Of all the insane decisions we’ve seen in football in the 21st Century, the choice of David Moyes as Manchester United manager must surely rank as the most Rampton’s worthy.
It’s a wonder the entire board weren’t dragged off by the men in white coats to the tune of “they’re coming to take me away” after they decided to replace the most successful manager in the history of association football with a man who’d failed to win a single trophy in over a decade in charge of a Premier League club.
It’s not so much that Moyes was a terrible choice, the most frustrating part and one that even to this day makes me head to the shower to wash off that dirty feeling, was trying to convince ourselves that the manager whose sole piece of silverware was a League One play-off trophy, could replace someone who’d won more Premier League titles than the rest of the entire current top six have managed between them.
With FIFA’s recent decision to class United’s 1999 Intercontinental Cup win as an official “World Club Cup” victory, even in retirement Sir Alex has won more trophies than Moyes could in over 10 years of football management.
Yet despite Moyes obvious failings, the warnings of Everton fans and the fact United had appeared to base their recruitment policy on Sir Alex knowing the new manager’s family, many Reds, myself included somehow talked ourselves into thinking giving this inept, dour, trophy-less buffoon the keys to the kingdom was a “solid decision.”
“He’ll work on a shoestring if needs be, he knows the Premier League, he’ll bring long-term stability, trust in Fergie, he’s the Chosen One?!!” Were all the sort of garbage we told ourselves as a man whose sole Champions League Experience was getting knocked out in the qualifying round to the mighty Villareal was thrust before the world’s media like a rabbit in the headlights of an oncoming truck packed with dynamite, being driven at speed, by a blind man.
Moyes lasted nine months into the ridiculously ambitious six-year contract he’d been given, taking the equally hapless duo Jimmy Lumsden and Steve Round with him, as a wine induced Sir Alex, denied his part in the chaos and embarked on a worldwide book tour/beer festival.
United fans weren’t quite finished in trying to convince ourselves someone completely out of their managerial depth was ready to take over the biggest job in world football, as following an emphatic win over those Premier League titans Norwich City, there were more than a few voices claiming of caretaker boss Ryan Giggs: “He’ll work on a shoestring if needs be, he knows the Premier League, he’ll bring long-term stability, trust in Fergie, he’s the Chosen One?!!”
Thankfully, and I say this with a lot of regret as it would have been wonderful if Giggs could have done a “Pep Guardiola at Barcelona” and become the manager we all dreamed he could, the board saw sense and brought in someone who actually did have experience of managing at the very top, wasn’t afraid to blood youngsters or drop big money signings and could get Old Trafford buzzing again – even if he did subsequently silence it with the sort of football that made you wish you’d caught eye aids.
Louis van Gaal may be remembered as the architect of the worse football displayed at Old Trafford since Fred the Red had one too many shandies before taking part in a half-time penalty competition with a group of equally inebriated corporate competition winners, but he also managed to erase the post Moyes-funk to a degree by, albeit briefly, getting United back into the Champions League, helping to attract major signings, winning a trophy and bringing youngsters into the side – including a certain Marcus Rashford.
If we’re being honest, van Gaal did what was more or less expected of him, even if he failed to rise above expectations that he could replace his football tactical pragmatism, with a more entertaining approach that he’d more or less jettisoned since leaving Ajax in the 90s.
It’s with all that in mind that the recent treatment of Jose Mourinho has left me somewhat surprised, it’s as though the Moyes/Giggs/LVG eras never happened and we’re now seeing Ferguson’s direct successor in charge as fans/pundits and anyone with an opinion seemed to have moved the goalposts of expectation when it comes to a manager whose every decision has been well documented to the point he’s arguably the most talked about coach in the history of the game.
Mourinho is renowned for several traits, a fortress-like home record, a fondness for stifling rivals away from home and settling for a point, a disinterest in youth, an ability to win trophies and challenge for titles, a prickly attitude towards the media, itchy feet after three years at a club and a knack for holding a grudge that would make Maximus Decimus Meridius look positively forgiving.
So far Mourinho has more or less done exactly what it says on the tin, he’s even managed to adapt slightly to ‘the United way’ by being a tad more willing to trust in youth, although his cause has been helped by the fact Rashford is good enough for the first team and there’s enough quality in the academy to fill in during the early cup games without harming the side’s chances of progressing.
So why after having our fingers burnt believing Moyes could somehow rise above a decade of mediocrity to become worthy of succeeding the greatest manager of all-time, do so many fans suddenly believe Mourinho is about to change his spots and become something he’s never been before? Why when there’s stories he – shockingly – doesn’t want to spend the rest of his natural life managing United, do people act with incredulity? Why when he approaches a tough away game at one of our rivals, the same way he has done for his entire career, do the press label him the ‘enemy of football?’ Why is even a win over a team that at the start of the game were level on points with United and being heralded as one of the best in Europe only a few weeks earlier, treated with disgust by some of the media?
Part of the issue is, as Mourinho acknowledged, the expectation that comes with his record of winning titles wherever he has gone, coupled with the fact he’s at a club who’ve matched his ambitions in the transfer market, but there’s more to it than that.
It’s as though many in the media are almost unwilling to give him credit for anything and pouncing on any form of discord, or poor performance as a way of ripping apart his entire United tenure, rather than acknowledging the manager is more or less doing exactly what is expected of him.
Yes, there are failings, the result against Huddersfield was poor, but as usual there was no mitigation when it came to the press’s treatment of Mourinho, no mention that the Reds were missing Paul Pogba, Eric Bailly, Marcos Rojo, the rejuvenated Marouane Fellaini, Michael Carrick and Zlatan Ibrahmovic, no acknowledgement that the loss of Phil Jones during the game and individual errors were beyond the manager’s control.
It was a poor result but it was an aberration in what’s been a successful season so far, where United have enjoyed the sort of start to a campaign, which if it happened on Sir Alex’s watch would have been praised as another example of his continued excellence, instead seven wins out of ten, with a paltry four goals conceded and a decent 19 scored is deemed below-par.
Mourinho is known for his defensive genius, he’s one of the best managers on the planet when it comes to shutting teams out, yet even that is now a stick which is used to beat him, as though he should have suddenly metamorphosed into Kevin Keegan circa 94-96 when he walked through the Old Trafford doors.
Take the Spurs game as an example, a team that even without Harry Kane, still poses a strong threat and where a win for United puts a dent in the Londoners title hopes, while keeping up the pressure on City who were destined to beat a struggling West Brom team later that day.
Yet despite Mourinho changing his system to accommodate two strikers, despite him making a tactical change later on in the game that completely worked and gave the Reds a vital win, the manager still faced criticism, even a shush gesture to the camera by the United boss was anaylsed more than his actual managerial performance.
It all followed on from the Liverpool game where Mourinho couldn’t have been treated with more disdain following a hard-fought draw with a depleted squad had he urinated on the Shankly gates while singing Michael Shields got 15 years…
The vast majority of criticism has come from the media, who are either bitter that Mourinho, much like Sir Alex, can often publicly embarrass them, with a strong rebuke on live television, or a sarcastic answer that renders their question meaningless, but it’s not just the press who seemed to have bought into the anti-Jose nonsense.
When Rashford was subbed on Saturday for Anthony Martial, there was a small section of the crowd that booed, booing the decision I presume, which is one of the most bizarre reactions I’ve witnessed in my 30 odd years of going to Old Trafford, why on earth replacing a player who was struggling to make an impression, with a match winner who’s time and again delivered and would have been fresh young legs was greeted with disdain by some of the crowd is beyond me.
I’ll say this knowing full well some of the people reading this article may have been the ones booing, but if you did, saying “I have the right to boo”, is up there with the I have the right to teach my kids to hate foreigners school of idiocy and you should seriously consider staying at home and screaming at the match on the telly.
Mourinho brings a lot of his treatment on himself in that he refuses to play the media’s game and his teams haven’t always put entertainment above pragmatism, but did we really expect anything else?
If we want to try and convince ourselves Mourinho will start setting his team out to attack with no consideration of their defensive duties, or that he’ll become a loving father figure to all his players, or perhaps even spend the next two decades at Old Trafford, then maybe we should take another look at Moyes while we’re at it and see if he’s willing to come back to United, who knows maybe now he’s finally up to the job.