Modern economic theory is built on the mathematical technique called “constrained optimisation.” Resources are scarce and people are assumed to behave in a way that maximises their individual happiness given what they have. It is natural to extend this analysis to football clubs.
Manchester United, as a business entity, seeks to maximise its profit. To maximise profit, the Glazer family run club must achieve good results on the pitch – after all, few firms want to be the “regional partner” of a struggling club, where the relationship is essentially about reflected glory. In other words, the Glazers must pay close attention to matters on the football pitch if they indeed are rational, profit-seeking – some might argue profit-exploiting – businessmen.
The Glazers have so far behaved “rationally.” They have also delegated on-pitch matters entirely to the manager, perhaps to the detriment of the club.
United is falling behind other clubs in terms of structure, with many inside the industry viewing United’s scouting department, in particular, as antiquated, while the argument for hiring a director of football holds much merit. Yet, the behind-the-scenes backroom structure does not concern the Glazers greatly, especially if they intend to sell United sometime in the future – not unlike politicians who invest in industries that yield immediate profits, but not in social infrastructure.
At Old Trafford first-team football is the fruit-bearing industry. Alarmed by the Reds’ recent performances under Louis van Gaal, the Glazers and executive vice chairman Ed Woodward will be carefully considering a plethora of options available, including a replacement.
One feasible strategy could be to inject a lot more cash in the winter transfer market to keep United in contention for a place in the Champions League, and then go for Pep Guardiola come the summer. Van Gaal will surely not be allowed to see out his contract if the Bayern Munich manager can be convinced that Old Trafford is his best next step.
Should United lose out on Guardiola to Manchester City – a club that has tailored its structure around capturing the former Barcelona manager – the Reds will be in a particularly precarious situation. Jose Mourinho might be jobless, and seemingly waiting for Woodward’s phone call, but there is no guarantee that he will be available at the end of the season. For one, Rafa Benitez’s struggles at Real Madrid is such that the Spanish club might act in desperation and bring the ‘Special One’ back to Bernabeu.
Should Van Gaal complete his contract, which runs to 2017, both Guardiola and Mourinho will probably be unavailable; Carlo Ancelotti too. Elsewhere few élite managers will be available – Jurgen Klopp has made a mixed start as Liverpool manager, but is unlikely to have departed within the next 18 months, while Diego Simeone could well be managing Chelsea. With Arsene Wenger’s time at Arsenal winding down, the Gunners might also be searching for a replacement by summer 2017.
Meanwhile, there is little evidence, on the pitch or statistically, that supports the proposition that Ryan Giggs will become a leading manager, as romantic as the idea is. And at the end of the day United is not the Class of 92’s plaything.
The conclusion, even if Van Gaal does last out his contract, is that United will face a real challenge securing a manager proven and tested on the biggest stages. Or, in other words, United might have to settle for a lesser name or gamble on an up-and-coming younger coach come 2017.
That leaves Mourinho, who might charitably be described as being divisive and, perhaps not unfairly, often odious. His teams have sometimes played a brand of football even duller than Van Gaal’s, although there is no denying the former Real Madrid boss’ managerial pedigree. Mourinho is also available now. And the £7 million that it will cost the club to fire Van Gaal is little in the grand scheme of things. After all, United would struggle to recruit a much-needed and capable left-back for that kind of money. The club stands to lose a lot more should it fail to reach next season’s Champions League.
There appears to be little chance of securing Guardiola in the summer, while June 2017, when Van Gaal’s contract runs out, appears to be even more difficult. The opportunity to sign Mourinho now is thus even more urgent. If the goal is to secure a top manager at Old Trafford, then Van Gaal must surely go.
But the question remains as to whether there is any benefit in bringing in Mourinho. Van Gaal is struggling, but he has a chance to turn things around, just as Mourinho may not necessarily decelerate the Reds’ slide down the table. And should Mourinho be appointed and turn things around, as his CV suggests he might, then the Portuguese’s appointment would essentially amount to giving up on Guardiola for the next four years.
In this sense, if Van Gaal ultimately goes early, it is either Mourinho or Guardiola. Many supporters prefer Guardiola, whose football is based more on flair and positivity than the Machiavellian football Mourinho preaches.
Is there a realistic chance in appointing Guardiola? After all, the Spaniard did not bother to let Sir Alex Ferguson know of his move to Germany despite the Scot’s request that the pair keep in touch. There have been many reports suggesting that Guardiola is fascinated with United, although more reputable journalists, such as the Guardian’s Raphael Honingstein, consider City as Guardiola’s most likely destination.
Another crucial issue is whether United, currently sixth in the Premier League, will be in the Champions League next season with Van Gaal in charge. It would be an entirely different proposition for Guardiola to come to Old Trafford with the Reds out of Europe’s premier competition.
There are 19 games left with United only nine points behind Arsenal, with the Londoners an injury or two away from dropping points. An exceptionally strong second half of the season could conceivably see United sneak onto the podium.
In short, United would be betting an awful lot on capturing Guardiola should the Glazers and Woodward decide to pursue him in lieu of securing Mourinho now. Risk must always be in proportion to reward. While an argument can be made that Guardiola will bring more to the club than Mourinho, it is hard to argue that the Guardiola effect will be enough to offset the insane risk United would be taking by passing on Mourinho.