Sunday 21 January 2018

United welcome their nuclear option

A whirlwind is set to rip through Old Trafford but Mourinho will exorcise ghost of Fergie

Jose Mourinho will officially be unveiled as Manchester United manager today Photo: Alex Livesey/Getty Images
Jose Mourinho will officially be unveiled as Manchester United manager today Photo: Alex Livesey/Getty Images

Ian Herbert

It was what Alex Ferguson didn't say about Jose Mourinho in his autobiography which was most significant.

Not a word on why he hadn't encouraged Manchester United to make him his successor in 2014; just references which indicated he always felt there was more to Mourinho's success at Chelsea than man-management.

"He is a greater leader and spectacular manager but it did not hurt that he spent £100m during his first season at Chelsea," Ferguson wrote. Mourinho's way certainly doesn't equate with his own.

The events of the past four days, with United committing £200,000-a-week to 34-year-old Zlatan Ibrahimovic, then allowing Ryan Giggs to walk away, represent what Ferguson would always have feared Mourinho might bring.

The pursuit of Juventus' Paul Pogba, in what may prove to be an £80m transfer, would also be anathema to the former manager, and embarrassing, since it was his distaste for the French midfielder's demands for money which persuaded him to let him leave for nothing, only four years ago.


But for all that, the man who be unveiled shortly before 11am in Old Trafford today- the third new manager to be presented in as many years - has the capacity to extinguish the ghost of Ferguson.

That alone makes his arrival deeply necessary. As Ferguson's successors have fallen by the wayside, the collective memory of his achievements has grown to such a level that it haunts the club. A nuclear option is required to allow United to leave the past behind.

Mourinho is not good news for the career prospects of United's academy players. The potential of a chance discovery - which Marcus Rashford and Tim Fosu Mensah were last season - immediately recede. But so will the shadow of Ferguson on the wall.

Expect Ferguson to feature today, as he has generally tended to do on these introductory occasions.

David Moyes' first mention of Ferguson came 16 words into his own first press conference. It was 18 minutes before Louis van Gaal referenced "Sir Alec" in his. With his keen ear for choreography, Mourinho will lean closer towards the Moyes method.

Wayne Rooney has been central to the discussion on the two previous such occasions. It was two summers ago that Mourinho attempted to sign him from United after returning as Chelsea manager. Mourinho has already made the right noises - last week declaring Rooney to be England's best "for over a decade."

But the balance of dependency between player and club has shifted since Moyes fended off Mourinho and Rooney signed a new contract in February 2014. Still new to the midfield role Van Gaal eventually found for him, his future is more uncertain now.

The challenge for Rooney will be greater if Pogba does arrive, with the view from France yesterday being that the appeal of playing for Mourinho makes that a growing prospect. United's past two years have been far more about demonstrating they are still a world power as actually becoming one and the statement of intent Pogba would represent heightens the appeal of securing him.

Ibrahimovic appeals for the same reason. He brings razzle-dazzle into a side which had begun to look grey under van Gaal, and a level of attraction that will help the club to expand the range of commercial partners which allow them to fund those players who might provide a greater guarantee of success.

The prospect of Ibrahimovic matching the 38 goals he brought in 51 PSG appearances last season is more remote amid the far greater competition of the Premier League. Not in the remotest circumstance would Ferguson have sanctioned putting a 34-year-old in the upper echelons of the wage structure. He only paid out heavy to deprive other clubs of players they wanted to keep.

This is what Mourinho brings, though: spending, churn, gambles, waste, suffering for those who fail to deliver quickly. And trophies. And box office stories.

It helps that he will find far fewer impediments to shaping United's spending to his will than at Chelsea or Real Madrid, with no technical director standing in his way.

Not since his four years as a Barcelona's assistant manager, in the last century, has Mourinho lasted more than 72 months in one place and no one will be betting the house on this being anything other than a whirlwind ripping through Old Trafford.

By 2020, United will probably be starting again, though the achievements of Ferguson will at probably have been laid to rest.

"For me the challenge is always first and not fourth," Van Gaal said at his introductory press conference, which was ironic in retrospect. For Mourinho, fourth does not even enter the conversation.

Independent News Service

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