Manchester United have had a tough time managing without Sir Alex Ferguson. His many years of success and his extreme exalted status with generations of both players and fans left very big football boots to fill. So is Jose Mourinho, the self proclaimed “Special One”, special enough to follow in his footsteps? The two-time former Chelsea manager is widely rumoured to be taking over just months after he was sacked by the London club.
Ferguson’s successor, David Moyes, referred to by some as “the chosen one”, lasted just nine months before he was sacked in April 2014, and Louis van Gaal, one of the most decorated managers in football, has struggled to please United’s 659m fans worldwide since he took over.
So it will take a leader of exceptional confidence and unwavering self belief to take on the task, forever in the shadow of Sir Alex. Luckily Mourinho appears to have both of these qualities in spades. He also has an extraordinary ability to develop strong relationships and bonds with his players as well as an enviable collection of trophies.
But a move for Mourinho to Manchester United has drawn mixed opinions from high profile ex-footballers – and United legend Sir Bobby Charlton has publicly expressed his doubts. The main area of concern appears to centre on whether Mourinho’s personality fits the club brand. Incidents from the past, such as an apparent eye-gouge and controversial public disagreements with team staff may not be welcomed by United’s board of directors.
But then Ferguson was always famous for his strong approach to discipline and his robust relationships with referees, as well as his public and long-running dispute with the BBC. The two men have plenty of other similar traits. Both have an insatiable drive for success and winning, they are both able to inspire high levels of player loyalty, and they both exude supreme levels of self-confidence.
Where they appear to differ is how they go about achieving successful performances and the nature of the relationships they develop with their players. Mourinho appears to develop a deep and intense relationship with his players which has even been referred to as love while Sir Alex was considered as more of an authoritarian figure.
Mourinho, who has successfully managed Inter Milan, Porto and Real Madrid, as well as his two spells at Chelsea, has the ability to galvanise teams through emotion and by giving players a desire to put the team before themselves. He views himself as one of the team and has an intensely emotional approach which is very effective in the short term. He is inspirational, driven, confident and protective.
Maintaining this intensity for the long term however, is what could prove difficult. While Mourinho may well be the man for the Manchester United job, developing long-term success without diluting his biggest asset – that emotionally charged passion – will be central to any sustainable future glory at Old Trafford.
But the question for Manchester United, facing their third attempt to replicate the glory days of Ferguson, is stark. If they want charisma, a winning record and ambition, maybe Mourinho is indeed the man they have been looking for since 2013. But are they willing to gamble on his occasionally explosive and divisive personality? Ultimately, however, perhaps the question is much more simple: if you were a footballer, running out of the tunnel about to face tough opposition, whose side would you want Mourinho to be on?