As the news and speculation builds up to a climax about Jose Mourinho’s possible appointment to the Old Trafford hot, the vocal fans and pundits seem to be broken up into 3 camps. Fans of other clubs rubbing their hands with glee at the thought of Mourinho melting down and turning Man United into an ungainly circus; fans of United complaining that he isn’t what they would like and that Giggs should be given a chance, and those welcoming an (albeit short term) era of success.
I am actually thrilled at the possible appointment. And I think that there are reasons to look closely at the various forms of criticism and uncover them for the myths they are.
Myth 1: Mourinho is a short term manager.
Certainly feels like it, doesn’t it! Yet, here’s some data for starters: Counting the 2010-2016 period, Mourinho will have been the longest serving manager in each of the clubs that he has managed – Inter (108 games), Madrid (178) and Chelsea (136). Mancini (99 games) will overtake him at Inter Milan should he complete the next season, but seen in this light, you have to ask, is Mourinho the problem? Or is it the clubs themselves? Inter, Chelsea and Madrid are not exactly known for their longevity with managers. So why lay the blame on Mourinho?
Let’s look at the Premier League. Clearly Wenger is the outlier here, as Ferguson was. And even with him, the average tenure of the Premier League manager is 1.8 years, which is less than any of Mourinho’s innings. Take Wenger out of the equation and Mourinho will look positively long term! Again, in the 2010 – 2016 period, the three longest tenures (measured in number of games) amongst the ‘big clubs’ are as follows: Mancini (City – 191), Rodgers (Liverpool – 166), Mourinho (Chelsea – 136). Pochettino at Spurs is at 110 and Van Gaal, should he be sacked as widely reported, is at 103. Among the big clubs, he’s the 4th longest serving manager in the last 6 years, once you look beyond Ferguson and Wenger.
Also worth noting that Van Gaal has not reached 200 games with any club since Ajax in the 90s, and neither Van Gaal or Guardiola have hit 300 games with any club as managers. So the bar is not set particularly high in the longevity competition in today’s football management. But it’s much more entertaining to have a pantomime villain like Mourinho, right?
Myth 2: Mourinho Plays ‘Boring Football’
In 2014-15, Mourinho’s Chelsea won the league with 87 points and 73 goals. The goals tally wasn’t great. In fact the second half of the season was full of ground-out victories, rather than swashbuckling football. But 87 points and a 9 point lead over second placed City suggests that the title was never in doubt. Yes, it was boring because Chelsea got their noses in front and never looked like being challenged. I’m yet to meet a fan that would not like that kind of ‘boring’. If my memory serves me right, Hazard, Fabregas and Costa weren’t doing too badly in terms of on-pitch entertainment either.
Let’s go back, though to Mourinho’s Madrid. I was in Barcelona on the 27th of February, 2013, watching the Copa Del Rey semifinal second leg at a bar on the Ramblas when Madrid decimated Barcelona at the Nou Camp. The final score was 1-3 and Barca’s goal was a late consolation. Keeping in mind that Mourinho started his personal duel with Guardiola’s Barcelona by receiving a 5-0 drubbing, this paragraph from the Guardian sums up the transformation.
“When it comes to head to head matches against Barça, Mourinho’s Madrid have become the better side: the past six meetings have seen Madrid effectively clinch the league, win the Spanish Super Cup and now claim a place in the Copa del Rey final, as well as drawing 2-2 here in October. Ronaldo too has become more dominant than Leo Messi.
That year wasn’t a success for Madrid (Barca reclaimed the League and Atletico pipped Real Madrid to the Copa Del Rey), but that same tigerish team that Mourinho built went on to thrash Bayern Munich – yes, Pep Guardiola’s Bayern Munich, 5-0 on aggregate in the Champions League semi-final the following year. And in-between, in 2011-12, Mourinho’s Madrid won the La Liga with 100 points, 121 goals and a goal difference of 89 points. Pretty boring, huh? I’ll have some of that.
Myth 3: Mourinho has an abrasive nature
This is actually not a myth. But for Man United fans to complain about Mourinho’s abrasive nature would be a bit hypocritical, don’t you think? Most United fans including myself enjoyed more than 2 decades of sustained abrasion that was the hallmark of Fergusons win-or-bust mentality. It worked because the club backed him to the hilt. From his initial clearing out of established players to serially rebuilding the team, can you imagine it working if the club or the president, or latterly the owners, were supporting player revolts behind his back? Even when he was wrong, he ultimately got it right. Whether it was Whiteside, McGrath, Stam, Beckham or Keane – all cult heroes in their time, they were all adequately replaced because the club was bigger.
Let’s also not forget, Sir Alex was always at war. With the referees, with the system, with any manager who dared to mount a serious challenge (he was avuncular to all the rest!). He is revered and admired by football fans across the realms today but in his time, he was hated. And United were hated. Mourinho is actually the closest thing to Sir Alex in terms of nature. With a competitive personality that lies somewhere in between a sandpaper and a nettle, it’s also what is often required to win serially at this level. They say Mourinho has too much of an ego, and it’s always about him, blithely forgetting Sir Alex’s brouhaha about the racehorse and his comparable ability to deflect from his teams performances by blowing up some other issue.
Mourinho is not foolish, nor insensitive. He’s much loved by the majority of his players. And if the club’s traditions were built around attacking football, promotion of youth and stockpiling the trophy cabinet, he would look to deliver on all fronts. Neither Chelsea nor Madrid had a youth policy that they championed and both clubs were focused on short term success that they were willing to fund. So why blame Mourinho for delivering what was asked? Let’s not forget the Porto success was not built on buying talent.
I don’t know if Mourinho will actually be appointed as Manager of Manchester United or whether Van Gaal will actually be asked to go, despite all the rumours. But should it happen, I would be a happy fan and keep my fingers crossed for a longer innings from the true successor of Sir Alex. It could all go belly up, of course, but I’d rather take a chance on Mourinho than seek the ‘stability’ without trophies in a period where the managerial stakes in the Premier League are higher than ever before. I’ll see your Pochettino-Conte-Klopp-Guardiola and raise you by a Mourinho, thanks!