It now appears that Manchester United have bitten the bullet they were unwilling to wrap their teeth around when Sir Alex Ferguson announced his retirement three years ago. According to various reports in England, Jose Mourinho has agreed, or all-but agreed, to take over as Manchester United manager from next season, replacing Louis van Gaal.
If it does indeed transpire, the appointment would represent a dramatic about-face for the 20-time English champions. When Ferguson ended his legendary era in 2013, Mourinho was widely believed to have been beyond eager to take up the reins at Old Trafford. Yet United instead turned to a manager with a far sparser resume in David Moyes. At the time it was thought that Mourinho’s style of play and some of his controversial antics in pursuit of a win-at-all-costs philosophy had been too much to bear for United’s hierarchy, most notably director and club legend Sir Bobby Charlton.
But, with the club still struggling to return to former glories and now seeing Manchester City land the most wanted manager on the planet in Pep Guardiola, it seems they have been compelled to put their reservations aside in a desperate attempt to stay relevant, in Manchester and beyond.
His arrival is likely to mean major upheaval in the playing squad once again this summer. Mourinho may have once been Van Gaal’s assistant at Barcelona, but the two have radically different ideas on how the game should be played. While the Dutchman emphasizes control through possession, Mourinho believes a team is at its most vulnerable with the ball, instead preferring to defend deep and strike quickly on the break.
Mourinho’s arrival could also spur a change in the man doing the negotiating for Manchester United. Ferguson’s retirement coincided with the departure of David Gill as chief executive. In his place came Ed Woodward, a man with a successful commercial background but who has struggled to get deals done in the transfer market.
The absence of a sporting director with more football knowledge has been keenly felt. It is that factor which perhaps explains why reports suggest Mourinho is keen to bring with him to Old Trafford current Atlético Madrid sporting director Andrea Berta. The Italian is also believed to be close with Jorge Mendes, who is also Mourinho’s agent.
And Mendes’ most famous client is Cristiano Ronaldo, which is likely to only further rumors about Manchester United’s attempts to bring Ronaldo back to Old Trafford. The Portuguese left United for Real Madrid for a then-record £80 million in 2009, but has consistently been linked with a return in recent years. Given he will enter the final two years of his contract this summer, it could be the last chance for Real Madrid to recoup serious money for the three-time Ballon d’Or winner.
Yet Manchester United fans would be unwise to start digging out their old Ronaldo No. 7 shirts just yet. For one, there is the fact that, even if Ronaldo does leave Real Madrid, his likeliest destination is Paris Saint-Germain, who have mounted a long-term campaign to land the Portuguese star.
And, rather than improve their chances, the arrival of Mourinho could damage Manchester United’s hopes of bringing Ronaldo back to the club. The two are believed to have had a major falling out during the end of Mourinho’s time as Real Madrid manager. And, although Ronaldo has since said that he wouldn’t rule out working with his compatriot again, it is difficult to envisage him being enthusiastic to do so.
In a conference call with investors on Thursday, executive vice-chairman Woodward revealed that he expects more transfer activity in the summer. The wait for Ronaldo, though, may go on.