Why Jose Mourinho will enjoy working with yes-man Ed Woodward at Manchester United
Ed Woodward, Manchester United’s executive vice-chairman, has developed a reputation within the game as the man who likes to say "yes" to his managers, so Jose Mourinho can forget about looking in the boardroom for conspiracy theories if, or more likely when, the fires begin to burn under his feet at Old Trafford.
Mourinho has few rivals when it comes to sparking conflict, internally and externally, when in charge of football clubs and United will be no different. It may take time, perhaps six months or more, but for the first time since Sir Alex Ferguson walked away from United in May 2013, the Football Association’s disciplinary department will be preparing for incoming missiles from Sir Matt Busby Way.
Yet the reality of the United hierarchy suggests that the usual Mourinho fault lines will be spared the friction and volatility that have triggered the eruptions at Real Madrid and Chelsea (twice) which have led to his inevitable departures from the Bernabeu and Stamford Bridge.
Interference from upstairs, in the shape of Real president Florentino Perez and Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich, coincided with the change in Mourinho’s personality which ultimately sparked disharmony in the dressing-room. In simple terms, once Mourinho feels threatened from above, those under his charge begin to reap the whirlwind – a destructive one at that.
Unlike Carlo Ancelotti, a man who succeeded him at both Chelsea and Real, Mourinho lacks the diplomacy and calm to turn the other cheek when the big boss begins to turn the screws.
In his new book, Quiet Leadership, Ancelotti offers a startling insight into the pressure and demands of working under the likes of Abramovich, Perez and Paris Saint-Germain’s demanding Qatari owners.
At Chelsea, Abramovich suggested Ancelotti favoured certain players, demanded he be "tougher" with the dressing-room and, on one occasion, summoned the manager to his London apartment for a "dressing down" after a 6-0 victory against West Bromwich Albion.
Ancelotti describes the incidents as "red flags", but while he was able to shrug them off, nonetheless aware of the likely outcome, Mourinho’s reaction to having Andrei Shevchenko foisted on him by Abramovich in 2007, and then denied top targets last summer, is unlikely to have been quite so measured and pragmatic.
At Real, Perez’s meddling extended to urging Ancelotti to work the players harder after a 22-game winning streak and summoning the Italian to a meeting to inform him that Gareth Bale wanted to play in a more central role, asking "what are you going to do about it?"
Perez’s support for the likes of Iker Casillas and Sergio Ramos during the breakdown of their relationship with Mourinho towards the end of his reign at Real was akin to pushing the Portuguese over a cliff, cue another meltdown, but life under Woodward will be different.
The former banker, promoted to the top job at Old Trafford by the Glazer family after transforming United’s commercial earnings, has sanctioned transfer spending in excess of £300m since replacing David Gill in the summer of 2013. During David Moyes’s brief spell in charge, Woodward offered Tottenham a £100m-plus deal for Bale and backed the Scot’s surprise decision to dispense with Ferguson’s backroom staff and appoint his own much-less experienced group of coaches.
When the axe fell on Moyes 10 months after his arrival, it was only after Woodward had resisted calls to dismiss him even sooner, having given the green light to the former Everton manager’s move to overhaul United’s scouting network and internal structure.
Similarly, Woodward allowed Louis van Gaal to operate in a culture of every wish being granted. Reduced commercial activities, new training pitches, wind-breaks erected at the training ground were just some of the boxes ticked behind the scenes, with record-breaking transfer deals signed off for the likes of Angel di Maria, Radamel Falcao and Anthony Martial.
Although Van Gaal was surprised by his dismissal at the weekend, the Dutchman made it clear on numerous occasions that Woodward and the Glazers had offered him unswerving support throughout his reign, on and off the pitch.
Mourinho will benefit from the same ‘can do’ ethos under Woodward at United, but the only risk is that the 53-year-old takes advantage and expects to be indulged, no matter what the circumstances.
Mike Forde, the co-author of Ancelotti’s book and director of football operations and executive board member at Chelsea between 2007 and 2013, believes that, for the appointment to succeed, the relationship between Mourinho and the boardroom has to be a healthy one.
“Both parties have to be incentivised and disciplined to make it work,” Forde said. “And if either the new management team or the club itself are not prepared to be open, honest and disciplined around this process then the probability of it working will be very low. It has to be a partnership. The Manager will bring a certain set of qualities and skills but then it's up to the organisation to work with him to create a plan.
“Jose walking into a situation like this is perfect for his strengths. There's slight chaos there and he's the guy who can bring leadership, experience and order - for a period of time. He is one of the best coaches in the world and he is very familiar in realigning teams around a common objective.
“I think that period is actually around two years, but it's maybe what they (United) are prepared to do given (Pep) Guardiola is in the Premier League now, (Jurgen) Klopp is going to be stronger next year, Arsene Wenger is always there or thereabouts. But two years at a major club like Manchester United - that is dynamic and evolving - is more normal than you think in this modern era.
“Ultimately in this process, removing a coach from his role and bringing a new coach in to replace him is actually the easy piece here. On-boarding, designing and delivering a unified strategy and plan where the club and head coach are on the same page and aligned is the 80% of whether the process works or not. This is why the whole process is difficult and why so many teams across all sports get it wrong.”
Some will argue it has taken United three years to appoint the only man capable of succeeding Ferguson, but the landscape is now a different one to that vacated by Ferguson in 2013. United are different and Mourinho is different, but the Portuguese will at least be given the freedom to get on with the job at Old Trafford.
Only time will show whether it proves to be too much of a good thing.
Independent News Service