With Jose Mourinho’s succession to the Manchester United managerial throne confirmed all parties will have let out a huge sigh of relief.
Ed Woodward, the not unreasonably maligned Executive Vice President, will finally have the man his club should have employed three years ago, whilst the Portuguese will at last have the job he has long coveted. To have seen the ridiculously under-qualified David Moyes seal the position in his stead in 2013 must have been a bitter pill to swallow. United’s owners, the despised Glazer family, now have a manager in place who is as close as is possible to a guarantee of Champions League football for the next three years and is box office, thus keeping the eyes of the world on their club and the dollars rolling in. Then there are the fans, worn down by three years of incompetence and excuses. They finally have a manager capable of restoring their club to the top at a time when the competition will be as fierce as it ever has. United were in danger of being left behind. Now at least they have a fighting chance of becoming competitive once again.
It was frequently repeated in the press during contract negotiations that Mourinho demanded total autonomy when it comes to transfers. This is clearly an important point for him and you can understand why. Both of his two spells at Chelsea were undermined by those above him making decisions that he did not believe were in the best interests of the team. In 2006, Roman Abramovich and his Chief Executive Peter Kenyon signed a 29 year old Andrei Shevchenko after a twelve month pursuit entirely driven by the owner. Mourinho did not approve, having previously had full control of incoming transfers, and only four league goals in thirty appearances for the Ukranian confirmed that his instincts were correct. With relations between owner and manager already strained it was the beginning of the end, as a previously compliant oligarch began to make decisions over the head of his manager. Manchester United regained the Premier League crown the following May and during the summer the disharmony at Chelsea increased as Abramovich appointed Avram Grant as Director of Football against the wishes of his manager. Mourinho’s discontent filtered its way through to the team, as it always does, and results suffered. A month into the 2007/8 season owner and manager parted ways by ‘mutual consent’.
Back at Chelsea in 2013 Mourinho did what he does best and rebuilt a team that had fallen off the pace domestically in two years. He formed a powerful first eleven, but his squad was small and keeping them injury free proved to be essential as the Premier League title was regained in 14/15 season. The following summer the Portuguese spoke of wanting a top quality defender, midfielder and a back up striker. Falcao arrived on loan to fulfil the latter role, but as the summer progressed the top quality additions that the manager desired did not materialise. Early in the window Chelsea had been linked with moves for the likes of Paul Pogba, Koke and Varane, but it soon became obvious that such names would not be arriving. Instead, after a long drawn out process, Chelsea signed left back Baba Rahman from Augsburg and entered into a belated chase for Everton’s John Stones. With time running out Abramovich tried to low-ball the Toffees, who became increasingly annoyed and determined not to relent. Chelsea were left scraping around for alternatives and eventually completed the late, bizarre signing of Papy Djilobodjy from FC Nantes.
Mourinho’s fury at his club’s intransigence was obvious in his demeanour for much of the summer and, as so often is the case, his discontent transferred itself to his team, who went the whole of pre-season without a win. Despite signing a new four year contract in August, Mourinho was clearly at war with the world. The opening day 2-2 home draw with Swansea City was the scene for the infamous Carneiro affair and in the weeks that followed results collapsed as relationships within the club broke down. When all is going well Mourinho is like a force of nature, but when all is not well with the world matters quickly spiral out of control.
Mourinho craves control, a not unreasonable desire given the way that he rarely had it in his two spells at Chelsea, whilst at Real Madrid politics dictate that the manager can never have total autonomy. Ed Woodward would do well to take heed of warnings from the past and accede to these demands, even if that means handing a spare key to the castle to Jorge Mendes. Harmony will be the biggest factor in his new manager’s success or failure. However, if there are reasons for concern they also stem from recent history. Woodward has a less than stellar record in completing transfers. This summer he has already missed out on Portuguese midfielder Renato Sanches who United had tracked for months and had been in protracted negotiations for. Late in the day Bayern Munich appeared, did the deal in two days and waltzed off into the sunset with the player. Woodward, always trying to save face, put out a statement saying that his manager didn’t want the player anyway, a transparent nonsense. He also has an obsession with United signing big names, to demonstrate its power and to drive commercial success.
The danger for United and Mourinho is that, even with super agent Mendes on their side, the club may be unable to purchase the players the manager desires, even if he has free rein to identify them. If that is the case then tensions will grow and animosity will fester. Likewise, if players are pushed on the new manager against his will resentment will eventually engulf him. The Portuguese is unable to compartmentalise matters on and off the pitch and his own discontent eventually transfers itself to his team, with a resultant decline in performances and results. It is not, as some have suggested, that his methods are out of date, more that he has become less able to keep his own frustrations out of the changing room. With a new employer who may not be able to meet his demands with respect to player acquisitions, the biggest stumbling block to success will be in the board room. If Woodward cannot deliver the signings Mourinho craves then the experiment with the Portuguese is doomed to failure, an acrimonious parting of ways inevitable. If, however, the United EVP can meet the expectations of his new manager then there is no reason to believe that the club cannot go from strength to strength. For Woodward the key to success is to understand Mourinho’s history. Give him what he wants and don’t interfere and a glorious future is possible.