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Ta Ra, Fergie; the Mourinho era starts here

6th November 1986, December 1989, 8th May 2013. To many, these will seem like arbitrary moments in time, but for Manchester United fans, these moments offer a moment of hope and two low moments in the recent history of this club. The dates represent the day Sir Alex Ferguson was appointed as United manager, a game in which Crystal Palace beat United with the infamous “Ta Ra Fergie” banner being unveiled, and the day the Ferguson announced his intention to retire at the end of the season.

On the 9th July 2017, Wayne Rooney, United’s greatest ever goal-scorer, ended his reign at the club, and with this, left the club with one remaining player from the last Champions League-winning squad.

Michael Carrick, the midfield maestro, the last light of an Antarctic summer, will unquestionably bring his United career to an end at the conclusion of 2017/18 season, and with this United will be left with the reality that the club is in need of a leader to take the club to the pinnacle of club football once again.

In the words of Gary Neville“History will tell a tale of a man without equal, leaving a generation that knows only success, who believed it would never, could never, end”. The quote above represents the feelings of so many at the end of the Ferguson era, in that the club was expected to go on as normal, but what followed was a scene straight out of every United fans’ worst nightmare. A season in which David Moyes’ United were humiliated by Manchester City, Liverpool and Everton saw the club earn its lowest placement since the Premier League’s inception.

Ferguson’s will to win and man management was second to none, but none of us really knew how great it was until he left. The players that roared with pride were now whimpering. Players that we knew were capable of world class performances had fallen by the wayside, and this is where we believed that Louis van Gaal would be able to reinvigorate us, but the Dutchman’s autocratic approach proved his downfall, as even though he led United to the vital first trophy post-Ferguson, the club’s vision of a dominant United were evident, as with a ruthless strike to the Dutchman’s heart, news of Jose Mourinho’s move to United broke only half an hour after Jesse Lingard’s wonder strike.

A move that was as inevitable as Ross and Rachel ending up together, Mourinho arrived at Old Trafford, with the club in dire need of a leader, a colossus. In this moment, the club knew it had its heir to the throne, and not only do United need Mourinho, but Mourinho needs United. Both stand at a crossroads, with Manchester United already failing twice, a third failure could see the club having to take further steps back at a time in which the club’s finances are the envy of even Real Madrid.

During the 2016/17 season, we saw a new United, the willing to spend, but with a specific intent to improve the first team with quality players that could allow the club to challenge for the league. Although the league season did not go as planned, the seeds have been planted within the squad. Many may not have been the biggest fan of the way Mourinho publically criticised players, but in doing so, the Portuguese manager made it clear, shape up, or ship out. Mourinho has gotten the message through to Anthony Martial and Luke Shaw, who have improved their work rates according to the manager.

The club set about recording its best defensive record since Ferguson retired, conceding just 29 Premier League goals, eclipsing the 35 (2016), 37 (2015), and 43 (2014), according to the Premier League website. The cornerstone of any great side is its ability to be compact, and deadly transition, as Bayern Munich, showed in their demolition of one of the greatest Barcelona teams. In the UEFA Europa League final, every player played their part, and the aesthetically pleasing Ajax side were unable to bring their stars into place. We are seeing the initial signs of a Mourinho team, difficult to beat, pace, power, technique, and a bit of bastardry (Eden Hazard still peeps around corners to ensure Ander Herrera isn’t nearby, apparently).

The improvement isn’t just a case of improving the work rates and training, but the mentality of the team. Mourinho is a manager that demands respect and requires every player to give him everything they have in every game. This is why he is loved by players, as he gives as much as he requires. As we saw last season, United became harder to beat, and if not for some wayward finishing from the forwards, the club may well have obtained a top four finish.

There have been many that have scoffed at the calls for players with “pashun” and “getting about the pitch”, but as we have seen, talent without work rate is just about as useful as John Terry taking a European Cup-winning penalty. Teams such as Juventus and the great Pep Guardiola Barcelona teams pride themselves on running teams into submission while allowing creative players to express themselves, which is why Mourinho has clearly been looking to improve the quality of the squad.

At this point in time, United sits at the cusp of a return to winning ways. Two major trophies in a season, while the club transitioned itself into a Jose Mourinho team, is no mean feat.  If the club wishes to not only challenge the current greats of the game in the transfer window but on the field, Mourinho is the man to do just this. A team that believes in itself is the most dangerous attribute as we have seen under Ferguson where we regularly blew teams away with modest midfield and attacking threat, bar the odd Rooney or Robin van Persie.

With the addition of Romelu Lukaku, United now has a team that is hungry for trophies and is after that elusive first Premier League title for a lot of these players. A single title can catapult this club back to where it belongs, and with this, create a way of thinking that not only must we aim to win the league, but anything other than a League or European title is seen as a disappointing season.

Not only does United have the master of the winning-at-all-costs at the helm, we have a manager that is an expert at winning finals, with a warchest that is the envy of every manager in the world. If Mourinho can imprint these values, and win the all-important first league title, United can once again be considered back to where it belongs, and once again be expectant of a league title, rather than wishful like a certain club in Merseyside.

With this new found winning mentality, we can finally put to rest the nostalgia, and possibly even whisper it………Ta Ra, Fergie, 30 years, and we can finally let go.

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