'United can’t really afford to get it wrong again'- Damien Duff on Jose Mourinho's appointment at Old Trafford
The reasoning behind Manchester United’s decision to overlook Jose Mourinho in 2013 still eludes Damien Duff, but now that the Portuguese has assumed the reins at Old Trafford, the former Ireland winger is positive that his impact will be immediate and profound.
The post Alex Ferguson epoch at Manchester United has, barring the occasional reason for optimism, proven an unmitigated disaster.
During more than a quarter of a century at the helm, Ferguson built a footballing superpower that dominated the English game for the first decade and a half of the Premier League era. It was not an uninterrupted dominance of course, but the honour roll is without comparison.
Ferguson chose David Moyes as his successor possibly out of a misguided notion of maintaining stability in his absence. The decision backfired spectacularly, and the former Everton boss was dismissed within a season.
Louis Van Gaal arrived boasting the CV, gravitas and gargantuan ego befitting of such a role, but it was soon apparent that his best years were long behind him.
His turgid, over cautious brand of football was the antithesis of the United identity, or so the fans and former players proclaimed en masse. What’s more, his record in the transfer market was, at best, mixed.
He did return United to the Champions League, though they would be eliminated at the group stage this season, before being dispatched of by Liverpool in the Europa League.
A fifth place finish meant that even securing an FA Cup - the first piece of silverware since Ferguson’s departure - could not save his job.
It has subsequently emerged that the Dutchman had long since lost dressing room. But, even in December, when Mourinho and Chelsea parted ways for a second time, and United couldn’t buy a win, the Old Trafford hierarchy resisted calls to enlist his services.
We heard the same refrain from three years ago; Mourinho was too volatile and his style play was not commensurate with United’s traditions - a logic which made the retention of Van Gaal all the more bewildering.
But that’s water under the bridge now and, finally, Jose Mourinho is the manager of Manchester United.
Damien Duff won consecutive Premier League titles with Mourinho at Chelsea and he maintains that his former boss was the sole coach that could have, or should have, taken over from Ferguson.
“I think he’s the only man for the job,” he said at the launch of RTÉ’s coverage of Euro 2016 for which he'll serve as a panelist.
“I think he was the only man for the job three years ago, before Moyes went and then Van Gaal after.
“They can’t really afford to get it wrong again. I was a Man U fan growing up so they’re one of the biggest clubs in the world for me, but obviously they are a long, long way from it on the pitch.”
Because United’s biggest rivals have recruited marquee mangers, some of whom are yet to assume their position, Duff reckons that the act of hiring Mourinho was one of almost self-preservation. Already in the chasing pack, they risked losing sight of the elite altogether.
“He’s the only man, especially with the statement Man City have made with getting Pep Guardiola. You’ve got Klopp at Liverpool, Conte going down to Chelsea, so we’re talking about the best managers in the world here, so there was no one else you could give it to.”
As mentioned, some of United’s more recent acquisitions have, to put it mildly, failed to meet expectations. Perhaps only Daley Blind, Luke Shaw and Anthony Martial can say with a straight face that they’ve contributed to the cause in any meaningful way.
As such, Duff foresees a wholesale culling of the current group and a raft of expensive replacements to arrive soon thereafter.
Once Mourinho has procured the players best suited to carry out his instructions, he’ll quickly go about creating a siege mentality from within, the same one that has been a hallmark of all sides built in his image.
“He’ll do that, yeah (siege mentality). But before he does that I guess there’ll be five, six, seven or eight out, and he’ll have to replace them with the same amount of players, which is going to cost an awful lot of money.
“But it’s one big band of brothers, us against the world – that’s what he builds. He’s based all his teams on that.
“I don’t really know what happened at the end at Chelsea last season, but obviously the season before that mentality was there.”
Duff was quick to point out that Mourinho is so much more than some unhinged war monger, who only offers his players visions of paranoia and jagged chips to rest upon their shoulders. In reality, according to Duff, the former Real Madrid boss is a coach without parallel.
“He’s an amazing tactician, an amazing coach and the best I’ve ever worked with on the training ground. So I have no doubt that, even though you can’t say guaranteed silverware or guaranteed champions, he’ll be there or thereabouts next season.
“It’s been 10, 11 years since I’ve worked with him but I’d imagine it’s the same. He sets up all the sessions and has his tried and trusted coaches with him.
“That’s what you need these days, it’s not just one man because you can’t do it on your own – you need three or four with you. I guess it’ll be interesting to see what ex Man United player he brings in with him.”
The evidence clearly shows that, without fail, Mourinho adds to the trophy cabinet wherever he goes, but the real cause for scepticism is his volcanic persona.
Akin to clockwork, relations between the 53-year-old and his employers or players - often both – sour at some point in the third season at the helm.
The unavoidable truth is that rancour, unrest and bitterness are as synonymous with Mourinho as silverware.
Duff believes that United holds a romantic appeal for Mourinho and that it might be the one club where he can attain longevity.
“I think it’s a marriage made in heaven. I know he always said Chelsea was his club and he went back a second time, but I think Man United is his club.
“He’s always dreamed of managing there. I think they give you time, as you can see with Moyes and Van Gaal probably too long.
“I think it’s meant to be and I’d like to see him at United similar to what Ferguson did before.”