LONDON – If nice guys finish second, it is easy to see why Manchester United believes Jose Mourinho can deliver another Premier League title.
The appointment of the Portuguese to succeed Louis van Gaal was one of the most cynical campaigns designed to undermine another manager I can remember. Manchester United prides itself on being a club that does things correctly. It has been as underhanded as the man it has just employed and Ed Woodward, executive vice-chairman, has shown why, in the eyes of many of the club’s supporters, he is only a whisker behind van Gaal in the (un)popularity stakes.
Stories about Mourinho succeeding van Gaal have monopolized the sports pages all year. It is obvious there had been some sort of gentlemen’s — though I am loathe to use the word — agreement between the former Chelsea manager, his agent Jorge Mendes and United.
So why did Mourinho’s team continue to give stories to the media?
And why didn’t Woodward put an end to publicity that, in the end, ridiculed the man who was still its manager and can hardly have helped the already fractious dressing room atmosphere?
The timing of the leak, just under an hour after United had beaten Crystal Palace 2-1 in the F.A. Cup final, confirming Mourinho was “set to” be named as manager, could hardly have been worse.
Where did it come from?
Here’s a clue: it wasn’t Manchester United.
Van Gaal did not deserve to see out the last year of his contract, but neither did he deserve to be treated so shabbily even if he left with a payoff of £5 million, which will soften the blow. The Dutchman had known he was a dead man walking ever since Champions League qualification was not possible and while the football was dire, the manager acted with a dignity lacking from United as he saw out the remaining weeks of the season.
Mourinho is a proven winner, a serial trophy collector, of that there can be no doubt. Eight titles in four countries, the Champions League with two different clubs, the UEFA Cup, F.A. Cup, three League Cups, the Spanish Cup and the Italian Cup is a magnificent CV.
Equally true is that he has tended to leave a trail of destruction at clubs where he worked. He is a man who thrives on confrontation, antagonism, sarcasm, provocation, contempt and disrespect.
A Special One?
More like a Specious One.
UEFA called him “an enemy of football.” Mourinho’s false accusations saw Anders Frisk receive death threats and prematurely end a career of one of the world’s top referees. The Portuguese has spent more time serving touchline and stadium bans than any other manager.
While with Real Madrid he poked a Barcelona coach in the eye. The Premier League found him guilty of tapping up Arsenal’s Ashley Cole. He is involved in ongoing sexual discrimination and constructive dismissal cases involving Chelsea’s former doctor Eva Caneiro. Mourinho even accepted a police caution for a quarantine offense involving his dog for heaven’s sake. He has been punished by every body of authority he could be.
Three years ago, United did not think Mourinho had the right image for the club. It is a measure of its desperation that it is now willing — happy may be going too far — to employ him. Sir Bobby Charlton, for one, will not be rushing to shake his hand. United has overlooked the baggage he brings and will no doubt add to because there is no one else, which is its own fault.
Van Gaal is no worse a manager now than he was a year ago. Then, United could have made overtures to Pep Guardiola, who will soon renew his bitter rivalry with Mourinho when he joins Manchester City. United allowed Carlo Ancelotti to succeed Guardiola at Bayern Munich and for Liverpool to sign Jurgen Klopp — the German would have been a perfect fit for Old Trafford.
It is stating the obvious to say United miss Sir Alex Ferguson. The team is also missing David Gill, its former chief executive, who would not have allowed three top managers to slip through United’s fingers as Woodward has.
And the sight of Woodward giving van Gaal a hug as he collected his medal at Wembley was pure Godfather — he had been negotiating with Mendes for months and here was a public show of affection. It reminded me of a line from Michael Corleone: “There are negotiations being made that are going to answer all of your questions and solve all of your problems.”
Woodward was soon to make van Gaal an offer he could not refuse — he sacked him.
The two years under van Gaal will be remembered with little affection by United players or fans. His straightjacket tactics were at odds with United’s traditions, though how the pragmatic Mourinho will put the smile on Old Trafford again remains to be seen.
Audition begins: Marcus Rashford will Friday start his bid to be part of England’s Euro 2016 squad, aware that however successful his international debut against Australia is, the Manchester United striker is destined to be one of the three players cut from the preliminary panel of 26.
Come Russia 2018, if Rashford continues to progress as he has started his career, he will be an England regular. For now, Rashford has a maximum of 90 minutes in an England shirt to somehow prove to Roy Hodgson he must go to France. This would mean dropping one of the designated strikers — Harry Kane, Jamie Vardy and Daniel Sturridge plus Wayne Rooney — or force Hodgson to leave out a player from another position to accommodate the teenager.
In his favor Rashford could be an effective impact substitute who has shown no signs of stage fright by scoring eight goals in 18 games for United this year. Against this, international finals tend to be where experienced players prove their worth rather than rookies. Spain and Germany, which have won the last four European Championships and World Cups, relied on the tried and trusted rather than any newcomers.
Vardy will miss Friday’s friendly because he was married on Wednesday, a wedding postponed from last summer due to England duties. Kane and Vardy scored the goals that saw England beat Turkey 2-1 last Sunday against Australia, Hodgson is likely to shuffle his pack with Rashford and Daniel Sturridge leading the line.
Christopher Davies was a longtime Premier League correspondent for the London Daily Telegraph.
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