Wednesday 11 December 2019

Trapped between tradition and surrender

Manchester United know nothing will ever be the same again if they appoint Jose Mourinho

Louis van Gaal
Louis van Gaal

Dion Fanning

This week, it may come to an end. A defeat at Shrewsbury tomorrow night and Louis van Gaal's time will be up. Unless somebody hastily comes up with an alternative vision, Manchester United will then turn to Jose Mourinho.

There are other candidates who would be better at implementing a long-term plan which may or may not still be part of United's strategy, but only Mourinho is the compelling seducer who can take away all the club's problems with management's equivalent of a foot rub.

But Manchester United may have to wait until the summer for Mourinho, a wait which will increase the sense of impatience, the feeling many Manchester United fans have that only Jose can save them now. United might have challenged for the title if Mourinho had arrived late last year and provided that short-term burst of hope which he is so good at, but Ed Woodward didn't act.

After Manchester United's victory against Derby County, Van Gaal talked about the bottle of wine that was waiting for him at home, a gift from Woodward for beating Liverpool. Woodward is close to Van Gaal, but he also needed the manager to succeed to solidify his own position within the club. Alex Ferguson might have appointed David Moyes, but since then Woodward has taken control.

He developed a friendship with Jorge Mendes which saw Angel di Maria and Radamel Falcao arrive at the club, but which may be even more meaningful in the coming months.

There are said to be reservations among some at United about appointing Mourinho, which explains why Moyes was given the job in 2013.

It isn't hard to construct a sound case against Mourinho, although it becomes more flimsy when Moyes is presented as the final rebuttal of the argument. If Mourinho is capable of scrambling their brains to this extent before he has got the job, it is hard not to worry for Woodward and Manchester United once he is inside the club. He has reportedly committed to observing the values of Manchester United so in theory there should be no reason to be fearful.

In the meantime, reports have suggested that Ryan Giggs will leave the club if he is offered the job as caretaker if Van Gaal is sacked. Giggs, who has no managerial experience apart from four games as caretaker when Moyes was dismissed, wants the job on a permanent basis.

"United are increasingly concerned they could stand to lose club legend Giggs in the looming Old Trafford shake-up," The Mirror reported last week.

Paul Scholes, on the other hand, is ready to return to the club and help out. Scholes has been a vocal critic of Van Gaal but he is ready to return and assist Manchester United rediscover their identity.

The Manchester Evening News reported that, "Scholes has confided that he is keen to step into coaching and management as soon as possible. Despite establishing himself as one of the most authoritative football voices in broadcasting, he is known to be indifferent about working in the media. But he does not intend to go cap in hand to his former club as much as he would like the chance to return."

The report also noted that Nicky Butt was appointed last week as the head of United's academy so there is a logic to Scholes returning, especially if you believe in the importance of the Class of '92, as the Class of '92 themselves certainly do.

Meanwhile the club's sponsors adidas released some new merchandise with the slogan, 'Duty to Entertain - Red Devils'. Last month, Herbert Hainer, the chief executive, expressed satisfaction with the deal with United, but added "even if the current playing style of Manchester United is not exactly what we want to see".

This is Manchester United in 2016. Trapped between competing forces of tradition and surrender. Do they allow the Class of '92 the freedom to return the club to what they believe is the Manchester United way or do they allow Mourinho in through the gates, an acknowledgment that nothing will ever be the same again?

Their choices reflect the sense of bewilderment that has affected the club since 2013.

Some may wonder how the retirement of 71-year-old Alex Ferguson seemed to take Manchester United by surprise, but the battles for control which have been fought since his departure also demonstrate how much power was held by just one man.

Manchester United have emerged blinking into the 21st century, unsure of how things are done in the brave new world when so much had been taken care of previously by Ferguson and David Gill.

So many teams beat Manchester United these days that it is almost pointless to look for meaning in any defeat, but it was notable that they lost on Thursday night to a team in FC Midtjylland who have a clear-eyed approach to all aspects of running a club. United, on the other hand, are about to close their eyes and hand things over to Mourinho.

When Moyes was appointed, he was given a six-year contract which he felt was the starting point for him to be characteristically deliberate and methodical. He left as committed to that project as when he started, but Manchester United had realised something else: in the modern era, they needed someone who was comfortable with the size of the club, not somebody in awe of it.

It was said then that Manchester United were not a "sacking club", but they have discovered that the only reason for that idea was success. They were as committed to the idea of stability as any club that was experiencing a phenomenal 20-year run of glory could be, but what they were committed to more than anything was winning.

Moyes was sacrificed when that couldn't be achieved. Van Gaal's problems have been described as problems of style and a failure to understand the swashbuckling heritage of the club, but he is on the brink because United are losing all the time.

Mourinho would not be a contender if United wanted to play with style. He is the probable replacement because United need results and they need a personality who can compete with Pep Guardiola at Manchester City. Some feel Guardiola would have preferred an opportunity to coach at United, but City's strategy for wooing him was so thorough that United could not compete and they decided not to compete.

If they had more direction, they could have decided that Mauricio Pochettino was a better choice. Pochettino has not won all that Mourinho has, but he is 10 years younger and he has not caused the same chaos either.

Mourinho, on the other hand, offers certainty. For a club that is plagued with doubt and has been pulled in several directions, that might be the thing they crave most of all. They have no idea what they want to be, so it is understandable if they want a return to the days when one man had all the answers, when one man had the power and control.

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