It’s interesting that both of the two most coveted managers in European football come with a side order of concerns. It won’t stop any club in Europe from approaching Pep Guardiola with promises of royal wages and the treatment of a king. Most won’t be concerned that the young manager has only accumulated five years worth of management, one being with Barcelona B; they’re after his playing philosophy, his near-guarantee for success and potentially over the long-term.
With Jose Mourinho, there are also concerns but of a differing nature. The Portuguese manager has been a success wherever he’s been, winning league titles in four different countries in Europe. He also brings with him the vitality and energy of youth, the basis that he could perhaps provide long-term success and the enhancing of a brand that a number of rising powers are desperately seeking.
The issue with Mourinho is that it’s his way, or forget it. He wants to pick fights with other managers, the media, his own players and, in this case with Real Madrid, the president and the former director of football. It’s a style that Barcelona had to dodge when they went on the hunt for Frank Rijkaard’s replacement, even though Mourinho had experience at Barcelona and would surely have guaranteed the success the club at that point were in dire need of.
But that’s the gamble with Mourinho. It’s a roll of the dice that ensures one thing but forces you to pay up with another. It’s been most noted at Real Madrid than any of Mourinho’s previous clubs, but he’s nevertheless delivered on his promise to break up Barcelona’s stranglehold of the La Liga title.
It’s always noted in sports that winning cycles do eventually come to an end. It can be for the fact that other clubs rise to prominence and help to force the traditional big clubs to relinquish their hold on silverware, or it may result from the inevitability of managers leaving the game for good.
A lot of fans have their opinion on Alex Ferguson away from the obvious admiration and respect that should be a given, but you’ve really got to enjoy the way he plays the game. Despite being of an age that suggests he should look to take more of a relaxed approach to his style of management, he’s nevertheless on the front lines fighting battles and starting wars with whoever he feels could be a threat to Manchester United.
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I found his comments about Liverpool prior to the match on the weekend to be quite amusing. Of course he knows where Liverpool are in the table, of course he’s aware of their recent form and how they’re doing across all competitions. Manchester City’s rise may have pushed the United-Liverpool match down a place below the Manchester derby, but Ferguson’s words were a very clever way to wind up an inferior opposition (and I’m speaking specifically from a league position standpoint) and force a rise from his players.
It didn’t matter what Manchester City’s result at Arsenal would be later that day, there was still a great deal of significance to be placed in United’s match with Liverpool, from pride to the title race. If Ferguson, at 71, is feeding the fire, why shouldn’t his young, vibrant squad rise and form ranks by his side?
Gary Neville point that out recently, stating that a manager’s demeanour and reactions to rivals should force his players to stand up alongside him. Ferguson doesn’t do it for the sake of making enemies, he does because he expects much of the same from his squad.
So how do United continue the winning cycle and ensure it doesn’t come to an end when Ferguson retires? Yes, managers like Guardiola bring with them a certain style, however so did Mourinho, but Barcelona passed on him for very specific reasons.
Now I’m not going to suggest Guardiola would be a poor managerial acquisition for United—that would be outrageous. But I am suggesting that there are similarities in Mourinho’s approach to management and Ferguson’s.
Mourinho has adopted these tactics all over, an us-against-the-world mentality that gets the fires burning and the blood pumping. The Portuguese may have wound up plenty of ‘opponents’ in Italy and Spain, but he’s still a man who brings results and success. His time at Real Madrid will come to an end this season, however that doesn’t mean others would have been put off by the battles he’s created in his own house and specifically also in Catalonia.
There’s that problem of Mourinho potentially only sticking around for a few years before deciding to move on, and yet that same problem could arise with Guardiola as well. With Jurgen Klopp’s stock continuing to rise in Germany and Diego Simeone making a real name for himself at Atletico, it may be difficult to envisage a time in the near future when clubs retain their managers for a lengthy period of time.
But as of now, are there many better choices to take over the reins and continue Manchester United’s winning mentality than Jose Mourinho?