By Pete Jaison
The rare consistency of persisting with a manager amid disappointing performances, that Manchester United were boasting so far, has ended with the sacking of Louis Van Gaal. This move by the managerial board, following their first FA cup triumph since 2004, is seen as a welcome decision by most supporters. Van Gaal, who has often been criticised for slow sideways-football by many former players like Paul Scholes, Roy Keane and Rio Ferdinand, admitted only days ago that he is adamant to see off his contract which runs till 2017. What is even more interesting is the fact that Jose Mourinho is taking over the reins at Old Trafford. Shown the door just 7 months after leading Chelsea to the Premier League title, Mourinho is back in English football with a bang. That too, with arch nemesis, Pep Guardiola at the helm of cross-town rivals- Manchester City- makes the prospect of having the world’s two best coaches in the league even more mouth-watering. But first let us figure out why and how Mr. Louis Van Gaal’s tenure has been disappointing.
The arrival of the Dutch coach two years ago lifted the expectations of the Old Trafford faithful especially after a forgettable campaign under David Moyes. The first season didn’t turn out to be depressing as Manchester United qualified for Champions League football after finishing 7th in the previous season. Initially the football wasn’t all that drab but it was never close to the vintage United sides fans have witnessed over the past decade. However, his critics point to the fact that even after spending an enormous amount of money (250+ million pounds), Van Gaal’s team still played with a makeshift centre-back, a centre-forward turned winger and a hoard of other misfits. This along with the monotonous dull football which lulled spectators to sleep is being touted as one of the main reasons for his ouster. However, he did manage to continue his run of winning a trophy in every country he has managed with a 2-1 win over Crystal Palace in their FA cup final courtesy of a Jese Lingaard screamer.
Now a closer look at the team which he has left behind for the next manager will highlight the legacy he has built at Old Trafford. The emergence of 18 year old Marcus Rashford and the signing of unknown French prodigy, Anthony Martial will remain one of his biggest contributions to the Red Devils. Louis Van Gaal also gave first team opportunities to many academy players like Timothy Fosu Mensah, Cameron Borthwick Jackson, Guillermo Varela etc. Developing other young stars in the making like Memphis Depay and Luke Shaw further add to the purposefulness with which Van Gaal went about his job at Old Trafford. On a lighter note, there are a number of LVG moments one can recollect with fondness. Who can forget that comic ‘fall’ against Arsenal to the press conference statement that the players have to be more ‘horny’? Clearly, LVG has left behind many unforgettable memories for the fans but with a bitter taste in everyone’s mouth. But enough said about LVG, what would be in stake for manager-to-be, Jose Mourinho?
Regarded as a spoilt champion in almost every continent he has managed, Jose Mourinho is a winner in all aspects. You can love him, or you can hate him but you definitely can’t ignore him. It is jokingly rumoured that Mourinho has been diagnosed with a certain disease called the ‘third-year syndrome’. He has the uncanny gift of arriving at a new club with a big bang, winning and making a name for himself and then falling out of favor with his players and staff which eventually disrupts the entire team harmony. Although there are instances where he hasn’t fallen out and left like the champion he is, during his stint at Inter Milan for instance.
Roping in Mourinho is obviously a huge gamble as far as the club’s long term interests are concerned. But with the arrival of this personality, whose arrogance and ego matches up to his determination and commitment, success is considered inevitable. Many United legends and pundits are concerned that the arrival of the Special One will greatly reduce the hopes of many academy graduates making the first team. Mou is not reputed with an image of someone who brings up players from the grass-root level and turns them into stars, instead he will pounce on already established stars and tune them to be an integral part of his team. Mourinho’s genius can be truly appreciated by taking an example of his arrival to Chelsea in his second stint. In the very first season, he rightfully stated that his team would not win the title or for that matter even mount a serious challenge. In the following summer transfer window, Mou plugged the holes in the team by signing Diego Costa from Atletico Madrid and Cesc Fabregas from FC Barcelona. Chelsea turned into a formidable force in England and walloped to another English Premier League title under the Portuguese. When all was looking bright for the Blues, Mou and his team flattered to deceive in the following season and was only a point above the relegation zone. That was when the after effects of Mou-fever hit the team – the club doctor was fired after a disgracing confrontation with the man himself, the usual blame-game started and after a string of uninspiring performances, Mou declared that his own players were cheating him. How a team which won the EPL with a handful of games remaining turned into a pathetic, dispirited unit is unknown but the champion manager had to take the blame. If winning the title was a result of his genius tactics, then the woeful title defence was his own faults being exposed.
All said and done, it is really quite unpredictable as to how a team run by Mou will perform. They can be a ruthless compact unit or a lumbering aimless collection of legs. The biggest dilemma faced by the United board will be the decision over the club’s most decorated player, Ryan Giggs. Giggs, who served as an assistant to Louis Van Gaal in his cut-short two year tenure has received appreciation for his dedication and hard work, according to many sources within the club. But overlooking him for another manager is quite certain to prompt Giggs to ply his trade elsewhere and leave his cherished boyhood club.
As the Red Devil fans celebrate the appoinment Jose Mourinho as the manager, the whole world is certain to keep an eye out for his antics. Manchester United is playing a dangerously close game of cards but only time will tell whether Mou is the river card they have been waiting for.