Forget the histrionics, the twisted metaphors and the touchline antics. Forget the big money transfers or the possible success he will bring, Manchester United fans are most excited by the appointment of Jose Mourinho because it signals a return to exciting, attacking football. Old Trafford has gone wanting in recent years.
Mourinho is aware of the expectations at United. He relishes them and welcomes them with open arms. In his first press conference he didn’t disguise a reference to the previous regime, suggesting he plans to move on as quickly as possible;
“I was never very good playing with the words or hiding behind words and hiding behind philosophies.
“I was always much more aggressive in my approach with the risks that can bring.”
Going on to outline his vision for his team at Old Trafford, Mourinho had this to say about his style of play this season;
“I can anticipate by saying you can win a short competition, a couple of matches without playing well but you cannot win competitions without playing well.
“What is playing well? It is scoring more goals than the opponents, conceding less, making your fans proud because you give everything and you win. It is everything at the same time.
“It is an aggressive approach by myself. I want everything. Of course, we are not going to get everything but we want to.”
But what can we expect from the new manager? How true are the accusations of parked buses, defensive football or this supposed boring style?
Well as it turns out, not as true as many would have you believe. It is an unfair stereotype, aimed at a man who has not only won ugly but has won beautifully many times before. Mourinho does not only have titles, he has records. Goals scored, goals conceded, points accrued in a league season. To say this man merely parks the bus is an insult to a magnificent career.
His first spell in the Premier League brought two emphatic title wins. The first was a record total of 95 league points, a record still yet to be beaten, as his Chelsea side scored 72 and conceded just 15 in 38 league matches. With the second highest number of goals scored and the fewest conceded – another Premier League record that still stands today – was Mourinho’s Chelsea boring? No. Unstoppable? Almost certainly.
Whilst in charge of Real Madrid he continued to achieve success in an impressive fashion. He only won the league title once in his three years at the Bernabeu, although admittedly he was confronted with a club side many believe to be one of the greatest in history; Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona. In the 2011-12 season, Mourinho’s Madrid side broke La Liga’s record for goals, scoring 121 goals in 38 matches as they racked up 100 points on the way to the title. Even Messi and co. have been unable to surpass either record as Mourinho’s dominance in Spain has left a fairly noticeable mark.
In between he led Inter Milan to a historic treble – the first Italian side to achieve such a feat – after beating van Gaal’s Bayern Munich in a Champions League final. Many fans will remember Ferguson’s treble-winning season and will know that you cannot achieve such success with a defensive, risk-averse style. Yes, there were defensive performances, notably against Barcelona in the second leg of the semi-final, but Mourinho had earned that right having dismantled Guardiola’s team 3-1 at the San Siro.
So parking the bus and playing ‘anti-football’ appear to be little more than a myth. Certainly, Mourinho’s capacity to organise his teams defensively and maintain a good defensive record does lend itself to the suggestion that he is a defensively minded coach, but that is just one of his many strengths. As he outlined in that first press conference as United manager, Mourinho said;
“I think one of my characteristics as a manager was I adapted to what I had in mind.
“I don’t defend that the manager should have ‘a’ style of play. A manager should be open to adapt and to create a style, and adapt it to the reality.”
That’s what they are getting. A first class manager who can adapt. He will play different styles and different formations. At Chelsea, he perfected a 4-3-3 with fast, direct wingers; Robben, Duff, Wright-Phillips. He utilised the talents of Claude Makelele in midfield so well, there is now a position on the field dedicated to him. At Madrid he adapted again, this time fielding a 4-2-3-1 formation most favourably, relying on a double pivot in midfield of Khedira and Alonso to control the game and allow the superstars to flourish; the likes of Ronaldo, Özil, Benzema and Higuain scored goals for fun. Even at Inter Milan, a side so blessed with defensive talent, he was able to adjust to that challenge and build a side around that defensive structure without inhibiting the attacking influence of Wesley Sneijder and Diego Milito, the latter scoring over 30 goals during the season. As I say, he can and will adapt and he’ll do so again at United.
In terms of adaptation, Mourinho is as proactive in from the bench as any manager in the game. While United fans have become used to the obligatory fullback substitution or uninspiring, lacklustre changes at strange times from the uncertain Louis van Gaal, Mourinho has never held back in his willingness to affect a match from the sidelines. Keen observers of the Premier League will remember Mourinho’s intervention during one Chelsea defeat at Fulham in which he removed both his wingers after 24 minutes, reverted to a 4-4-2 and made his final change at half-time. He is never afraid to make a change if the team needs his intervention.
A little more recently, and closer to the bone for United fans, Mourinho showed the kind of proactivity managers are famed for. In a Champions League tie at Old Trafford, while the home fans and United players had been engulfed in the controversy of Nani’s red card and touchline cheerleading from Sir Alex and his coaching staff, Mourinho was busy changing the game. The introduction of Luka Modric completely changed the shape of the Madrid midfield and allowed them to control, and subsequently win, the match.
To completely profile the way in which Mourinho will approach his debut season at Manchester United I should leave you with the words of the man himself. Whilst making a respectful reference to Louis van Gaal’s time in charge, Mourinho still took a derogatory swipe at the Dutchman’s style of play.
“And what we are trying to do is to bring the players to play with a certain style. So yes, we want to play differently than the last season.
“Mr. van Gaal, absolutely top manager, his philosophy is very clear. My philosophy is different – it’s not better, it is different. And my football is different.
“I’m more vertical, I’m more intense – I like the ball possession as a way to create a chance to be vertical. I don’t like the ball possession as a way to, just to keep statistical possession of the ball, and be afraid to play a game with transitions.
“Transitions will always come during the game. I’m not afraid to lose the ball, I’m not afraid of risk.”
Jose Mourinho will always divide opinion. One thing we can all agree on is that he will deliver more entertaining football than United fans have been used to in recent seasons and he won’t be afraid to take a risk.
Maybe, just maybe, he can be the man to orchestrate a return to the United of old.