Old Trafford will bounce to the chant of “José Mourinho” for the next three seasons, with the Portuguese finally taking control of the club he has always wanted to manage. Mourinho might not host his first press conference until July, but the 53-year-old’s work is underway within a week of his managerial announcement. And there is plenty of work to do.
Mourinho has inherited a squad that is not built to win the league, with flaws in too many areas, and a group of players that have done little to earn a place at the club. Fans have gotten used to stale football, at home and on the road, while executive vice chairman Ed Woodward’s fumbling off-the-field has soured the club’s reputation in the transfer market. Can Mourinho help turn the club around? Rant looks at five musts for the new manager as he begins his Old Trafford reign.
Clear out the deadwood
There are too many players that ill-deserve a future at Old Trafford. Where Louis van Gaal started a transformation, Mourinho is likely to be ruthless clearing out under-performing stars. There is no room for sentimentality three years after Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement; the new manager will remove any players not fit to contribute going forward.
The list of potential departures is not short either: Sergio Romero, Marcos Rojo, Phil Jones, Daley Blind, Paddy McNair, Marouane Fellaini, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Adnan Januzaj, Juan Mata, Ashley Young and Memphis Depay will all wait nervously until the end of the transfer window. Any meeting with the manager might end with the news that a player no longer has a future at the club.
Not all will go, of course, but it’s already clear that not all can stay either. In finishing seventh, fourth and fifth, there’s a cultural and mental issue at the club. Those playing a part in the negativity need to go.
Decide Wayne Rooney’s future
The conundrum every manager has faced since Ferguson’s retirement: how to get the best out of Wayne Rooney. After all, Rooney is paid £300,000 per week, with £48 million remaining on the albatross of a contract signed when David Moyes was in charge.
Rooney no longer has the ability to play as a striker, having been surpassed by Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford in the squad. It is likely that any incoming striker, such as Zlatan Ibrahimović, will be of superior quality to Rooney as well. Yet, it’s doubtful Rooney has the vision or touch to perform at number 10 either.
In response, as has become the usual process with Rooney, the Scouser is likely to be crowbarred into another position. Given that Rooney has lost some of his physical talents with age a place on the wing is no longer an option – particularly with Mourinho preferring fast, counter-attacking, inverted wingers.
The most realistic option is central midfield, which worked to a point this season, with some good performances in the middle of the park towards the end of the campaign. Yet, Mourinho is also likely to sign a player who is a more natural fit in that role – if he employs it at all tactically – during the transfer window, with Miralem Pjanic reportedly on the radar.
Whatever his future role, the England and United captain holds significant clout in the dressing room and has never tolerated being benched. He’s also a brilliant marketing tool for Woodward, while his contract makes him a very difficult player to move on. Rooney will stay; where he fits is more difficult.
Complete United’s transfer business early
United has spent the entirety of the Woodward era bumbling transfer business and scrambling at the last-minute to complete deals. It has, at times, embarrassed the club and ultimately too many of the wrong players have been signed. Desperation has not led to good results, as Radamel Falcao might prove.
Mourinho does not traditionally operate this way in the transfer market – on and off field the Portuguese is completely ruthless. History suggests Mourinho likes his business conducted swiftly, sometimes even before pre-season has resumed.
Media rumours about a number of potential recruits is par for the course – there are, literally, hundreds of stories of this nature every summer. It generates hits and paper sales. Yet, if Woodward – and Jorge Mendes for that matter – can come through early it will go a long way to kicking off Mourinho’s era in a strong fashion. The club is far enough behind the 8-ball as it is.
Bring excitement back to Old Trafford
Remember excitement? Fun? Joy? That feeling when fans are brought off their seats by the thrill of efficient-counter attacking, or superb passing and movement that creates a goal scoring chance. It feels like a long time since Old Trafford has enjoyed that feeling.
Despite his doubters Mourinho can certainly bring that back. In his three-year reign at Real Madrid, Mourinho’s side outscored Barcelona twice, eclipsing 100 goals and setting a La Liga record in the process. The manager’s best sides, apart from his defensive Inter Milan unit, were merciless counter-attacking teams, with speed and skill, that were built on a strong midfield and defensive spine.
That sounds like exactly the sort of thing United fans want to see!
Prove the critics wrong
While not a priority compared to the aforementioned list, Mourinho’s motivation to move on from his failure at Chelsea is important. Mourinho has many critics, even fans now supporting him once chanted “f*ck off Mourinho” for years. Yet, he’s thrived on the hate of others for years too. He will certainly feel that as United manager, with the club the most widely despised – and loved – in England.
The club’s new manager will attract the hate of opposition fans for sure. After all, people have ached for United to fail for years, and will yearn for it once more if there is even a hint of the club returning to its former glory. Mourinho has the ability to prove his critics wrong, and make the hate stronger in the process. He will love it.
Feeding this dynamic is the control Mourinho has been vested, and his acceptance of the lead role at the club he has long wanted to join. Mourinho can shape the squad the way he likes, make them play the way he wants, and take down his rivals in the process. Now fans will get to see if he can pull it off.