After the 2-0 win away to Burnley last weekend, Manchester United fans were in fine voice supporting Jose Mourinho’s masterplan. In the cold light of day, a professional display to see off their Lancastrian opponents was hardly a watershed moment. Nevertheless, it felt like a brief oasis in an endless sandy abyss. The Portuguese manager has been bombarded with endless probes from the media in the face of his dour exterior and flailing team performances. He even resorted to quoting German philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel when his legacy of greatness was questioned.
“Did you read any philosophers? Or information, you never spend time reading, for example, Hegel? OK, so, just as an example: Hegel says, ‘the truth is in the whole.’ It’s always in the whole that you find the truth.
“Do you ask that question to the manager that finished third in the Premier League last season? To the manager that finished fourth? To the manager that finished fifth?”
It is not difficult to understand why Mourinho attracts such criticism on one level. His bristly relationship with the media is confrontational. Once the camaraderie between manager and press sours, the fallout inevitably favours the media. His outlandish claims mixed with bizarre quotes and statistics were always going to bring negative attention.
Does he deserve it, though? A Europa League trophy under his belt offers irrefutable evidence of at least some tangible success. Luke Shaw has eventually emerged from a length thunderstorm of public shaming and open criticism to return to the England squad. A certain Scotsman famously constructed his own Hadrian’s Wall around the club; is this so different?
There is a sharply defined split between United fans who back their manager, and those who don’t. Mourinho apologists suggest that he is either being hamstrung by a lack of funds, or is even actually doing a good job already. His detractors say that his systematic ruin of Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial’s careers, for example, is unforgivable.
One thing all of them can agree on is that there is a huge problem at the club. Here, we will propose a masterplan for how to return United to its former glories.
Attract Qatari investors to take the club over from the Glazers
When the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ owner decided to rack up eye-watering debts to purchase the club, the die was cast. After that, the club was always going to become a business first. Ticket prices have skyrocketed to unfeasible levels for many fans, disenchanting a large part of the support. A scheme forcing Season Ticket holders to purchase cup tickets threatened to further enrage the matchday experience.
One criticism Mourinho has levelled at his superiors is the lack of backing, or more specifically the backing he wanted. Over ₤70 million has been spent on Fred and Diogo Dalot, when a raft of centre-back targets swatted away the flimsy to non-existent advances of United. The outlay is a reasonable sum which the Glazer family will point to as their support to playing matters. It is all rather pointless when the man paid to direct the component parts is given tools he hasn’t asked for.
One can point to the horrendous human rights record in Qatar as a moral objection, and be 100% correct. An estimated 4,000 workers have died on World Cup projects alone. Huge strides have been made on that specific front, with EU construction working standards now legally enforced. The immense wealth of the Qatari Investment Authority – estimated to be over $300 billion – is one obvious advantage. Of greater importance, however, is the lack of urgency to run clubs according to the balance sheets. They know the value of ensuring on-pitch matters are backed correctly.
Move Ed Woodward back to a business role
As the Glazers’ golden boy, Woodward was always guaranteed a strong position at the club. From his background in investment banking advising the family during their initial takeover bid, his stock is solid. To fans, this is an anathema in light of his obvious distance in spirit and outlook from Mourinho. His approach to overseeing transfers seems to focus on glamorous headline-grabbing names without a clear strategy.
Clubs dealing with Tottenham Hotspur, for example, know they are dealing with a vicious viper in Daniel Levy. When negotiating with Woodward, on the other hand, agents know that by thrusting their valuable client into the spotlight, they can grab the attention of United’s supremo.
Whatever United fans’ opinion of the manager, it cannot be denied the relationship simply isn’t working. This is a critical factor in the lethargy and toothless nature of post-Ferguson United. With David Gill working in tandem with Sir Alex, there was a clear understanding and appreciation. Woodward and Mourinho are poles apart in almost every way.
However, it would be churlish to ignore the spectacular deals Woodward has struck off the pitch. The club list a whopping 65 official partners, all of whom pile millions into the coffers. His expertise in the financial side are almost unparalleled, so it would be madness to throw that away. By returning him to his original role would keep the financial health of the club in good shape.
Appoint a European sporting director
The next step to ensure the smoother running is to appoint a leading sporting director. For a long time, English clubs have resisted the continental structure out of a fear of the unknown. The phenomenal success of Sevilla, for example, under Monchi is a clear indicator of the value of a dedicated specialist in tandem with the manager.
To find the golden partnership of a sporting director and manager who understand each other is tough. The personality and ambitions of each must align to get the full benefit of both. Even if they don’t see eye to eye, the fact that both are sporting minds is an improvement. Woodward is a businessman with no experience in sport before his promotion. There is a far greater chance of success, and not necessarily by spending more money, with the right specialists in the right places.
Fire Mourinho and sign Zidane with Carrick as assistant
Despite the root of the problems lying at the highest levels of the club, Mourinho simply cannot continue. His rudeness, poor attitude, a dire brand of football and egocentric obsession is damaging the club. Where Ferguson created a siege mentality, Mourinho creates an island mentality. Instead of deflecting scorn away from his players onto himself, the Portuguese will air his dirty laundry in public.
The damage has been done. One expected result cannot possibly paper over the chasms Mourinho has forged. In short, a complete clean break from all elements of the club is essential. It took United some time to settle on a successor for Sir Matt Busby because there was a lack of clear philosophy. Wilf McGuiness was promoted from within the club before Busby returned. Tommy Docherty’s boisterous flair followed Frank O’Farrell’s introverted character, before Dave Sexton’s pragmatic approach gave way to Mr Bojangles himself, Ron Atkinson.
The lesson is that instead of replacing one character with the polar opposite each time, the entire management structure must evolve together. With new owners, investors, sporting director and manager joining simultaneously, the philosophy of the club can be more easily moulded.
Zinedine Zidane commands enormous respect as a manager in his own right after winning three consecutive Champions League titles. His playing career alone was enough to bestow him with authority, and combined with his calm public exterior, his qualities are ideal. His availability is a major factor, too. Retaining Michael Carrick on his staff would be a smart way to help transition into the role. The recently retired midfielder needs no introduction to the players and staff.
Manchester United has become little short of a laughing stock in the last few years. With the ownership and management currently in place, there is no chance of this changing. The titanic battles of the late 1990s between Manchester United and Arsenal were epic because they were full of character and grudging respect. Only drastic action will avoid United becoming a soulless vacuum like their fellow former heavyweights.