Jose Mourinho is going to bring an awful lot to Manchester United this season. I think it’s safe to say that no matter where he has gone the following has happened, press conferences have never been dull, he’ll start mind games against those who he feels are a threat to him and his team, and he’ll at some point, become confrontational with the media as well. These are things which we have all loved or hated about Mourinho in the past, personally, I have loved it, but more importantly, however, there is one other thing that his teams have always done, they have had the belief that they can win.
When he came to Chelsea, yes they had spent a lot of money under Claudio Ranieri, and it was clear that when looking at recent player testimonials of him since he won the league with Leicester City, no one has a bad word to say about him and they all loved him. But bar this particular title triumph, you can see the difference of his past, compared with Mourinho, Sir Alex Ferguson (Aberdeen and Manchester United), and Brian Clough, those teams had the ultimate confidence in their manager, and they all would inspire confidence in them, which would help them achieve things they had not been able to do previously.
Sir Alex Ferguson was already successful before he came to United. What he achieved in his career at Aberdeen was extraordinary. No one had been able to consistently win the league over Rangers and Celtic for some time, with the two Glasgow clubs enjoying a monopoly over the Scottish league for a long time. However, not only did he win the league and the national cups, he took on Europe and the mighty Real Madrid in an enthralling Cup Winners Cup Final in 1983. In an article from the BBC, they state that even in this period, ‘the manager fostered a mentality that suggested everyone from referees to the press, to other team’s supporters’. This gave a young and talented team an extra will to win and helped build a squad in which an ex-player Willie Miller said; “Had to put his own character into this team”, it seems his did this with aplomb
This success took longer to embed at Manchester United, but once again worked in amounts not previously seen before in the clubs history. We know all about the successes, the trophies, the dreams which came true, and the certain club knocked off its perch, but he couldn’t have done any of this without instilling the will to win and the confidence to go the extra mile. This is a reason why players love the man, and would have ran through brick walls for him. Even other players in the England squad would recognise the difference between themselves and the United players. David James said in an article which seemed to be against Manchester United players at the time of reading, but can also be a show of admiration reveals:
“While a simple training drill of piggy-in-the-middle was usually understood as an exercise in which you worked together against the man in the middle, for United players it was an opportunity to catch each other out. I had never seen it played that way before. To talk about one individual player being competitive is unremarkable, but to apply the same label to generation after generation of players from one specific club is unheard of.”
This has been missing in recent seasons. As soon as David Moyes took over, and then after that with Louis van Gaal, the club not only seemed to lose its identity on the pitch, with less attacking football and exciting matches but also it suffered a dramatic loss in confidence. After Moyes left, and Van Gaal coming in, there was lots of talk as we all know about philosophy and identity again, but the players seemed to simply not buy into this, and openly questioned the tactics.
For me, this manifested itself in two particular games. Watford away which United won 2-1, and Chelsea at home, where United battered a Gus Hiddink side the whole game but could just not finish and drew 1-1. Watford were dreadful on the day and United should have been home and dry by half-time, however with a loss of confidence throughout the team, they got a goal back, and it was ‘Squeaky bum time’ until Bastian Schweinsteiger crossed the ball back into the box for an own goal to go in which won United the game. Against Chelsea it was the same, a big game for United with they were in the league at the time, Chelsea floundering and a Dutch rivalry thrown in the mix, United started the match brightly, however, due to the squad having a lack of confidence, goals which would have flown in previous times were missed, and they drew the game which they should have won at a canter 1-1, through a last-minute equaliser.
Mourinho is a tactical genius. The very fact he guided FC Porto to the European Cup, defeating United on the way had already shown this, then consistently outwitting opponents in the top end of the game proved this too. Guiding Real Madrid to beating one the best footballing teams of all time to win La Liga, taking Inter Milan to their first European Cup in since 1965. But he couldn’t have done it without the players being on his side, without getting them fighting for him and giving every ounce they had over a gruelling season. Zlatan Ibrahimovic has already said; “he would become a guy I was basically willing to die for.” Another former player, Xabi Alonso, has also called Mourinho a leader and cemented the idea of confidence and what it can bring by saying; “When you have a group that supports a coach and believes in his ideas; that is being a leader. For me, he is one of the best in the world.”
The squad Manchester United have now is becoming a mix of youth and experience, exuberance and leadership, and with this, if Mourinho can make the players work for him like he has with others in the past, not only the press conferences will be exciting this season.