Jose Mourinho has outlined lofty ambitions ahead of his first year in charge at Manchester United. Not content with returning United to the Champions League, Mourinho wants to go all out and win the Premier League title – and he believes his new club has what it takes to do so.
Speaking in Shanghai on United’s pre-season tour, Mourinho gave fans an insight into the impressive vision that not only convinced Ed Woodward and the Glazers to hire him in the first place, but to back him so vociferously in the transfer market this summer. Mourinho told SunSport:
“The message from the owners and Mr Woodward was this — ‘Get your three years, do your work, improve the team and bring us back where we belong during a three-year period’. My message was that I wanted to win the title in the first season.”
Given that Manchester United have finished seventh, fourth and fifth in the three years since their last Premier League triumph, Mourinho’s first task will be to convince his group of players they are capable of being champions once again. United’s new manager was quick to rubbish any suggestion that this season will be about a potential return to the Champions League, which only illustrated further that he is just the man to change the mentality of his squad.
“I want to be champion. To say before the season starts that the top four is the target? The top four is not the target. We want to play to be champions. If during the season we realise the points difference doesn’t allow us to fight for the title, we are going to establish a new title and when you can’t be champion the next target is to finish top four. But day one, I don’t want to hide behind a bad season or no Champions League football to say we want to finish top four.”
That winning mentality is ingrained in Mourinho. In his first press conference as United boss, he expressed an “aggressive approach” and declared “I want everything.” So it will come as no surprise to hear that he will not use the perceived burden of the Europa League as an excuse – even if the competition will complicate the fixture list. Despite the difficulties facing Manchester United, Mourinho wants his players to think like champions.
“You need to rotate players. The Premier League doesn’t make any favours for you. You play Thursday and then I don’t think they are going to play us Monday, they are going to play us Sunday and probably at 12 o’clock. It is the worst. For the Premier League it is the worst. It is much easier to be a Champions League team. Obviously it is much easier to be what Liverpool were two years ago, no Champions League and what Chelsea are next season with no Champions League. One complete week to work every week, that is a dream. That is a dream for a manager who wants to improve his team. So we are in the worst possible situation. But in this moment I want my players to think ‘every day I want to be champion and want to fight for the title’.”
Two of the clubs mentioned by Mourinho have managers preparing for their first full season in charge. Add Wenger, Guardiola, Pochettino, Koeman and defending champion Ranieri to Klopp and Conte, the Premier League will be the most competitive it ever has been, with some of the best managers in the world vying for success in the same country. So despite suggestions that Mourinho must be ready to renew his rivalry with Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola, United’s new manager was once again quick to dispel the myth that this new season will simply be about Mourinho vs Guardiola; an idea the Portuguese has consistently rejected.
“It was never a problem for me, so to meet Pep at City or Pellegrini or Mancini or whatever, it is no difference. I was in Milan coaching Inter and Carlo Ancelotti was there coaching AC Milan. I was in Madrid coaching Real and Diego Simeone was coaching at Atletico. I was in London, Arsene Wenger was at Arsenal and there were other top managers at West Ham and Tottenham.”
There have been no histrionics with Mourinho’s arrival. No bold claims or demonstrations of ego. He is simply an ambitious manager and a hard worker. He expects nothing less from his players because he himself puts in whatever effort is required to be successful. When van Gaal was in charge the media became familiar with various aspects of his social life, particularly his affection for the Chinese restaurant; Wings. With Mourinho, I suspect we will see less of that. United’s new manager has barely had time to show himself around town.
“I go there at eight in the morning and leave at 7pm. Dinner and sleep. I really don’t know Manchester and I’m not worried about it. It is the club dimension and the training ground, the facilities and the conditions. That is my world.”
When you hear Mourinho talk about Manchester United it is easy to understand his aggressive approach and his impressive work ethic. He understands the club, its ethos and the way United must compete and challenge for honours. In that first press conference he referred to United as a “giant club”, but hearing him speak in Shanghai it is more than that.
“People weren’t so happy with the fact they could smell during the season that Manchester United would end outside qualifying for Champions League football. For a giant club like United it is a big thing. From a prestige point of view Manchester United is untouchable and it is not because of one season outside the Champions League that we are not at that level. United are very powerful economically, commercially, and it is not because of one season outside the competition that we are going to be affected by that. But Man United is Man United and last season was negative from a Premier League point of view. We want to go back for better results and the best way to go for better results is to play well. When people say this team doesn’t play so well and wins, I never believe it so much. To win so many times, you need to play well.”
Can Mourinho win the title? Maybe. Will he give it a right good go? Absolutely. After three years of wanting to be like Manchester City, making it difficult for Newcastle and remaining patient with a process, isn’t it about time United had someone who wants them to think like champions?