Ian is a Manchester united fan. He has been Supporting Manchester united since 1998. He enjoys playing and analyzing soccer
It was always going to be a challenge replacing one of the most successful managers of European football, and the past years have proved that finding the right manager to provide continuity for the glory days brought by sir Alex Ferguson is no simple task.
The leadership, at Manchester United, made an error when they decided to sack Jose Mourinho and this article explains why.
1. The decision to sack was rushed
Part of the problem was what Manchester United is said to be about. In an attempt to address this identity issue, the leadership at the club succumbed to pressure from the fans and rushed the decision.
On one side, there was agitation to play football in what many fans refer to as the Manchester United way (which to me is the Alex Ferguson way). Then there was winning trophies and grooming young talent. This has brought clouding in understanding what Manchester United is about.
Manchester United is about playing good football and being a dominant footballing force in Europe, by winning major trophies.
Jose Mourinho was the best manager for the enormous job of rebuilding while competing with the best at the same time. He had proved in his first season, that he knew how to win. Glimpses of good football had been seen at the beginning of his second season. He simply needed time to consolidate.
Playing good football doesn’t necessarily mean playing the Alex Ferguson way, or the Pep Guardiola way. It’s about an efficient balance between attacking and defending.
Unless this is accepted, Manchester United will continue hunting for the right manager, and stay far away from being a major European force for a while.
2. They failed to recognize the progress under Mourinho
According to the evening standard, some of the reasons for sacking Mourinho included the style of play, failure to progress on the pitch, and lack of development of young players. This was clearly an error in analysis.
Developing young players.
Manchester united leadership failed to realize a crucial aspect of progress in developing young players that was being fronted by Jose Mourinho, which is building a team with a foundation of discipline, character, and maturity. The manager was not supported to exert his authority. This is detrimental to the development of young players, and the long-term stability of the team.
Mourinho trusted Rashford with more playing time than any other manager had trusted a similar youngster. But in addition, he helped develop Mctominay, Jesse Lingard, Luke Shaw, and Anthony Martial into mature players.
Manchester United failed to appreciate the progress he was making in getting maturity and a strong mentality out of the players. Anthony Martial and Luke Shaw are the perfect examples of the work he was doing. But Manchester United fans chose to label it as negativity, and the board succumbed.
It is said that Mourinho’s United wasn’t exhibiting the united way of playing. In firing Mourinho, they chose an elusive style of playing, over building a strong team.
While criticizing his style of play is acceptable, it’s important to be a bit objective.
Those who blamed him for playing too defensive don’t care to remember, how he set up against Chelsea, Arsenal, and Fulham in his final weeks. In all those games, Man united played with fluidity allowing Martial, Mata, Lingard, and Rashford to flourish. Rashford emerged as the best player in each of those games.
He was showing more belief in his attacking players, and a willingness to play good football. He just needed time and the right attitude from the players.
The Manchester united way is to win. They've never been a team that played the prettiest soccer in England or Europe. What made them a standout force under Alex Ferguson was their speed on the counter-attack and in the flanks.
This is the Mourinho way. His teams typically play on the break, but with more composure and discipline, and tactical awareness, approaching each opponent as they come.
One of Mourinho’s strengths is game reading. He’s got the ability to read opponents’ tactics and find solutions to them, as the game is unfolding. Even if it means making difficult substitutions.
What fans call the Manchester united way, is having the attackers run into spaces created by the opponent. This is effective if the opponent decides to play with spaces. But what happens if the opponent closes out all the spaces?
What happens if the opponent is better at exploiting the spaces? Is the team capable of closing those spaces effectively?
This is what Mourinho was trying to address. The team must be able to adapt to the opponent as the game unfolds.
Mourinho’s crime at Man united was asking his midfielders to be more disciplined in their positioning, to cover the weaknesses in defense.
No top-level team plays without discipline off the ball. Unfortunately, Manchester united hierarchy fell for the players’ sulking and pressure from fans and former players.
It's quite clear that many of the players weren't world-class, but Manchester United leadership chose them over one of the best managers in the world.
3. They let go of a manager capable of developing strong character among the players.
Jose Mourinho was the best manager at Manchester united since sir Alex Ferguson.
His time at FC Porto and Inter Millan is proof of his ability to build a team with strong character, capable of winning against all odds. But Manchester united chose to let him go, rather than give him time to build.
When he signed for Manchester United, Mourinho’s dream was to re-build and develop a footballing force. It was a challenge he embraced.
It’s evident by some of the signings he made. Paul Pogba had established himself at Juventus as a world-class player. Jose was prepared to build his team around Paul.
Eric Bailly and Fred are typical examples of players with unquestionable talent and potential. They are typical Manchester united players, strong, fast and skillful. Unfortunately, Jose was not given enough time to develop them into a team of complete players.
These players have potential, but they need a strong manager who isn’t afraid of pointing out their weaknesses so that they can grow both physically and mentally. Mental strength is vital for any top athlete. If an athlete crumbles under criticism, all they can ever be is someone with potential.
One thing that made sir Alex Ferguson the greatest of all time, is that he was allowed the status of a 'god' at Manchester united. It was either his way, or you were out. Even the great David Beckham, Jaap Stam, Christiano Ronaldo, and Ruud Van Nistelrooy tested his wrath. That’s what sustained Manchester united as a formidable team. There was authority, and everyone knew where that authority was.
This is exactly what Mourinho was building at Manchester united, and given time, it would have worked. The manager needs authority to determine team tactics, and not get questioned by his players, at least not in public. The club didn’t afford him time to make it work. They chose the quick fix.
4. They went against the very things that made Manchester United fierce
By firing Mourinho because of his stance on players, Manchester united went against the very things that made them a formidable football club.
In the Fergie days, playing for Manchester United wasn’t about dillydallying. You had to put in a shift every time you got onto the pitch. It was never about complaining over your position on the pitch. Once you were on it, you had to perform or be benched.
Mourinho wanted this back but was labeled combative and too critical of his players. Perhaps a word of caution to him would have sufficed.
Instead, they went looking to restore the feel-good factor.
Evidently, some of the players were culpable for the toxic environment at old Trafford.
How sustainable is the newly found feel-good factor if the foundation upon which it is built is more sentimental than realistic?
The problem in Manchester United’s rebuilding process is made worse by the unrelenting desire to measure progress on developing world-class academy graduates, which is not a bad thing in its self, but it's making the confusion in the transition worse by blinding them to some of the realities that have made big teams dominant.
The teams that have sustained themselves as European giants thrive on buying the best players.
Real Madrid, Barcelona, and Juventus are the best examples. They have made it a habit to buy the best players and blend them with the raw talent from their academies to aid the learning process.
Even sir Alex Ferguson did it with Eric Cantona, Andy Cole, Ruud Van Nistelrooy, among others.
This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.
© 2019 Ian Batanda