded, trophy-laden epoch at Manchester United.
The refined centre half accrued six league titles, a Champions League, three league cups and a FIFA Club World Cup.
However, as soon as Ferguson stepped down in 2013, the club went into an ignominious freefall. Ferdinand had a tumultuous relationship with David Moyes, and left for QPR in the summer of 2014.
Ferdinand, among other United legends, was a vocal critic of the insipid, staid football employed by Moyes’ successor, Louis van Gaal.
After securing the FA Cup, the Dutchman was relieved of his position and replaced by Jose Mourinho, in an appointment that was not universally approved of by those with a vested interest at Old Trafford.
However, Mourinho’s nascent tenure has unquestionably invigorated the club. His efficiency and decisiveness in the transfer market ensured the arrivals of Eric Bailly, Zlatan Ibrahimović, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and, for the biggest sum ever paid, Paul Pogba.
What’s more, United defeated Leicester City to clinch the Community Shield, while looking impressive in their two Premier League victories to date, against Bournemouth and Southampton.
Ferdinand has noticed a flickering of the inextinguishable fires that fuelled United in times gone by.
“The biggest change, rather than the big-name players that they’ve bought, is the mentality shift - it’s been huge for them,” he told talkSport.
“Under Van Gaal over the last two years, there’s been a very negative vibe, not only around the football team, but the actual place and I think that’s changing with Mourinho. I think that’s what one of his biggest obstacles would have been to try and change the mentality of the players.
“To go from being sideways, trying to nick games here and there, to being a team that are going to dominate teams physically, tactically and all over the park. Also, added to that is the personalities they’ve brought in, I think it’s been a huge shift this season.”
That said, the 37-year-old was quick to temper his praise by insisting that there is a long road ahead before United are once again considered a potent force.
Ferdinand has commended the club’s summer recruitment strategy, and believes Ibrahimović and Pogba are in receipt of that type of gravitas that United were replete with during his time at the club.
“It looks like teams are in the tunnel and looking across and going ‘Oh, that’s Zlatan, Oh, that’s Pogba'.
“That’s what it looks like. That’s what it used to be like; you used to win the game in the tunnel some times. They’d all be looking across and you could see fear in teams’ eyes.
“They’ve still got to prove that, they did it initially but now they’ve got to go and prove it. They’ve done that in the last two or three games, including the Community Shield, and that fear factor will start to grow as the games go on,” he said.
He revealed that, in the latter stages of his playing days, Manchester City’s Sergio Aguero was the most vexing centre forward he encountered.
Of the man known as Zlatan, Ferdinand said that he rarely had trouble containing the towering Swede, but lauded the intangibles he adds to the mix.
“Zlatan brings something different; he brings an aura, a charisma, a mentality and an expectancy that can travel throughout a team and change mentalities because of what he is. That’s something that is as powerful, if not more, than other elements in a striker.
“It’s undoubted how good this guy is, in terms of winning trophies. You don’t win league titles year in, year out at a relentless pace without being a top player.”
Discussing Paul Pogba, who he briefly shared a dressing room with before his departure for Juventus in 2012, Ferdinand cited the Frenchman’s desire to be the catalyst for a heady future at United.
The willingness to assume that mantle is very impressive to the former England defender, and he believes that trait sets him apart from other would-be game changers.
“He wants to be the person who takes the responsibility to take the club forward. A lot of players come into a club with big fusses, they get in the door and they don’t want to be at the forefront leading.
“This boy wants it on his shoulders, wants to be the man everyone looks at and says, ‘Listen, he’s going to the man who brings Man United back to the top.’ And he wants that."