Why Manchester United Erred by Sacking Jose Mourinho.
It was always going to be a big challenge replacing one of the most successful managers of European football. The club was going to enter what had been uncharted waters for 30 years - the hunt for the right successor. The past 5 years have proved that finding the right manager to provide continuity for the glory days brought by sir Alex Ferguson is no simple task.
In my opinion the leadership, at Manchester united made an error when they decided to sack Jose Mourinho, and I will explain.
The decision to sack was rushed
Part of the problem was what Manchester united is said to be about. In an attempt to address this identity issue, the leadership at the club succumbed to pressure from the fans and rushed the decision.
On one side, there was agitation to play football in what many fans refer to as the Manchester united way (which to me is the Alex Ferguson way). Then there was wining trophies and grooming young talent. This has brought clouding in understanding what Manchester united is about.
In my understanding, Manchester united is about playing good football and being among the dominant footballing forces in Europe, by winning major trophies.
Jose Mourinho was the best manager for that task and the enormous job of rebuilding. He had proved in his first season, that he knew how to win. Glimpses of good football had been seen at the beginning of his second season. He simply needed time to consolidate.
Playing good football doesn’t necessarily mean playing the Alex Ferguson way, or the Pep Guardiola way. It’s about an efficient balance between attacking and defending. Unless this can be accepted, Manchester united will continue hunting for the right manager, and stay far away from being a major European force for a while.
They failed to recognize the progress under Mourinho
According to the evening standard, some of the reasons given for firing Mourinho included the style of play, failure to progress on the pitch and lack of development of young players. This to me was an error in analysis.
By sacking Mourinho, Manchester united followed a trend that has kept Chelsea from progressing into a dominant European force. They have kept themselves at the level of a good competitor, but not a dominant football club. They are always looking for a quick fix manager to help them win the UEFA champions league. Liverpool was following the same trend until they realized they needed stability with a winner manager in Jürgen klopp.
Developing young players.
Manchester united leadership failed to realize a crucial aspect of progress in developing young players that was being fronted my Jose Mourinho, which is building a team with a foundation of discipline, character and maturity. The manager was not supported to exert his authority. This is detrimental to the development of young players, and long-term progress of the team.
Mourinho trusted Rashford with more playing time than any other manager has trusted a similar youngster. But in addition, he helped develop Mctominay, Jesse Lingard, Luke Shaw and Anthony Martial into mature players.
Manchester united failed to appreciate the progress he was making in getting maturity and strong mentality out of the players. Anthony martial and Luke Shaw are the perfect example of the work he was doing. But Manchester united fans chose to label it as negativity, and the board succumbed.
As far as playing style is concerned, it is said that Mourinho’s united weren’t exhibiting the united way of playing, (as I pointed out, in my opinion this refers to the Fergie way). In firing Mourinho, they chose this way of playing over building a strong team.
We can criticize his style of play, but it’s important to be a bit objective. Those who blame him for playing too defensive and praising the new manager for turning things around, don’t care to remember, how he set up against Chelsea, Arsenal, and Fulham in his final weeks. In all those games, Man united played with fluidity allowing Martial, Mata, Lingard, and Rashford to flourish. Rashford emerging as best player in each of those games
He was showing more belief in his attacking players, and a willingness to play good football. It just needed time to mature, and the players to approache it with a positive attitude.
The Manchester united way in my understanding is to win. Manchester united has never been a team that played the prettiest soccer in England or Europe. What made them a standout force under Alex Ferguson was their speed on the counter attack and in the flanks.
This is the Mourinho way. His teams typically play on the break, but with more composure and discipline and tactical awareness, approaching each opponent as they come.
One of Mourinho’s strengths is game reading. He’s got the ability to read opponents’ tactics and find solutions to them, as the game is unfolding. Even if it means making difficult substitutions.
What fans call the Manchester united way, is having the attackers run into spaces created by the opponent. This is effective if the opponent decides to play with spaces. But what happens if the opponent closes out all the spaces like Newcastle did? The Man united attackers seemed a bit lost.
What happens when the opponent is better at exploiting the spaces in our set up - like Barcelona did in our last champions league game? Are we able to close those spaces effectively? This is what Mourinho was trying to address and teach the players. I believe it is the right way.
The team must be able to adapt to the opponent, and the new manager needs to be aware of this otherwise the team risks becoming predictable. Eventually other teams will learn that all we can do is run at them.
Mourinho’s greatest crime at Manchester united was asking the midfielders to be more disciplined in their positioning, to cover the weak defense. This annoyed the midfielders so much that some of them started sulking (a serious sign of weakness and lack of maturity).
No top-level team plays without discipline off the ball. Unfortunately, Manchester united hierarchy fell for the players’ weakness and pressure from the fans and former players like Paul Scholes. It's quite obvious many of these players aren't world class, but Manchester United leadership chose them over one of the best managers in the world.
They let go of a manager most capable of developing strong character and mental strength among the players.
The statistics speak for themselves, Jose Mourinho was the best manager at Manchester united since sir Alex Ferguson.
His time at FC Porto and Inter Millan proved that he could build a team with strong character, capable of winning against all odds. But Manchester united chose to let him go, rather than give him time to build a strong world class side. In my opinion this was an error.
When he signed for Manchester united, Mourinho’s dream was to rebuild and develop a world beating footballing force. He knew it would not be easy, but was ready to take the bull by its horn and shape Manchester united into a fierce force.
It’s evident by some of the signings he made. Paul Pogba was what you can call a finished product, having established himself at Juventus. Jose was prepared to build his team around Paul.
Eric baily, Fred and Diogo Dalot are typical examples of players with unquestionable talent and potential. They are typical Manchester united players, strong, fast and skillful. Unfortunately, he was not given enough time to develop them into a team of complete players.
What these players have is potential, but they need a strong manager who isn’t afraid of pointing out their weakness, so that they can grow both physically and mentally. Mental strength is vital for any top athlete. If an athlete crumbles under criticism, all they can ever be is someone with potential.
This is what Jose did with Anthony martial and Luke Shaw. In the end, they grew up. We can all appreciate that they are better players, knowing when to die a little for the team. With mourinho gone, some of these players have forgotten this a little bit.
Yet that’s a quality embedded in dominant winning teams. The players need to be able to cope with criticism and have a positive reaction. Not simply to sulk and hide their heads in the sand.
One of the things that made sir Alex Ferguson one of the greatest of all time, is that he was allowed the status of a god, at Manchester united. It was either his way, or you were out. Even the mighty David Beckham, Jaap Stam, Christiano Ronaldo and Ruud Van Nistlerooy tested his wrath. That’s what sustained Manchester united as a great team. There was authority, and everyone knew where that authority was.
This is exactly what Mourinho was building at Manchester united, and given time, it would have worked. The manager needs authority to determine team tactics, and not get questioned by his players, at least not in public like some of the ill-mannered players do. But the club didn’t afford him time to make it work. They chose the quick fix.
Sadly, they will keep going in circles as long as the players have more authority than the manager. When a manager is too eager to make the players and the fans happy, success cannot be long lived.
They went against the very things that made Manchester United great and fierce
By firing Mourinho because of his stance on players, Manchester united went against the very things that made them a formidable club.
In the Fergie days, playing for Manchester united wasn’t about dillydallying. You had to put in a shift every time you got onto the pitch. It was never about complaining over your position on the pitch. Ounce you were on it, you had to perform or be benched.
Mourinho wanted this back, but was labeled combative and too critical of his players. Perhaps a word of caution to him would have sufficed.
Instead, they went looking to restore the feel-good factor. Quick fix again. In my opinion some of the players were equally capable for the toxic environment at old Trafford.
The question is how sustainable is the newly found feel good factor if it has no foundation. Sooner or later, the new manager will say or do something that will not please the players, and they will be back to square one. Simply because the foundation upon which this feel-good factor is built, is more sentimental than realistic.
The confusion in Manchester United’s rebuilding is made worse by the unrelenting desire to measure progress on developing world class academy graduates, which is not a bad thing, but it’s making the confusion in the transition even worse, by blinding them to some of the realities that have made big teams dominant.
The teams that have sustained themselves as European giants thrive on buying the cream of the cream around the world. Look at Real Madrid, Barcelona and Juventus. It’s not that they don’t develop their academy players, but they have made it a habit to buy world best players and blend them with the raw talent from their academy, to aid the learning process. Even sir Alex Ferguson did it with Eric Cantona, Andy Cole, Ruud Van Nistlerooy, among others.
© 2019 Ian Batanda