When Real Madrid knocked Manchester United out of the Champions League in 2013 it wasn’t widespread common-knowledge at that point that the occasion also marked the end of Alex Ferguson’s bitter-sweet relationship with European club competition.
In hindsight, with the hunt for a successor in full swing, Ferguson’s intentions of impending retirement were probably known of in selective corners of the game. In hindsight, Ferguson’s plans of retirement appear to have been known by a certain Jose Mourinho.
When Mourinho’s Real Madrid won 2-1 at Old Trafford in early March 2013, a result that took the Spanish giants through to the quarter-finals of the tournament, the former FC Porto, Chelsea and Inter manager took his victory in a surprisingly gracious manner. Noises were made by the notoriously controversial Portuguese coach that Manchester United had been unlucky to exit the tournament and that the best team had lost. All this despite Real Madrid having dominated possession, Real Madrid even scored all three goals that night, after Sergio Ramos had contrived to gift the home side an initial lead on the night.
The eulogising over Manchester United’s misfortune was all very Un-Mourinho. With his usual brand of self-congratulations on hold, an ulterior motive was perhaps at play.
Mourinho’s compassion for Manchester United’s exit from the Champions League seemed to be accompanied by the sound of his CV thudding on to the Old Trafford boardroom table. It’s distinctly possible that Mourinho was making a play for the job Ferguson was about to vacate.
With Mourinho’s time at the Bernabeu drawing to a fractious close, amidst scenes of an escalating civil war within the Real Madrid dressing room, he was a man who had one eye fixed firmly on his next move.
Mourinho’s next move was of course to be a return to England and a return to Chelsea.
For all the noises Mourinho made upon his return to Stamford Bridge of wanting to be somewhere he felt loved, Chelsea might not have been his initially intended destination.
While the fans at Stamford Bridge clearly offered the love Mourinho spoke of, the owner of the club was another matter altogether. Roman Abramovic and Jose Mourinho had history and not all of it was harmonious.
Despite leaving Chelsea during the early exchanges of the 2007/08 season under an official classification of ‘mutual agreement’ Mourinho in reality departed the club at Abramovic’s personal decree. Abramovic had been dared by Mourinho to sack him. Abramovic took up the challenge. Mourinho, for the first time in his coaching career hadn’t managed to get his own punch in first.
Mourinho was always going to return to the Premier League, but the script he had written was one with intentions of returning to haunt Abramovic from a rival club, not to return to the Russian billionaire’s employment. As far back as the summer of 2009 Mourinho was reported to have spoken of an interest in succeeding Alex Ferguson when the time came.
When the time did eventually come, instead of Mourinho, Ferguson, with too much say in who his own successor would be, advised the club to appoint Everton manager David Moyes.
It was a missed opportunity for both parties.
Mourinho returned to the vipers nest at Stamford Bridge, in an act of getting up close and personal with a perceived enemy in Abramovic. A marriage of convenience came into existence in West London, while at Manchester United the David Moyes experiment struggled to take off.
As Manchester United’s noisy neighbours found their voices again during 2013/14, Manchester City reclaiming the Premier League title from the Old Trafford club, United limped past the finish line in 7th position, having unseated Moyes with a couple of games to go. In an act of continuity, a passing of the United baton from Ferguson to Mourinho would have been as seamless of a transition as they could have had dreamed of. Moyes instead offered a post-Ferguson apocalyptic nightmare.
From Moyes, Manchester United turned to Louis van Gaal and the momentum the club had under Ferguson, which began to slow down dramatically under Moyes, has now almost ground to a halt under the abrasive Dutchman.
While all this was happening at Old Trafford, at Stamford Bridge Mourinho, doing the exact same thing Ferguson was so adept at, in dragging a football club along by sheer force of will, won the 2014/15 Premier League title. Something he would have been more than capable of doing with Manchester United instead.
As Mourinho’s third season syndrome kicked in at Chelsea from the very out-set of this season, eventually leading to Abramovic managing to get his punch in first once again by sacking him, the natives at Old Trafford have grown restless of Louis van Gaal. With the title race beginning to disappear into the distance, coupled to a group stage exit in the Champions League and rumblings of discontent over the style of football on offer, many Manchester United fans have been calling for the club to swoop immediately for the newly unemployed Mourinho.
The problem is what might well have suited Manchester United perfectly in the summer of 2013 in employing Mourinho, might not necessarily suit them in the cold early months of 2016. The momentum Manchester United had in 2013 has gone and Mourinho coming in then to administer ‘more of the same’ would have likely kept the club ticking over and challenging for the main honours. Mourinho, or another one else for that matter coming into the job now will do so with a remit of re-energising the club, rebuilding.
Mourinho isn’t really a renovator of malfunctioning football clubs. Mourinho excels in putting a personal spin on a club that is already in a healthy state. See FC Porto, Chelsea x2, Inter Milan and Real Madrid for that. For any Manchester United fans currently lamenting the style of play from Louis van Gaal’s side, to instead be craving the input of Mourinho will only find the style of football remaining somewhat conservative. Accusations of ‘parking the bus’ have surfaced on a regular basis for good reason at times in recent years.
Jose Mourinho should perhaps come with a health warning. Be careful what you wish for.
A managerial merry-go-round is in operation currently and it only looks set to gain in momentum. With Liverpool having swooped early for Jürgen Klopp and Carlo Ancelotti having agreed to succeed Pep Guardiola at Bayern Munich, most eyes are on both Guardiola, who has publicly announced that England is his intended destination next and a vengeful Mourinho harbouring a score to settle with Abramovic.
With stories surfacing that Ed Woodward sounded out Carlo Ancelotti about his summer intentions, the likelihood of Manchester United being in the market for a new manager is more than just the wishful thinking of the clubs supporters. Manuel Pellegrini at Manchester City is under pressure to deliver serious silver-wear and Chelsea are going to be appointing again during the summer.
With Guardiola widely believed to have given the nod to Manchester City, where his former Barcelona cabal of Txiki Begiristain and Ferran Soriano are already in place and no turning back at Stamford Bridge, Mourinho and Manchester United increasingly appear as if they might end up being the last two entities left on the dancefloor when the managerial merry-go-round finally stops.
Jose Mourinho and Manchester United 2016 however might just end up being as much of a marriage of convenience as Mourinho and Chelsea were in 2013.
As the warning states; be careful what you wish for.