Sport Soccer

Sunday 21 January 2018

Mourinho is wrong for United

Jose Mourinho. Photo: Getty Images
Jose Mourinho. Photo: Getty Images
James Lawton

James Lawton

It may not just have been Jose Mourinho's dream of a second straight Champions League title (his dream, but the nightmare of those who insist he is the dark side of football) that went up in smoke at the Bernabeu this week.

Another potential casualty is his loudly voiced hope that he will soon return triumphantly to the Premier League, probably as the new messiah of Manchester United.

That Mourinho is the man to succeed Alex Ferguson when he finally decides to walk away has become pretty much an article of faith around Old Trafford. No matter that he has a tendency to promote doomsday football -- his behaviour would have the founder of the United tradition, Matt Busby, raging in his grave.

Busby had a classic rebuke for anyone who he believed had sullied the name of the club he built with a vigour that was rarely less than reverential. He used it once when he marched on to the training field, immaculately suited, to remonstrate with a misbehaving player. He said, thunderously, "That isn't United."


What then would the old father figure have made of Mourinho's antics, and most of all his game plan, at the Bernabeu this week?

He would have been appalled. Of course, it could be said that Ferguson doesn't always pass the Busby litmus test of acceptable conduct. But there is one huge difference between the approaches of the Special One and the man who has given United unprecedented success.

It is that even in the worst of times -- into which category quite a bit of this current season can be placed, despite an astonishing ability to maintain challenges for both the Premier League and the Champions League -- Ferguson's instinct is to produce football based on a belief in its essential beauty.

He plays with width and craft and glories in the attacking instincts of players like Wayne Rooney and Javier Hernandez, habits of mind that are still provided by the living force of veterans like Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes.

Fergie would no more 'park the bus' than volunteer to spend three weeks on a desert island with Arsene Wenger. It is a distinction that those in power at United need to consider, at a time when the momentum behind Mourinho's proposed appointment had grown to its strongest point before Wednesday's 2-0 defeat of his Real by Barcelona in the semi-final first leg.

If there are anti-Mourinho forces at Old Trafford, they were certainly handed a potent new basis for their objections at the Bernabeu.

The supporters -- and the hierarchy of Real -- have become so desperate for success in all the lean years of Barca brilliance that they are plainly willing to win at any price -- a position which has provoked the disgust of the legendary honorary president Alfredo di Stefano.

The great man's claim that Mourinho's tactics were bringing shame to the club which, with his massive help, won the first European Cups and now have a total of nine, was shouted down in the wake of last week's Copa del Rey triumph over Barcelona in Valencia. But it will surely resurface in the wake of this week's ignominious defeat.

The Di Stefano argument was certainly enjoying a rampant new lease of life yesterday, after Wednesday's rancid version of El Clasico. He bemoaned the fact that Mourinho was failing to exploit the best of his resources, that he was presenting the once mighty Real as the mouse to be toyed with by Pep Guardiola's Barca.

He asserted that it was a duty of Mourinho to produce football that represented the tradition of the club. Yes, it was important to win but above everything was the pride in performance, in what you were attempting to do out on the field.

That Mourinho set his sights so much lower than this against the team some believe to be one of the greatest, if the not the greatest, club sides in history this week was not so much of a surprise. It was not the meeting of two talented football teams, but simply the Mourinho show. The pre-game psychological warfare was one thing; the result on the pitch was something deeper in its offence against football.

Barcelona were not exactly shining in their innocence, of course. The play-acting of Dani Alves -- which helped to earn Pepe another red card for Real -- Sergio Busquets and Pedro was nothing less than stomach-wrenching, but there was no question about who had drawn up the agenda.

In perhaps the most revealing moment of a night devoid of any great quality -- aside from the genius of Lionel Messi -- Cristiano Ronaldo looked imploringly towards his coach in the dugout.


Surely, he seemed to be saying, Real could do better than this; they could try to take something to Barcelona, detach them from their belief that the game was only theirs to win. They had players on the bench of the quality of Kaka, Karim Benzema and Gonzalo Higuain. They didn't have to play doomsday football. Yet Mourinho looked away; he was set on his course.

It was one of destruction, ideally of just Barcelona, but if football itself took heavy blows in the course of it, who really cared?

Well, maybe some at Manchester United will care a little more deeply when they consider the toll Jose Mourinho might exact on the meaning of Manchester United, on the legacies of men like George Best, Bobby Charlton, Denis Law and the Busby Babes.

On Tuesday night, United moved effortlessly towards the Champions League final. It is true that they were playing against a Schalke side scarcely fit for such an exalted purpose and there will be no guarantees if, as now seems certain, they meet Barcelona in a rematch of the 2009 final. Except for an extremely basic one, that is. They will go to Wembley to play football, they seek to produce the best of themselves. It is something, it is reasonable to guess, that would fall under the wheels of the Mourinho bandwagon that was jolted so horribly this week.

Irish Independent

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