LONDON – Over the past six months, rarely has a day gone by when some newspaper has not run a story about Jose Mourinho taking over from Louis van Gaal. There has been a drip-drip of exclusives ranging from a pre-contract has been signed, an actual contract has been signed to the Portuguese’s wish-list of new players he wants to bring to Manchester United.
If Manchester City draws at Swansea on Sunday it will clinch fourth place and give Pep Guardiola Champions League football in his first season at the Etihad, relegating United to the Europa League, condemning the Reds to a second season in three years without Europe’s premier cup competition.
David Moyes, van Gaal’s predecessor, was sacked less than 48 hours after a top-four finish became mathematically impossible in 2013. Yet despite an avalanche of speculation, there has not been a single word from Ed Woodward, United’s executive vice chairman, who will make the decision about van Gaal and any successor.
Mourinho’s “friends” and “sources close to him” have told the press it’s a done deal. Just a matter of time before his appointment is rubber-stamped. A personal view is that if Mourinho had privately been assured by United the job was his, either by a pre-contract or a gentleman’s agreement, would he allow friends and sources to continue to feed the media stories undermining van Gaal?
If the former Chelsea manager had known since, say, February that he would be the next manager of United then surely he would have stopped the flow of leaks damaging not only to van Gaal, but also the club? There are influential figures at Old Trafford who are not overjoyed with the prospect of such a confrontational figure as Mourinho managing United and continual stories about him taking over from van Gaal would not impress the doubters.
Charlie Stillitano, chairman of Relevant Sports which runs the International Champions Cup series and a friend of Sir Alex Ferguson — admittedly not a source you would call definitive — revealed he’s been in close contact with Mourinho. Stillitano told U.S. satelite radio station SiriusXM: “I talk to Jose Mourinho a lot and I have no idea where he’s going. I don’t think he has any idea.”
In Mexico for a FIFA event, Mourinho said: “There is plenty of time,” when asked about his future. Make of that what you wish.
Last Tuesday, it was revealed van Gaal halted a potential deal to sign Benfica’s Renato Sanches, which many saw as an indication the Dutchman still has a major role in United’s summer transfer plans.
As The Japan Times went to print, Woodward was set to face questions from investors when he delivered United’s third-quarter results in a conference call. The subject of van Gaal’s future is bound to be raised, but the smart money would be on Woodward playing such questions with a straight bat.
As the season comes to a finale on Sunday, United must beat Bournemouth at Old Trafford, which it will almost certainly do, and hope Swansea beats City at the Liberty Stadium to deny its noisy neighbor Champions League football. United needs not so much hope but a prayer mat.
Most of the issues in a memorable, unpredictable Premier League have been decided. Leicester City is the champion, Tottenham and Arsenal have also secured Champions League places, Newcastle United, Norwich City and Aston Villa are on their way to the Championship. The focus on Sunday is on whether United can somehow pip City for the fourth Champions League place.
Van Gaal has made a habit of getting the right response from his players when the pressure seemed to be pushing him closer to the edge, though the 3-2 defeat at West Ham on Tuesday after leading 2-1 effectively ended United’s Champions League chances. United has reached the F.A. Cup final and victory over Crystal Palace at Wembley would at least prevent the season from being a total failure.
Yet there are some United supporters who would prefer their team to lose to Palace as it might mean van Gaal departing. At the moment United could still finish fourth and win the major domestic cup — the former is unlikely, but still possible. The problem is, a club with a tradition of exciting, attacking football has bored the pants off us in all but a handful of matches under the Dutchman.
Van Gaal is right when he said: “There is nothing inherently unacceptable in scrappy a 1-0 victory.” But scrappy football every week is unacceptable when you are Manchester United.
He has spent £260 million on new players. Anthony Martial and Daley Blind have been successes, Ander Herrera a positive, Luke Shaw has been injured most of the season, but Marcus Rojo, Morgan Schneiderlin, Matteo Darmian, Memphis Depay and Bastian Schweinsteiger have disappointed. Angel di Maria came from Real Madrid and went to PSG after a season with a loss of £15 million.
If van Gaal sees out the final year of his contract, there will be mass gloom among United fans at what they would see as another nine months of mind-numbing tedium. In an ideal world Mourinho’s unemployment would be ended by another club — United may not want him, but it needs someone to replace van Gaal and the list of viable candidates is almost a list of one.
Everton makes move: It was no surprise when Roberto Martinez was sacked by Everton on Thursday, the day after a 3-0 defeat by Sunderland, a result which saw the Black Cats preserve their Premier League status.
Everton has won only one of its last 10 Premier League games, losing six. If other results go against Everton on Sunday, the Toffees, who play relegated Norwich, could finish 16th.
This season, Martinez has presided over Everton’s worst home record in its history, losing eight of its 18 games to date.
Martinez, who joined Everton from Wigan in 2013, will leave with around £12 million in compensation.
His first season in charge was impressive, but the last two have seen bottom-half finishes. The Spaniard arrived with a reputation as an attacking coach, but Everton’s lack of backbone is highlighted by dropping 48 points from winning positions during his three-year tenure.
Young players such as John Stones and Ross Barkley have not progressed as hoped under Martinez. It has been obvious there was a rift between manager and players with so many dismal performances while there have been “Adios Martinez” and “Martinez Out” banners at Goodison Park.
The fans now have their wish with former Ajax coach Frank de Boer the favorite to succeed Martinez.
Christopher Davies was a longtime Premier League correspondent for the London Daily Telegraph.