Wednesday 21 March 2018

Comment: How Jose Mourinho is ending Alex Ferguson's stranglehold at Manchester United

Alex Ferguson and José Mourinho. Photo: PA
Alex Ferguson and José Mourinho. Photo: PA
Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho. Photo: Andrew Couldridge/Action Images via Reuters
Aidan O'Hara

Aidan O'Hara

When Riddick Bowe was explaining why he should be considered the best heavyweight fighter in the world despite his refusal to face Lennox Lewis, he stumbled upon a train of thought that required some concentration.

"I beat the man, who beat the man, who beat the man," explained Bowe back in 1993.

"You know what that makes me? The man."

Bowe's nickname was Big Daddy and it was mostly a result of his eating habits, which caused him to become Bigger Daddy, that he wasn't 'the man' for too long.

That said, his reign as a result of being the man who beat Evander Holyfield, who beat Buster Douglas, who beat Mike Tyson, was worth it just for that line.

At Manchester United, Jose Mourinho is now the man, who replaced the man, who replaced the man, who replaced the man and, unlike Bowe, he will enjoy wearing the crown

Manchester United's Paul Pogba must wait for his second debut
Manchester United's Paul Pogba must wait for his second debut

The shadow of Alex Ferguson still looms large over Old Trafford for any new manager - not least because his name is emblazoned across the stand facing the dugout.

Since the Premier League began there has only been one other season where United have faced into a campaign having failed to win any of the previous three titles.

That was from 2003-2006, when a combination of Arsenal's Invincibles and Mourinho's arrival at Chelsea put serious focus on what Ferguson's legacy would be at Old Trafford.

Ferguson, being 'the man' that he was, led United to the next three consecutive crowns.

David Moyes either wasn't backed or wasn't trusted fully to spend United's money, and in splurging £27.5million on Marouane Fellaini it's not difficult to see why.

The reverence which Moyes held for "Sir Alex" was never far from the surface, which was why the appointment of Louis van Gaal was meant to go back to the future, by getting the best out of young millionaires with a cranky pensioner who ruled with an iron fist.

Ryan Giggs has left Old Trafford
Ryan Giggs has left Old Trafford

United did at least dig deeper into their pockets for Van Gaal than they did for Moyes, but, with Ryan Giggs in the dugout and a cluster of former players spread across the media, the Ferguson influence - if not directly - was never far away in the minds of his disciples.

In allowing Giggs to leave, Mourinho took the first step in turning United towards being his club rather than Ferguson's, but nothing illustrates the shift in power better than the arrival of Paul Pogba.

He fits the Mourinho mould of a powerful midfielder with an eye for goal and, regardless of the transfer fee, he is just the sort of player that United need.

That said, he was exactly the type that Moyes and Van Gaal could have done with, but it's difficult to believe that they would have been allowed to go down that road, given that it would have been an implied yet blindingly obvious criticism of Ferguson's decision to let him go for nothing.

Had they tried to sign Zlatan Ibrahimovic or Henrikh Mkhitaryan, they would simply have been winding him up.

"There are one or two football agents I simply do not like. And Mino Raiola, Paul Pogba's agent, is one of them," wrote Ferguson in his last book, Leading.

"I distrusted him from the moment I met him. He became Zlatan Ibrahimovic's agent while he was playing for Ajax, and eventually he would end up representing Pogba, who was only 18 years old at the time.

"We had Paul under a three-year contract and it had a one-year renewal option which we were eager to sign. But Raiola suddenly appeared on the scene and our first meeting was a fiasco. He and I were like oil and water."

It's unlikely that Mourinho will ever write a book called Following, but were he to detail his first few months at United, he could hardly create a better template for anyone wishing to mark their territory as the new king of all they survey.

Ibrahimovic, Mkhitaryan and Pogba will all improve United's team, but it's a happy coincidence for Mourinho that none of them could be linked with Ferguson's influence, given that Raiola represents all three.

Short of urinating around Ferguson's old desk while giving the exclusive video to the BBC, it's difficult to see how Mourinho could have rubbed Ferguson's nose in it any clearer.

Given that they have probably helped him to make an eight-figure fee over the course of a few months, it would be a surprise not to see Raiola invited as a guest to Old Trafford, where a meeting with Ferguson would be one of those sideshows in which the Premier League specialises. It isn't the greatest soap opera in the world for nothing.

It might make for an uncomfortable moment for Ed Woodward, but if there happens to be a seat free beside both Ferguson and Raiola, there's no doubting where Woodward would park himself, because for this incarnation of United, Raiola has more influence than Ferguson.

Mourinho will, publicly at least, doff his cap to Ferguson, who, Jose claims, even trusted him enough to let him in on the secret that he was retiring.

In Mourinho's version of the story, the fact that he had already verbally committed to a return to Chelsea meant that he wasn't in a position to succeed Ferguson - and in football nobody ever breaks their word.

Of the 14 players who featured for United at Bournemouth yesterday, only three - David de Gea, Antonio Valencia and Wayne Rooney - played under Ferguson. Presuming Pogba makes his debut on Friday, that number will be four under Mourinho against Southampton.

A process that was meant to be seamless has taken United three years, as they rediscover the optimism which Ferguson left behind.

Mourinho is now relishing the role of being 'the man' and, unlike Bowe, he won't be backing away from any fight.

Irish Independent

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