Tuesday 23 January 2018

The people at Old Trafford will have to change – because their new boss won’t

Ed Woodward: Set for new appointment: Mike Egerton/PA Wire
Ed Woodward: Set for new appointment: Mike Egerton/PA Wire

Sam Wallace

Jose Mourinho has, by all accounts, been trying to leave his house this week to get a haircut, but every time he does so, the encampment of cameramen and photographers on his doorstep stand to attention and one of the richest football managers in the world has to rethink his plans.

A few streets away yesterday, at a hotel in west London, Ed Woodward, the Manchester United executive vice-chairman, met Jorge Mendes to retrieve the last of Mourinho’s intellectual property rights so heavily exploited by Chelsea’s commercial department. There was a time when a manager left with the contents of his desk in a box, but the era of the super-coach requires legal agreement over the legitimacy or otherwise of the stock in the club shop.

Even after leaving Chelsea, twice, and Real Madrid and Inter Milan and those other places that have staged the Mourinho show, nothing quite compares to his Old Trafford coronation, as this week’s frenzy has shown. At Chelsea and Madrid, the coach is no more than a consultant, a man who goes in to try to solve the problems for as long as he can until politics, results or personalities overwhelm him.

United are different, still made in the image of one man, Alex Ferguson, who, for all that was lost over the last three years, remains ubiquitous in the way United perceive themselves. Ferguson is United, for now at least, and it is his legacy that eventually obliterated David Moyes and then Louis van Gaal. That is what any new United manager is up against, and the challenge for Mourinho is to make United fans feel as good about their team and its place in the world, as Ferguson once did.

As for the suits, the fusing of two of English football’s most distinctive franchises is just the next slide in the marketing man’s presentation for future growth. These days even Batman and Superman share the same movie, so why not Mourinho and United?

If that notion makes you queasy then, in Mourinho’s defence, and for all the wealth he has accumulated, he has always been about the football first.

Of course, he knows his value down to the last euro, and you may not like the football his teams play, but his addiction to strategy, to the squeezing of the last competitive advantage; his hypersensitivity to any perception of unfairness – they are all genuine.

He knows it is a show in which he is a very well-paid participant, but he did not spend a 20-year apprenticeship as a gofer for the late Bobby Robson and others because he wanted to be famous. He did so because he wanted to be a great football manager.

Mourinho will not change. Those who know the man as he prepares to take on United in their fourth post-Ferguson season say that Mourinho’s principles are inviolate. He will play the Mourinho way, to win football matches, utilising as best he can the resources at his disposal.


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