With the Premier League season all but over, the success of Mourinho’s first campaign in charge rests on Wednesday night’s Europa League final against Ajax. A win would secure a major European trophy in his first term as manager and more importantly, Champions’ League football in 17/18. Of course, the Europa League is not the trophy of choice for United, but there’s no doubt it is valuable to a club which is still desperately trying to regain its’ identity after Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement.
The appointment of Mourinho after Van Gaal’s sacking was welcomed by fans and pundits who believed he could be the man to bring success back to Manchester United. After all, with two Champions’ League titles and three Premier League titles under his belt amongst others, he certainly has the desire to win. Particularly after being sacked by the club he loves; Chelsea. Mourinho hasn’t been able to deliver the level of success he has become accustomed to over the years, but his first season has by no means been a failure.
Mourinho wants to build a legacy at United, and as the old saying goes, “Rome wasn’t built in a day”. With full financial backing from the board, he has been able to bring in players in key positions who all need time to adapt to the Premier League. Thus, he has focused on building strong foundations in defence while maintaining a solid attack which is capable of creating chances, just not finishing them. Despite countless injuries in the final months of the season, United’s defence have conceded just 29 goals in 37 games; the second-best defensive record in the league behind Tottenham.
José’s managerial style draws many comparisons to that of Helenio Herrera, who found success at Inter Milan in the 1970s. Herrera understood that football is a results business; it doesn’t matter how you win, as long as you win. Mourinho has followed this philosophy throughout his managerial career and it has brought him success wherever he has been. His reactive approach to management naturally leads him to be more defensive minded. He studies his opponents’ strengths and neutralises them with his own game plan, giving his team the best chance to succeed. After all, attack wins games, defence wins championships.
There’s no denying Mourinho is one of the greatest managers of our time, and while in no stretch of the imagination is he inferior to the likes of Guardiola and Pochettino, his strengths certainly lie off the field. José’s philosophy is based on motivation. To him, football is just as much a psychological game as it is physical, stating that “football, for me is a human science, it’s about man above everything else”. He goes on to say “in order to be successful, a football coach needs to be much more than he is. He needs to be a motivator; a tactician; a psychologist; a leader.” A man who demands so much of himself, certainly demands the same level of commitment from his players. He often calls players out – particularly to the media, as he did with Luke Shaw this season – in order to provoke a response and he does not shy away from confrontation. Though it may seem brash, unnecessary and though he has lost the plot, there is a method to his madness. Mourinho is constantly analysing his players’ abilities to perform under pressure because that’s what separates the good from the great; have a good season but miss out in a final and you’ll be forgotten, have a good season and show up in the final, and you’ll go down in history. Football players are under an enormous amount of pressure, José wants to know if they can handle it when it counts.
One famous example of Mourinho’s unpopular style is his treatment of Ibrahimovic back when the pair worked together at Inter Milan. After a fantastic season, Ibrahimovic won the Serie A Player of the Year award. Worried that his star striker may get complacent, Mourinho saw his opportunity to bring the Swede back down to earth by demanding he give his Serie A award to someone who deserved it – his mother. Though it was nothing malicious, the statement reminded Zlatan that he is always improving and that if he wishes to be the best, he must continue to work hard. It toyed with his pride and gave him a chip on his shoulder; which is exactly what Mourinho wanted. It provoked a reaction and he wanted to prove José wrong. Zlatan joining the Red Devils to be reunited with Mourinho says a whole lot about his man-management ability.
Though José is willing to throw his players into the fire, he doesn’t let them go in alone. Despite poor performances, errors or plain bad luck; Mourinho always looks to divert the blame away from his team, even if it means taking a hit to his own reputation. He understands he demands a lot from his players, and so protects them from ridicule at his own expense.
José Mourinho is the manager Manchester United need. For a club who have lost their way in recent years, he provides stability on the field and protection off it. His drive and sheer will to succeed inspires his players and instils a belief that they do belong amongst Europe’s elite. What’s key, is that the board give him enough time to build his own squad and teach them his philosophy; let’s not forget, Mourinho has inherited a squad from Louis Van Gaal, whose managerial style differs greatly to that of the Portuguese manager.
With the likes of Guardiola, Conte and Pochettino now plying their trade in the Premier League, both the fans and club must remain patient and understand that success will not come overnight. As Sir Alex did all those years ago, José must once again sow the seeds of success and mould his new squad into a formidable force.