Manchester United’s first real game under Jose Mourinho ended in a convincing 3-1 win over Bournemouth. If that’s anything to go by, it will be an exciting period for United fans.
The first half wasn’t the most joined-up and fluent period of football that Manchester United have ever experienced, but like all new managers, Mourinho will need time to get things right.
With the team still to welcome Paul Pogba into the fold, as well as potential new recruits to add to squad depth, Manchester United will only get better.
The only downside to this season is United’s involvement in the Europa League instead of the Champions League. Last season, defeat to bitter rivals Liverpool after having to come back from behind to beat Danish side Midtjylland was both frustrating and humiliating for one of the biggest clubs in the world, and one that can count three European Cups in the trophy cabinet.
But rather than see the Europa League as a monument to the failure of the Louis van Gaal era, it should be seen as a chance to win a trophy.
Sir Alex Ferguson never won the UEFA Cup / Europa League, and that probably stands more in his favour than it does against him. But Porto’s UEFA Cup victory in 2003 launched Jose Mourinho’s career, before he won the Champions League a year later. Maybe this year Manchester United should take it that bit more seriously.
Here are three reasons why…
You simply don’t know what’s going to happen this season. The Premier League has top quality managers seeping out its ears and nose, there are big name players everywhere, and even though the quality is very high – and it’s arguably higher at Manchester United than anywhere else – some teams have to lose out on the top four.
If United do experience a difficult spell later in the season, they could end up finishing 5th again without really having played all that badly. So many teams are good enough to take advantage of any slip up.
And if they are in that position by February, they’ll surely be wishing they had another route back into the Champions League by winning the Europa League
Whilst Champions League qualification is the gilded carrot of an incentive for teams to take the Europa League seriously, it is a competition in its own right.
Football should be about glory and victory more than it should be about fulfilling objective Football Manager style. The Europa League is a chance for silverware, and United should take that seriously – they’ve only won one trophy in three years, after all.
When Jose Mourinho ran down the touchline at Old Trafford in celebration of Costinha’s winning goal in a Champions League last 16 second leg, he did so as a UEFA Cup-holding manager.
His Porto side beat Martin O’Neill’s Celtic in the 2003 UEFA Cup final, and it was that victory that Porto could use as a springboard to go all the way in the next season’s Champions League.
Jose Mourinho knows exactly how this feels, even if Manchester United don’t. So taking the Europa League seriously could see the group get a taste of European victory, and more importantly, get the experience to follow it through next season.