Sir Alex Ferguson says that Manchester United must appoint an experienced manager as his successor, with the Scot likely to retire come summer 2012 at the latest. Little surprise then that Real Madrid boss José Mourinho has very publicly applied for the job this weekend. Mourinho’s contract at Madrid conveniently ends in 2012.
Such is Mourinho’s desire to manage Manchester United that only a boardroom impasse will halt the Portuguese coach’s appointment to the Old Trafford hotseat in 18 months time. Noises emanating from Mourinho’s camp in recent weeks have strongly suggested that even limited financial backing under the Glazer regime will not put the 47-year-old off.
While it is thought some Old Trafford insiders, such as Bobby Charlton, are not keen on appointing Mourinho, the weight of momentum seems firmly behind the former Inter Milan coach.
Indeed, Mourinho yesterday called the United job one fit only for a “special” manager. No heavy hint intended, of course. Although the coach, dubbed the “translator” in Barcelona after his spell in the city under Bobby Robson, does not expect the position to be vacated anytime soon. Not until 2012 that is.
“Football without Alex Ferguson? I’m not sure that will happen any day soon,” said the Real Madrid coach.
“The man lives and breathes football and Manchester United is his club. His hunger and desire to win the biggest trophies remains so I cannot see the day he considers walking away from football approaching.
“The Manchester United job is special and only a special manager is good enough to take the job on if and when it does become available.
“Of course, jobs like that don’t become available every day so the interest will be vast. It’s a job everyone will want.”
Mourinho will arrive at Old Trafford with plenty of baggage of course. The Portuguese’s monumental ego, often so extravagant that the line between coach and club is inseparable, too often crosses that unhealthy horizon between confidence and arrogance. It’s an accusation that can never be levelled at Ferguson, whatever his obvious fallibilities.
Ferguson, in his own mind at least, has become United and when he eventually retires this will come crashing down around his ears but for the moment it is often United’s source of unity and strength.
The former Porto coach also has limited track record of developing young players, although this is of little surprise given that Mourinho has failed to keep a job more than three years in a career that has already spanned six clubs at managerial level. In fairness to Mourinho his current side is packed with young talent, not that he played any part in their development of course.
Moreover, with the youth football market more globalised by the day, Ferguson hasn’t truly brought through a young Mancunian since Wes Brown in 1998. In the intervening years only John O’Shea, Jonny Evans and Darren Fletcher have made it out of United’s academy and into regular first team action. The rest – to many sadly – are ever younger imports from far afield.
This isn’t an explicit criticism of Ferguson though. It is harder than ever before to push local talent through an academy in the face of short-term pressures and the competitive global market for youth talent.
Another accusation levelled at Mou is that the coach needs huge funds to build a team. Certainly at Chelsea Roman Abramovich lavished Mourinho with unlimited funds. Who wouldn’t take them? Success came with Michael Essian, Didier Drogba and Petr Cech among others; many of the coach’s cheaper purchases failed though. Elsewhere, Mourinho’s success was built on more modest means.
Mixed success in the transfer market is true of most of the world’s leading coaches. Ferguson is certainly not immune to the criticism of failure in the transfer market – at either end of the scale.
Meanwhile, this summer’s purchases of Mesut Özil and Sami Khadeira by Mourinho for a combined £24 million arguably look better value than Ferguson’s similar sum spent on Chris Smalling, Javier Hernandez and Bébé. Angel di Maria cost significantly more but the Argentinian’s quality is such this season that it already looks like money well spent. The jury though is still out on €10 million Pedro Leon.
The point is not to compare as it is irrelevant but whatever the many drawbacks with Mourinho, United will probably be in safe, albeit short-term, hands.
Ferguson is a keen admirer and friend of Mourinho despite their long-standing rivalry in England. Implicitly the United manager endorsed Mourinho this week, subscribing to the view that the United job has specific requirements.
“I don’t think Manchester United could ever go down the road of having a young manager, to be honest with you,” said Ferguson after the Wayne Rooney contract saga concluded last week.
“It’s a job that needs a lot of experience at the top end of the game. We have the benefit of my 24 years at the club, so fortunately that’s the way we could deal with it.
“At Manchester United, you can never be surprised. There is always something happening in the club and there are always issues to deal with.
“To be manager of our club, you have to have someone strong who can deal with all these issues.”
Mourinho is certainly that but perhaps the criticism of the Setúbal-born coach that strikes most deeply at Old Trafford is of his teams’ style of play. Certainly Inter’s display at Camp Nou last season was one of the most negative witnessed in recent years. Chelsea rarely thrilled with attacking football under Mou.
But then comes the contradiction, with Real Madrid boasting a plus 20 goal difference after nine games this season. Arguably, Los Merengues is playing the best football on the planet.
Certainly better than anything United has come up with since Cristiano Ronaldo’s departure in summer 2008.
Mourinho is a figure many United fans love to hate. Reds may have just 18 months to get used to the idea.