The mood has changed around Manchester United ever since their FA Cup triumph in May. While a first major trophy in three years played its part, the appointment of Jose Mourinho as manager did more than anything else to bring confidence back to the Theatre of Dreams. Usually, performances on the pitch would be all it would take to restore good humour. Even with such performances, it would be hard to see how any ordinary manager could survive a club legend of 29 years departing before the season even starts. But Mourinho is no ordinary manager. He has returned smiles to the faces of the fans before a ball has even been kicked.
Entertainment has been in short supply at Old Trafford of late. A stodgy style of football coupled with mantras about “philosophy” and “process” have drained the life out of many supporters. Mourinho made all the right noises in his first press conference. He came out swinging with an (exaggerated) defence of his youth record and took shots at both Louis van Gaal and Arsene Wenger. Fans and critics alike are unlikely to spend much of the next year complaining about boring press conferences from Carrington. Ever ready to provide a caustic sound bite, Mourinho knows how to make his presence felt in the papers.
More importantly, he declared his intentions to win at all costs and do so in a style that would thrill supporters. This is exactly what the United faithful were hoping to hear and is in marked contrast with the shrinking Moyes or the stern Van Gaal. From a more pragmatic point of view, swift and decisive action in the transfer market also sets him apart from his failed predecessors. Within a month of taking over, and even before his official unveiling, Mourinho had secured three signings in key areas for the club. A clinical presence up front, pace and creativity from wide areas and reinforcements in central defence. These were obvious areas of weakness for many years, yet Moyes and Van Gaal failed to address them. Within a month, Mourinho has shown that he will not wait so long to take decisive action.
The signing of Zlatan Ibrahimovic is a gamble but could prove to be a shrewd move. Age may be against him but his quality is never in question. Experience and predatory instinct of his kind have been lacking for United since Robin van Persie’s first, and only, great season. Marcus Rashford may get a little less game time but he is sure to get an education from one of the greats. Aside from outrageous skill and clinical finishing, Zlatan brings the ego required to withstand the slings and arrows of a Premier League season. Excited fans relish the prospect of Ibrahimovic being the “Cantona moment” for Mourinho that will enable him to catapult United right back to the top of European football.
Mourinho and Ibrahimovic combined will be thrilling to watch for fans and they will go far in returning the arrogance to Manchester United. “Not arrogant, just better” has been the refrain from the Stretford end for many years but this seldom rang true in the post-Ferguson era. If there is any manager who encapsulates this motto, it is Mourinho. For many supporters it is important that he already feels like a Manchester United manager, when other pretenders have not. United and Mourinho has always felt like an inevitable union. As it was so aptly put by Barney Ronay of The Guardian, Darth Vader has entered the Death Star.
From the moment Sir Alex Ferguson stepped down until early June of this year, the talk of Mourinho never really went away. Though they wouldn’t say it in public, United’s rivals will be anxious to see how this plays out. It is hard to escape the feeling that this appointment could go either way. Title success within a couple of seasons is as close to guaranteed as you can get with Mourinho in charge. Yet it would not be a total surprise if it went wrong, an acrimonious split within a season or two. Such is the nature of both Jose Mourinho and modern English football. Should this appointment fail, it is difficult to see where United go from there. With all available A-list candidates exhausted and their own homegrown option already out the door. Should Mourinho succeed, Manchester United fans may find themselves back where they feel they belong. Either way, it definitely won’t be boring.