Ken Lawrence: Mourinho is the biggest gamble ever taken by Man United

SoccerBy Ken Lawrence
Sexy football? Not on Mourinho’s watch
Sexy football? Not on Mourinho’s watch

JOSE MOURINHO now has the soul of Manchester United at his disposal.

What he does with it may well determine the whole future of the world’s most famous club.

His appointment is the biggest gamble ever taken at Old Trafford, the stakes being United’s standing as a globally loved club, as well as being one of the world’s leaders in terms of financial clout.

The Special One is of course a winner.

Mourinho has been brought in at £10m a year to produce far more than success in the Community Shield.

Getting back into the Champions League is his first target. Making United England’s No 1 club is the next and afterwards a return to European domination is also a crucial part of his job description .

And to help him after the failures of David Moyes and Louis Van Gaal, United are throwing money at the problem.

Paul Pogba’s £100m capture will create a new world record fee.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic did not cost anything but his wages are £200,000 a week.Henrik Mkhitaryan cost £24m, Eric Bailly £30m.

Jose says he needs another couple of defenders so Jose will be indulged.

Meanwhile, failures like Bastian Schweinsteiger and Marcus Rojo will go. Juan Mata, sold to United by Mourinho in his second stint as Chelsea boss could also be on his way.

Phil Jones is under pressure, as are Daley Blind, Marouane Fellaini, Antonio Valencia, Matteo Darmian .

Mourinho has given United new purpose after three years of serious decline no matter that they play in today’s charity showpiece as a result of LVG’s FA Cup win on the way through the exit door.

The departure of the legendary figure of Alex Ferguson created a far bigger emotional chasm than even the gloomiest of doom mongers predicted.

This is a club that felt very sorry for itself, not helped by that fact that Ferguson’s immediate successor Moyes did not have enough emotional strength himself or that Van Gaal thought and played in double Dutch.

Shock therapy was required to lift everybody out of the depression that gripped the place.

By the time it became clear that Van Gaal was on the way out, the Theatre of Dreams sometimes felt like an isolation ward in an asylum – so paranoid and withdrawn had become most of the players, the hierarchy and the support.

Executive vice chairman Ed Woodward thought long and hard about bringing in Mourinho, for while he realised that radical treatment was required he was also well aware that the Portuguese did not acquire his controversial reputation for nothing.

Yes, he is a winner. Equally, however, he can cause rows in empty rooms.

Conflict is something that comes as part of the package. Stickability not so much.

Mourinho’s modus operandi is to go in to a club, rearrange things to his own design, win a couple of trophies and leave.

In hiring him, Woodward has bought into the prospect of more disruption. United, having had one manager for a quarter of a decade could well be looking at three in six years if Mourinho sticks to his normal employment cycle.

Yet the shock therapy had to be used with Pep Guardiola arriving across town, with Antonio Conte showing up at one of Mourinho’s former clubs, with Tottenham growing under Mauricio Pochettino, the threat posed by Jurgen Klopp at Liverpool and with even Arsene Wenger spending big money at Arsenal.

Back in 1990 anyone who said that the omnipotence of Liverpool would become only a fading memory would have been taken away by the men in white jackets.

Yet that year marked Liverpool’s last top flight title. Lethargy, the wrong choices of manager, blinkered thinking combined with arrogance and contempt created the toxic cocktail that spiked the club that ruled over all.

True, Rafa Benitez somehow came up with the club’s fifth European crown but the triumph over Milan that night in Istanbul still beggars belief.

No matter how high and mighty a club may be, unless problems are correctly diagnosed and dealt with efficiently, rigor mortis becomes a very real possibility.

Only now, in reality, are Liverpool really making forward strides again and their experience will have sent shudders down Woodward’s neck.

Having taken the plunge, however, Woodward is bound to be apprehensive, for Mourinho has it within his hands to alter the whole DNA of Manchester United. His approach is not even based on the ‘Beautiful Game’ but more on the strait-jacket principles of possession.

Adventure and glamour, hell-for-leather attacks, win-or-bust tactics for him are for the birds.

Mourinho just loves a one-nil. Most times emerging 5-4 from a thriller would automatically trigger hours of work on the trauma field with the mantra that possession is nine tenths of the law being hammered into his players.

The pursuit of Pogba and the acquisitions of Mkhitaryan and Ibrahimovic point to an attempt  by Mourinho to adhere to the United Way as written in the good book worshipped by Ferguson and first hewn by Matt Busby.

He also has the attacking instincts of Anthony Martial and promise of Marcus Rashford’s nerveless youth. 

Captain Wayne Rooney still has a predator’s eye and the experience to clinically finish.

Yet they all cannot play together.

Ibrahimovic will be the big-game battering ram, Martial and Mkitaryan will support and Pogba will be the string puller.

But Mourinho’s way has never been the United way and so defending, keeping the ball and refusing to take risks will be the new order of Old Trafford. 

Sexy football? Not on Mourinho’s watch or at least not when there is a lead to be protected.

If it all works United fans, at least for a while, will not gripe. The last three disturbing seasons will ensure that they will toe the party line. Providing they are seeing a winning team, that is.

The chances are that Mourinho will again be a winner but there’s still a huge gamble taking place.

How Mourinho throws the dice is likely to determine United’s fortunes for a generation.

Woodward is not betting blind. He knew he had to twist, not stick.

But with Mourinho around Woodward is all-in.

He will need a poker face for quite a while to see if his gambling instincts pay off – or force United to leave the table.