Manchester United, unlike Chelsea and Real Madrid, appear willing to take plunge with Mourinho

The Portuguese manager has a tendency to spiral out of control. His previous clubs have cut ties, but Manchester United are going along for the ride.


(Photo credit: Tsutomu Takasu)

We’ve seen this before. 

The leaks from an unhappy dressing room. Defensive monologues that last over 10 minutes. Throwing players under the bus and reminding superstars that their place is not infallible. A wild-eyed paranoia that his squad betrays his genius. It’s well established now that this is who Jose Mourinho is.

“A United coach wouldn’t do what he did to Tito Vilanova,” said Manchester United’s ambassador Sir Bobby Charlton, years before he eventually got the job. 

He might not have eye-gouged an opposition coach (yet), but his unbecoming post-match quotes and borderline harassment of Luke Shaw are exactly the distasteful qualities that the club legend will have feared the Portuguese would bring to the club. 

He won’t change.

In Diego Torres’ stunning expose of Mourinho’s explosive time at Real Madrid, it’s revealed that the manager “sobbed loudly” on the phone as learned he had been rejected for the position he coveted the most, with David Moyes getting the job instead as Sir Alex Ferguson’s successor at Manchester United.

Having had to wait three years, he’s finally in the seat he’s always wanted. 

Perhaps the betrayal he felt in being snubbed before has numbed the sacredness of the role.  Maybe he’s fundamentally just that stubborn. but he appears unwilling to bend to the will of the club. That’s despite his prior conduct (as opposed to managerial aptitude) putting his appointment in jeopardy.

Familiar signs in a new scenario

But this is history repeating in a new circumstance, in a new context. What happens next might not be the same.

The ruthlessness of Roman Abramovich and the high turnover of managers, defines the modern era of Chelsea. 

Mourinho is the most important, and still the best manager in Chelsea history but twice he found he is not bigger than the club. In both stints, the Russian owner cut ties midway through the season as Mourinho was facing implosion.

At Real Madrid, both manager and team appeared exhausted of one another after three seasons, and his departure felt a natural conclusion after he bled them dry. It has since been made clear that the players had grown tired of the siege mentality he instilled. 

It should be noted Mourinho had achieved notable success in both spells at Chelsea, and at Real Madrid, before the rancour set in on each occasion. 

In 2004, he transformed Chelsea into an elite club, resoundingly winning two titles and their first in 50 years. He delivered the league for Real Madrid in 2012, their first since Pep Guardiola lifted three consecutive titles for their rivals Barcelona. His return to Stamford Bridge followed that template, winning the title in some style in his second season before imploding in his third. 

This is yet to happen at Manchester United. It will be five years since Sir Alex Ferguson retired, and they are yet to even compete for the two major trophies that define them, the Premier League and the Champions League. 

Nominally he remains one of the biggest figures in the game and those in power at the club appear wedded to the idea of Jose Mourinho even if the reality is somewhat different.

There are no rumblings of his job under threat. The unmitigated disaster of the performances and result against Sevilla aside, the club are in an okay position. 

In adversity to his outbursts, recent performances have largely been adequate, getting through to the semi-final of the FA Cup and consolidating their position in the top four with good wins over Chelsea and Liverpool. 

What happens next?

As he sailed towards the abyss in the past, the powers that be cut him adrift. That doesn’t appear to be on the cards here, and only a total collapse could change before the end of the season. Manchester United are tied to a coach in full-on battle mode. 

We never got to find out what might have happened at Chelsea or Real Madrid if either club had been willing to bend to his will. We might now, but it’s a bold and potentially damaging strategy.

With a long summer, a World Cup, and a transfer window ahead, it will be fascinating to see where this goes. Even with huge investment, catching this stunning Manchester City side looks a daunting task. 

The problems at the club right now don’t look solvable with quick and easy fixes. 

If the difficult situation with Paul Pogba doesn’t improve soon, the transfer window offers a potential breaking point. Can the club afford to offload such a statement signing, a player who represented, and can surely still be, the cornerstone on which to build success?

Long-term target Ivan Perisic has suffered indifferent form at Inter Milan this season, and the signing of Alexis Sanchez likely puts a stop to that. 

It’s early days, but Mourinho hasn’t yet been able to get much of a tune out of Chilean winger Sanchez. It’s a concern given the logic was surely to get a short-term boost, as opposed an investment in longevity, given he’s almost into his 30s and hasn’t had a summer off in years. 

There is the possibility that Mourinho turns this around, given enough funds to shape the team further in his image. 

Given the millions invested and what he’s working with, a Premier League or Champions Leaugue success wouldn’t be his greatest achievement but possibly the sweetest. This is the first time his aura is fading and his status as one of the best coaches around is questioned. He would like nothing more than to prove people wrong. 

But what if not? 

Mourinho himself would not be able to point to a major trophy to justify an eventual burnout. The only step forward would be down, and his reputation will have taken a serious bruising. 

As for Manchester United, they have bet the house on Mourinho. 

Whilst the 55-year-old has undoubtedly taken them forward, the return will have been little more than David Moyes or Louis Van Gaal gave them. 

Any successor would be left glueing together broken pieces, and you only have to look at Mohamed Salah or Kevin De Bruyne to see how they might regret backing a coach who was uninterested and unwilling to treat rough diamonds. 

What does the future hold for Jose Mourinho? Let us know in the comments section below.

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