Friday 19 July 2019

Jason Burt: 'Red Devils need a reset more than they need Mourinho'

Beleaguered manager doesn't fit in with United's new plan to recruit director of football, writes Jason Burt

A frustrated Jose Mourinho in conversation with his assistants at Anfield. Photo: PA
A frustrated Jose Mourinho in conversation with his assistants at Anfield. Photo: PA

Jason Burt

Manchester United would like a director of football or sporting director, call it what you will. The club are acutely aware of the need for someone to fulfil the role and have been planning for it, considering what it will entail and how they can make it work for a long time. Now they need to act.

They are one of the biggest clubs in world football and it is anachronistic that they are so out of step with their rivals, especially considering the hundreds of millions they have invested in the transfer market with such little return.

The key question for United is this: do they have a manager in Jose Mourinho who would accept such a structure? And, it is understood, given some of the soundings they have made, would whoever they choose to hire want to work with him? That is the nub.

It is an issue that goes to the heart of United and where they are going and, by extension, to the heart of whether Mourinho should remain as manager. They stand accused, after the defeat away to Liverpool, of lacking direction, identity and, even, soul.

That may be a bit over the top, given that it is only the football operation which is, frankly, a mess, but that is a big "only". The football should be the most important part, which opens up the accusations of where the priorities lie for the owners, the Glazer family, and the executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward. At the very least, what United certainly need, to borrow a word from Gary Neville, is a "reset".

It is said that Mourinho is not against the director of football model in principle, and why should he be, considering he has worked under it in the past - although not so well at Chelsea. The problem is that he appears to want it to be his appointment, which is why the name of Luis Campos, a 54-year-old Portuguese who is the director of football at Lille, has been repeatedly floated.

Campos worked with Mourinho at Real Madrid, where he was a scout, and was also technical director at Monaco and is close to Mourinho's agent Jorge Mendes.

There is nothing unusual in that but, not least in terms of good management, it is not right that a manager and a sporting director should have such a relationship and also be linked through an agent. United will be aware of the link.

So, United appear to have reached an impasse on what will be one of the most important appointments in the club's recent history. It appears set to be delayed - and delayed until when? There is an obvious conclusion.

Meanwhile, United reject suggestions that they are outdated and point, for example, to the fact that they are to beat a host of European clubs to the signing of Noam Emeran, the 16-year-old French wonderkid, from Amiens.

The scouting systems at United have been updated and overhauled, while it is an ongoing process at the academy. There is a lot of work still to do, but to suggest that they are behind the times in every aspect is harsh.

There is an obvious conclusion to be drawn from this issue, which appears to sum up the malaise at United: Mourinho will have to go if the club are to modernise because he is not the kind of manager to fit into the changes that are needed.

United require someone to oversee recruitment and to look after the long-term direction of the football side of the club - from first-team contracts to signings, through to the appointment of a manager and down to scouting and youth development.

There is mitigation in that it was always going to be difficult to have all this in place when United had Alex Ferguson as manager, given his unique success and the breadth of his role. But they have been highly complacent since then, with a series of old-fashioned appointments and managers tasked to, well, sort it out.

It has led to a situation where no one appears to know who has the final word on signings and who is behind decisions such as Chris Smalling receiving a new, extended contract.

Or a situation where Mourinho can walk into a post-match press conference and drop the names of Liverpool players - Andrew Robertson, Sadio Mane, Mohamed Salah, Georginio Wijnaldum, Naby Keita and Fabinho - as effectively superior to what he has available. All have arrived at Anfield since Mourinho took over at United, with the manager then dismissing a large part of his squad as little more than injury-prone and unreliable. That is corrosive stuff.

With every setback Mourinhothrows these grenades, suggesting the problems are theirs and not his. It has led to a schism, with the fans split between supporting the manager or a club.

In Bring the Noise, Raphael Honigstein's biography of Jurgen Klopp, it is said that Woodward's sales pitch to the German to become United manager was that the club were "like an adult version of Disneyland".

Beyond not actually making sense, it is a description that does not work and chimes with the verdict of another stellar manager whom United had previously tried to hire who came away from the discussion to alarmingly conclude: I do not know what they want. He went elsewhere.

What United need now is change. The key to that is hiring a sporting director to create the right culture.

With Mourinho, they have tried a manager who has the personality, the track record and the confidence to fast-track that change. It has not worked.

They need that reset more than ever, and the hard reality is they need it more than they need Mourinho. (© Daily Telegraph, Londdon)

Telegraph.co.uk

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