Manchester United are slowly overcoming the post-Fergie malaise under Jose Mourinho. After a morose Moyes ‘era’, a short stint by club legend Ryan Giggs and the two years of false dawn under the insufferable dutch coach Louis Van Gaal, United decided to go for a proven winner in Jose Mourinho. 2 years after Mourinho’s appointment, for the first time in a long five years Manchester United will be enjoying two consecutive years in the Champions League and a second place finish. We reflect on Mourinho’s achievements with the English giants and on why we can expect United to challenge for major honors next season.
Back in the summer of 2016, even though LVG’s tenure ended in disappointment for all parties, ManUtd fans’ spirits were lifted by the arrival of a proven serial winner at Old Trafford. Mourinho started life at Old Trafford in style. The “Happy One” managed to lure legend of the game Zlatan Ibrahimovic himself, academy product and Juventus star Paul Pogba and one of the best Bundesliga players at the time in Henrik Mkhitaryan. Eric Bailly, the quietly impressive Ivory Coast international, would also prove to be one shrewd signing for the long term. Star players were once more being attracted to the idea of playing at Old Trafford. United had come a long way from the Moyes transfer window of 2013 where, after being linked to a long list of star players, the club only managed to sign Marouane Fellaini on deadline day. While everything was not perfect for the portuguese tactician in his first season, he did manage to win the Community Shield, League Cup and after a marathon campaign of 64 games, the Europa League trophy. Along with being the club’s first trophy in the competition, it was also an alternative way for direct Champions League qualification.
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In Jose’s second season, in came Romelu Lukaku and Nemanja Matic, two players who would quickly assert themselves as Mourinho’s lieutenants. The season started brilliantly with nine wins and one draw in the first ten games in all competitions, scoring 32 goals in the process. Lukaku, Mkhitaryan and Pogba were starting to click alongside the rocks Nemanja Matic and Antonio Valencia and the invariable brilliance of David de Gea. Anthony Martial looked at his best coming off the bench and finishing off tired opponents. However, fans and manager alike quickly understood that United did not yet have a team to dominate the EPL. United started being more and more inconsistent, sometimes having indifferent games on either side of a brilliant performance. To rub it in, Manchester City, under Mourinho’s arch-enemy Pep Guardiola, were absolutely flying on the other side of town. The season would prove to be a deeply frustrating one but now that we are at the end of the season, things do not look so bad for the red devils.
Compared to previous winners since 2010, except for the last two seasons, the 80 points United racked up were quite close to the total number of points for the EPL champions and in one case, equal. If it were not for the amazing season City were having, things would have looked less dour at Old Trafford. Moreover, this points haul is by far the highest since Sir Alex Ferguson retired. Mourinho has been at the pointing end of much criticism this year but the players should take a huge portion of the blame. The inconsistency of some first team players has had a big impact on the team’s form. Moreover, Mourinho had to deal with LVG’s sub-par signings and teachings, something which neither Guardiola nor Conte had to deal with.
|Year||Manager||ManUtd points||Champion – Points|
|2018||Mourinho||81||ManCity – 100|
|2017||Mourinho||69||Chelsea – 93|
|2016||LVG||66||Leicester – 81|
|2015||LVG||70||Chelsea – 87|
|2014||Moyes (34), Giggs (4)||64||ManCity – 86|
|2013||Sir Alex Ferguson||89||ManUnited – 89|
|2012||Sir Alex Ferguson||89||ManCity – 89|
|2011||Sir Alex Ferguson||80||ManUnited – 80|
There is reason enough for United fans to be excited and even defiant for next season. Mourinho has managed to acquire Arsenal’s talisman Alexis Sanchez in mid-season. After a summer with no World Cup for Chile, Sanchez will be well-rested and ready to fire on all cylinders next season. We reasonably can expect current stalwarts David de Gea, Nemanja Matic, Antonio Valencia, Ashley Young and Romelu Lukaku to continue to perform at a very high level. There is also the emergence of Scott McTominay, the successful loan spells for Andreas Pereira and Timothy Fosu-Mensah, the great promise shown by Alex Tuanzebe and Demetri Mitchell, not to mention the core of top quality young players already at Old Trafford (Rashford, Martial, Pogba, Bailly, Lindelof, Joel Pereira, Lingard). With the signing of Fred and Diogo Dalot (and maybe two more upcoming signings) in the summer transfer window, there is no doubt Manchester United will challenge on all fronts next season.
Mourinho has again and again shown his resilience in the hot seat at Old Trafford. From the endurance-testing Europa League campaign, to climbing above a mountain of criticism about playing inelegant football and rallying his players to a second place finish and FA cup final this season, the Portuguese master has been the MVP at Old Trafford. With United’s financial might growing under Ed Woodward and having owners who do not interfere in the coach’s work, Mou has a platform to build a world class team. Losing long time friend and assistant Rui Faria will certainly be a blow but a certain Michael Carrick will now join the ranks as a coach. The former United captain will be instrumental in bridging the gap between the coaching team and the players. He could help reduce inconsistencies in players’ performances. Stefano Rapetti, formerly from Inter Milan and Sampdoria, has also joined Mou’s backroom staff, alongside highly rated youth coach Kieran McKenna.
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It is easy to focus on a few really bad games, dismiss Mourinho’s amazing work and brand ManUtd a has-been club but let’s not bias our opinions by reading too much in analysis of the game provided by fickle-minded pundits and the craze for sensationalism that has now encrusted modern-day journalism. Equally unfair is the constant comparison with the success enjoyed under Sir Alex Ferguson. Fergie’s tenure was 26 years long, not 2 years, and in those 26 years there were some years where United were quite poor. As ex-player Gary Neville beautifully put it recently, the team from 2003-2006 was not the best. United at that time were getting battered while a certain Mourinho was winning the league at Chelsea. 3 years after that time period, United won the UCL. So why do we compare Mourinho’s two years with only the successful years from the Ferguson era and not periods like the one from 2003-2006?
“Under David Moyes, Louis van Gaal and Jose Mourinho it’s been suggested the football is not very good,” Neville said. “And every game that goes by Sir Alex Ferguson’s football gets better and better because you forget the bad games, the 1-0s, the horrible defeats.”
“I think we’ve become a bit idealistic about what the football was at times under Sir Alex. I was there for a large part of it, 21 years, and saw every game.
Yes, it was mesmerising at times, but from 2003 to 2006 it wasn’t good. I played in that team, it wasn’t good. We weren’t playing at a high level. We were pretty average.
So you think about this three-year period or so now and what are you measuring against? Sir Alex’s 1999 or the 2003-2006 period when the football was pretty poor and Jose Mourinho was at Chelsea and destroying us?“
If we avoid too much comparison with the Ferguson era, look at straight facts, factor in United’s profitability as a business and the ability to attract and retain top players, we can, within the bounds of reason and logic, say that the club is on the up and progress is being made under Jose Mourinho. Sir Alex Ferguson casts a huge shadow, in which it is sometimes hard for fans to notice the brilliant manager Manchester United currently has but rest assured ManUtd fans, the Red Devils will soon be back as a force to be reckoned with in Europe.
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